Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My Dad, the mensch.

It's post Kol Nidre, and being on an organizer's schedule, my body thinks it's two hours before dinnertime and at least four hours before bed. Being that my body almost always feels this way around this time year, and being that, more often than not, this time of year involves me busting my butt for a campaign and not getting to see that much of, well, anyone, I've developed the minhag (practice or custom) using Yom Kippur downtime to email folks, call folks, reflect on the blog or in other ways as a way to reach out to people i love and to keep them gates open. Plus, if i'm trying to reconnect with the folks I love, i'm not obsessing over work, i'm not getting caught up in the daily, i'm trying to connect with the people and the things in this life that matter.

Of course, I also connect this time of year with family. I'm with them for at least some part of the Chaggim usually, and more often than not for most of them. This year, add Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to the list of birthdays, anniversaries, children being born, parties, events, rough times I have missed in the lives of the people I care about up here. For the most part, I'm pretty stone-faced about it, but all it usually takes to change that is one song about New York, or someone asking if I miss people and then it gets pretty hard.

Anyway, services tonight made me think of my Dad. I was at a conservative shul downtown(oddly enough about three blocks from my office) and I had several reminds of my Dad. First, was the rough one, when I wasn't sitting between him and Knucklehead. And while I've had the blessing of davenning next to Knucklehead many times, I still think of him as the person I've prayed next to the most. Second, there was the exhortation of the President of the shul that "This is your Temple" the push to get people to not feel like guests, but like residents, like people that belonged. This also made me think a little of BZ and other folks who I've had framing discussion with you and made me smile. The third thing was the biggest one, and I think I should start backwards with that one.

Many Jews, perhaps because they really only go to one shul/synagogue/temple regularly, think of the way things are done at their shul, the way things are in their Jewish community, as "The Way Things Are Done in THE Jewish community" Until Knucklehead brought me through to Kol Zimrah and then Kehilat Hadar, I really felt unconnected to a community of people in my age group that really was interested and involved in Judaism. Schedule1 and I did some things at the apartment; it was important to us. But it wasn't a big group of knowledgeable young Jews doing stuff. That was also in part because I was suffering from TWTADITJC. From my experience at home, I thought small conservative shuls/conservative minyanim in reform synagogues were the way to go. Why?

Because at our service, women and men (mostly men, but women too) my dad's age and old enough to be his parent went out of their way to pass knowledge to me. They went out of their way to make me feel welcome. This could have been happening only because I was the son of one of their own. But they didn't stop there. They went out of their way to make EVERYONE who attended feel at home. A small cadre of volunteers were running the davenning, making sure there were torah/haftarah readers, would also make sure that kids who weren't bnai mitzvah age would get to do things, whether lead songs, polish the kiddish cup or open the Ark. They'd make sure to say Gut Shabbos, get the names of people they didn't recognize before they sat down, and would hand them a siddur with the page that the Sh'Tz' was on. And most likely, those folks got an aliyah that day.

No one was a bigger proponent, more active in this kind of welcoming space creation than my Dad. Making a key effort to strike up conversations with people at Kiddish to see what brought them there, whether they needed anything around town, working hard to make them at home. Both him and Momma K were always pretty incredible about making folks feel welcome in the house growing up, but it was especially in shul, in helping get someone to feel comfortable and home in a space so they could open up to prayer and be a part of a community, that my Dad really shined. It's funny, because my Dad can be a little formal (he still mocks me for not carrying a hankerchef at all times, looks for reasons to wear bow-ties and cufflinks) but he's always so welcoming in his presence at shul.

Over the years, i've found places like this. The shul in Ithaca NY, and the shul in Norwich, Ct were both pretty great about making me feel welcome. Unfortunately, tonight's shul really didn't. I walked slowly, gingerly by the greeters, a little lost and no one said boo to me. When services finished, no one said Gut Yontiff or Lshana Tovah until I saw the rabbi n the way out and said Yasher Koach to him. One the way out, one gentleman finally struck up a very brief convo with me. But in those moments, in going in, walking past greeters, ushers, sitting down near folks who didn't say hello, or people walked by me afterwards, etc. I felt the absense of my Dad.

Now, I'm not trying to put down this particular shul. I've been in some places that have a more welcoming atmosphere, and others that haven't. People could've just been in their own place. I don't want to start the year with an LH. But instead, I do want to say that my Dad is a mensch. He really goes above and beyond on this stuff. And I don't tell him that enough, which is why I'm broadcasting it to the world, and going to tell him when I speak to him tomorrow.

Hope you're all having a meaningful fast, and using this time of open gates to break down the walls between you and the things that matter most.


Post a Comment

<< Home