During the 10 years I spent in the Orthodox community, I had lots of invitations to people’s houses for Shabbat or holiday meals. It was part of the fabric of being Orthodox – the concept of Abraham’s tent open on all sides to welcome people in, the notion that it would honor the occasion more if you invited someone to eat at your table.
The minute I got divorced – when I was still Orthodox for at least a little while – people stopped inviting me.
And then when I decided that it really didn’t jive with me to be Orthodox anymore, forget about it.
For the past five years, I’ve still lived in the religious ‘hood (thanks a lot, housing values) and when women in their long dresses and men in their black suits sand black hats walk past my house on a Saturday afternoon, we often call out “Good Shabbos.” No reply. We are not among them, so we are invisible.
It’s ok. I accepted that long ago. And so when a lovely long-time friend invited me and my kids to eat in her sukkah yesterday for one of the last days of this last fall holiday, I was really honored. I accepted. Bought a gift to take to her house. And the kids and I walked up the religious street where she lives, in a sea of black suits and black dresses and wigs and tall hats, and felt a little out of place.
Inside her house, it was a different world, a world I could be me. That’s a special place to be – where you can truly be yourself, no charades, no playing a part, no special words to utter as evidence that you fit in.
And yesterday I remembered some of the things I loved about being Orthodox. I loved taking time out for a holiday, even during the week, to make a special meal and recite prayers and gather people around a finely laid table and sit down to a long, leisurely meal full of conversation.
I loved the quiet in the house (no TV, no radio, no phone), the stopping everything to just be in the day, the community walking by and saying hello and sometimes sitting on a porch to catch up.
Last night, the kids and I went to our synagogue for the Simchat Torah celebration. We were in the small chapel and it was the same familiar families who are frequent attendees of the synagogue’s activities. You only need a few to make a community.
I wore corduroys and shiny Converse sneakers and a T-shirt. Shaya was in sweats and moccasins. We came as we were, we were accepted without having to wear a certain uniform or do things a certain way. The fact that Asher wore his baseball uniform for the game that began after the dancing wasn’t even a factor; we were accepted as we were.
We danced around the small chapel holding the festively adorned Torahs, the kids collecting candy in paper bags and waving yellow flags. At one point, I was handed a Torah to carry. I don’t remember ever doing that before, being such an integral part of what’s going on. In the Orthodox world, a woman, I was marginalized – the person who made the lunch ready while the men came home from synagogue.
I carried that scroll proudly and then my son carried one and then I gave my daughter the option, though she declined. At least she has the option.
Community to me is where you belong exactly as you are. Where you are welcome just for showing up, because you want to be there. It’s not conditional. It’s not judgmental. It’s the house where we had lunch yesterday and the synagogue we went last night and the baseball game afterwards, under lights among the trees.
Seriously. The parents in the baseball club smile and say hello and offer their bug spray even if they don’t know you. That’s what I’m talking about. The place where you can be you no matter what.
There’s nothing better.