Saturday, February 12, 2011

Who knew that a change of heart could be as silent as freshly fallen snow?

Never Done: Went to Friday night services at Kolot Chayeinu.

Just as I'm getting ready to move out of the neighborhood (unless someone can help me find a big, affordable place nearby, really soon!) I finally went to Friday evening services at Kolot Chayeinu, just around the corner. I've been thinking about what it would mean to be a member of a congregation for some time, and it's actually on my Never Done list. I have never joined, because I so rarely prioritize actually going. Case in point, I have lived in NYC since 2002, and this is the first time I ever went to services aside from Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur.

I went because Mich mentioned that she was going, and it was easy to join her. I'd been wanting to go, but had let little things keep me away -- like many of the Friday evening services are ostensibly for people in their 20s and 30s, but then after one night I had decided not to go because of that, a friend of mine in her 40s told me she had been the night before. So when Mich mentioned she was going, and I had the time suddenly free from a canceled trip, I went for it.

We arrived with a woman who had never been to Kolot Chayeinu at all before -- a psychotherapist who works with troubled adolescents. (I should have gotten her card.) The door was locked, and we thought we might be early, until we realized the services were being held downstairs. When we entered downstairs, we realized we were actually late; a dozen people were already sitting together around a table, eating cookies, drinking wine, and engaged in text study. A dozen people in the their 20s and 30s, I might add -- and I was flushed with a sense of belonging when I realized that I knew all but one of them.

We were welcomed over to join the study -- which was about what it means to take leadership into our hands, with a study on the word "ordain" and an attempt at discussion about mass popular protests in Egypt forcing Mubarak to step down from leadership. Since we got there late, it's hard to know how the rest of the text study had gone, but the part I was there for was an awkward and earnest exploration. Still, it was good to be there, and to be urged to think about leadership in a spiritual context.

I didn't know how the rest of the evening was going to go -- assumed the whole service was going to be this text study -- but then it suddenly wrapped up when Mollie the student, soon-to-be-ordained rabbi said that the woman leading services was on her way, and going to be late, and that we should start by lighting candles. And that was the first in a long series of insider/outside moments. On the one hand, I'm an insider, because I know most of the people there. On the other hand, I'm an outsider, because some of the people I know, people I have met probably a dozen times, once for an hour-long, personal conversation in a sukke, come up to me during the ritualized greet-each-other time, and introduce themselves. I try to handle it with a mixture of grace and firmness, saying that we have met before, and reminding them of my name. I try not to take it personally, and try to be thoughtful as I go up to other people to introduce myself.

Once the service starts (it isn't an all-night text study -- it's a singing service led by Shira Kline) I'm both an insider -- sitting between friends, smiling at others across the room, and an outsider -- usually lost, rarely able to find where we are in the siddur (prayer book), partly because Shira is pretty lax about saying where we are, and partly because it seems like most people know the songs and the prayers and the way these Friday evenings flow. I do what I usually do in this situation -- I try to figure out where we are, and then I stop worrying about it, and get involved in the text at my own pace, according to my own interest. But most of all, I try to notice if it's useful to be there, and if I am enjoying myself. I think it is, but I still wish for a stronger guide through the service. But that would take away some of Shira's magic, which seems to be a combination of her lovely voice, her unvarnished and beaming smile, and her free-flowing interaction with the text and music. On the one hand, I don't want to cage this bird, and on the other hand, I can't find the page we're on.

And then I come upon a phrase in the text that I love: Who knew that a change of heart could be as silent as freshly fallen snow? I have no idea if we had come to that page as a group, or if I had just found it on my own, but I love it, and I stay with it for a while, thinking about the changes my heart needs to make, and whether they could come so gently. And I'm glad I am in shul, midst the music and midst my community, and I am glad I found my place in the service.


  1. if you end up sitting next to me at services again, and you want to know the page, just ask, or peer over at my book- doesn't bother me at all. i never know if people want to be on whatever page the group is singing from, or are wanting to spend time other places in the siddur, so i don't offer page numbers unless asked, but i am always happy to put all those years of dayschool to use. - Aleza

  2. dear one
    thanks for sharing that phrase. i'm sitting with it too.

  3. ummm unfurling = beatrice.
    not sure when and where i took that handle.

  4. oh that insider/outsider feeling. painful memories. now i know how to sit with it. one is never too old to learn. and now i know that a change of heart doesn't have to be so wrenchingly loud. thank you.

  5. Thanks Aleza! I looked a couple times in both directions -- over to Mich and over to you. But I also got shy to ask ... but I will next time! Beatrice -- I love the handle! Sandra -- xoxoxo