Monday, December 21, 2009

Shabbat with JV

One thing all Jews have in common, be they Reform or Chassidic, is what I'll charitably describe as an intense and friendly curiosity about each other. It's why dating on the Upper West Side is like scuba diving in an aquarium.

JV belongs to a very traditional Conservative synagogue, and since I spent the weekend with him, I decided we should go on Saturday. Fortunately, the snow held off until the late afternoon.

"I'm never here without my kids," said JV as we walked up to the building. At the door we met a friend of his, wearing a long skirt and a hat that shielded most of her hair; she could have stepped out of almost any modern orthodox synagogue. She looked at me quickly, then glanced back at JV and raised her eyebrows just perceptibly.

"This is Ayelet," said JV. She and I smiled at each other but didn't shake hands. JV and I went in, hung up our coats in the coat room, and walked into the sanctuary.

Only three things really differentiated the service from the orthodox:
  1. Men and women were sitting together.
  2. A public sound system was in use.
  3. The bat mitzvah was reading from the Torah and leading the service, and women were called for aliyot.
It wasn't so different from the services in the synagogue I attended as a child; in fact, the liturgy was more similar to that in an orthodox shul than my old synagogue. I was also conscious of several women wearing what seem to me to be vestigial head coverings, either floppy frills of lace or feminine kippot embroidered in girly colors or made of beads. Some women also wore tallitot, and some of those tallitot were pink- or purple-striped. But several women wore hats.

I thought davening next to JV would be weird. It wasn't, even though several congregants took good long looks at us. I wasn't really bothered by that; aside from his sister, JV has never brought a woman to shul, and Conservative Jews are just as curious as any others.

Some, in fact, are downright blunt. "And who's this?" asked JV's friend Sam at kiddush.

"This is Ayelet," said JV.

"You're not calling her your girlfriend?" said Sam.

"I thought that was obvious," said JV.

"She could be your cousin," said Sam.

"We're not from Appalachia," I put in.

Sam laughed. "I like her, JV! She's funny."

"I was waiting for your approval," said JV dryly. "What a relief." Sam waved at someone else and went off to bother them. "Please don't judge me, or my shul, by that guy," said JV. "My closest shul friends aren't here today."

"Not a problem," I said. "He's only saying what everyone who was looking at us in the sanctuary was thinking. I was prepared for this."

"Well, they were also surprised to see me during davening," said JV. "Usually I drop my kids off at the junior congregation and go read in the library."

"Apikoirus," I said (Hebrew for heretic). "If I come here with you, we're going to davening."

"Yes, dear," said JV.

It's funny. I haven't been to my shul in months. I haven't davened in a long, long time. But I felt comfortable at JV's shul. Even though half the congregation was watching me. (Well, probably no more than 1/8th.)
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. Sounds good to me!

    FWIW, the one time I davened at a conservative shul was for Mincha on a sunday, and the liturgy was the same. Only real difference was the mixed seating and the singing of Shalom Rav. So really - is it soo terrible to daven at a Conservative place? Women cantors probably sound better than men, anyway...

  2. Bravo! I'd rather you go to a Conservative shul than NOT go to an Orthodox one.

    I wouldn't think you'd be comfortable with a liberal Conservative shul--forgive the oxymoron--but a traditional, egal one like this seems like something you could live with.

    I'm still baffled given this post why JV would have a problem with your being Shomeret Shabbat. Is he against Orthodoxy as an institution or Halacha itself?

    I'm so glad all continues to go well. Keep us all posted! And looking forward to meeting JV soon.

  3. Nice story. Ayelet, as you know, there are probably much worse places to go to than a conservative shul.

    I'm also orthodox (actually, "unorthodox")and I've been to many conservative and reconstructionist shuls and been happily surprised.

    All the best,


  4. actually Ayelet there is truly one thing all Jewish people have in common: complete monotheism.

    it is the core belief of Judaism

    not all Jewish people have an intense and friendly curiosity about each other

    some are even antisocial

  5. JV is against orthodox communal institutions and practices, which he believes 1) focus excessively on details that don't reflect traditional practices and 2) focus on minutiae of halacha to the exclusion of derech eretz.

  6. anon..there are plenty of people who identify as jewish who do not believe in god or monotheism.

  7. For the record I have sympathy with JV's gripes against institutional Orthodoxy.

    So JV is against Orthodox institutions rather than Orthodoxy itself? Sorry to keep repeating myself but just trying to understand where the conflict lies!

    There is nothing inherent about being shomer shabbat that precludes derech eretz.

  8. Agree with FTT^

    Glad you had a good experience.

    Regarding your response:

    1. "Details that don't reflect traditional practices" is not a category that would include Shabbat.

    2. Minutiae of halacha, I agree, should never be focused on to the exclusion of derech eretz. Rather, the intricacies of halachic thought are intended to lead us towards an ethical, thoughtful, loving treatment of each other.

    Sadly, in this community, that's often not the case. Which is why I have a difficult time here. But as my sister once said to me: "It's not the Jewish community you have a problem with, it's the NEW YORK Jewish community." I moved away and discovered she was right...


  9. Had the same exact reaction when I joined a CJ shul after many yrs of just belonging nowhere after I left OJ. The differences you marked are the only difference I found that there were to get used to. And it was no big deal. But the people and the community were a much better fit for me.