Yesterday, a friend’s son became a bar mitzvah in the Orthodox synagogue I used to frequent. Dan and I dressed the part and arrived midway through services, only to be greeted by my children, who were there with their father.
I sat in the last row of the women’s section, while Dan burrowed into the men’s section, one row behind my ex. On either side of me were friends who shared the same reason for being there, friends not of the Orthodox world but there to support our mutual friend and her wonderful son.
Since I divorced and left the fold, most of my friends from the Orthodox world have dropped away from my life. I wasn’t sure what type of reception I’d find stepping back into that milieu – but I was pleasantly surprised to receive hugs and smiles, welcomes and friendly chats.
All in all, it was lovely. I felt at home in the moment, I knew what was going on, and the partition that kept women at the back of the sanctuary, far from the sound of the bar mitzvah boy’s voice, didn’t even factor into my awareness because I spent most of the time chatting with old friends.
Of course, I was in their world. I wasn’t asking them to step into mine. And one former friend did say, “Lynne! Well, Hell must have frozen over for you to be here.” That was the reception I had expected and I’m glad to see most people can move beyond.
The thing is, the personal dynamics and interpersonal religious politics don’t matter as much as we think they do. In my mind, there was a brick-like barrier separating our worlds but let’s face it, we are all Jewish, on separate paths to the same spirituality, girded by common beliefs at the foundation. That the more religious always judge anyone less religious than them is not unique to Orthodoxy. It is how most people keep their sanity to assure them that what they’re doing isn’t crazy.
The bar mitzvah boy, a vegetarian, was the linchpin for a beautiful luncheon of fish and salads, falafel and potatoes, and lovely, lovely desserts. Again, a community used to meat and potatoes widened their own perspective of what a holy Sabbath might be, embracing the vegetarianism of the day with gusto and respect.
I suppose it’s true that people can change. Or at least we can all accept variations on a theme, within our comfort zone, within familiar walls.