I walked down the black plastic covered stairs into the abyss underneath the school building. I grabbed an artscroll siddur with no English translation from the rack. I entered the room expecting everyone to turn around and give me the “stare”, but it never happened. Was I not worthy of the “stare”? I thought as my friend motioned for me to join him towards the front of the shull. No one even looked up from their prayer books as I struggled over people’s talesim and black shoes spattered with road salt, as I squished into a plastic red chair with shiny metal legs.
Even when the resounding squeaking and creaking of my 170 pound frame trying to adjust my wedgy and legroom situation, from my newly acquired real estate did not bring looks of disapproval or looks of acknowledgment. Those looks of acknowledgement that everyone gets from people they know as they sneak into shull during laining. You know when someone you are acquainted with gives the nod, the basic communication between Jews as they walk down the street to shull is that ever slight nod, easier to see if they wear a hat, but nevertheless an important and polite gesture. Here no such nod existed, even from the folks I had entertained last night as I scarfed down their cranberry juice cocktails and tried to get more insight into what its like to b e 33 successful and desperately single.
Everyone was engrossed in the task at hand, no idle conversation existed, a shock indeed. Every single person in the room besides fidgety me, was looking intently at their chumashim as the bar mitzvah bochur lained ever so pleasantly the parsha of bishalach. It was like heaven, not only was this not a traditional basement shull, even though it was in a basement, but their was no chit chat during laining, what a mechaya that was. I am so used to being stared at whenever I enter a basement shull, that I was shocked that no one had stared and happy at the same time, making me feel much more comfortable in my place.
I growled when the Rabbi go up to speak, but by the end his speech I was praising him. I usually dislike the Rabbis speech on shabbos, it just never flows good. This dude had me captivated and intrigued enough to actually wish him good shabbos and introduce myself. He was a very too the point speaker with good metaphors and analogies. It wasn’t one of those cheesy speeches to make the bar mitzvah boy feel all dumb with one of those “why today is the best day to be bar mitzvah because of this weird gematria I found” speeches.
No the mechitza situation wasn’t good for the guy who likes to spend his time at davening looking over at all the cuties behind it, maybe that’s why everyone could concentrate. While you could not see any of the women sigh, you could concentrate completely on davening even if you have a tinge of feminism in you since the bima is right next to the sheet that is used as a mechitza. Yes the mechitza was opened briefly allowing me to see inside for a moment when the blitzkrieg of candy came flowing from the allied terotories beyond that blue curtain.
God for some reason hooked a brother up this shabbos because by chance the shull I went to had a feast laid out for Kiddush. A combined bar mitzvah and TuBashvat meal awaited all those who were brave enough to stay until after all the speeches preceding davening. I eagerly waited for the Rabbi to make Kiddush as I lay my eyes over the beauty that lay before and was soon to be shoveled into my salivating mouth. Cholent, kishke, potato, yerushalmi and luction kugels, tons of those cakes that look amazing but taste like crap, a dried fruit frenzy and two types of lettuce salads. The traditional frummy salad f power washed dole lettuce with magoes and strawberries lay beside the cruton and lettuce Caesar wannabe salad. I saw out of the corner of my eye some folks has started to take, even though the gabbi had said to wait for the Rabbi, my cue, other people taking is kind of like those guys on the runway with the glow sticks signaling all systems go. I plopped several scoops of cholent onto my plate, and took a bunch of the two salads, I started struggling with the kishke which had not been cut properly. I felt as if the kishke was a freedom fighter in the west bank, holding on for deer life as I tried to cut a piece away from its family. I lost the fight and instead of using my hands, I took about 5 slices of kishke, not only bringing my original piece but its 5 cousins along with it.
Kiddush was made and the fressen began. I started shoveling food into my mouth oblivious to my surroundings except for the occasional cute girl that passed through my blurred line of vision. The kishke was great and it worked by itself as well as with the cholent as its alamode. Sometimes kishke is good with or without the cholent as its crutch- this was very versatile kishke in that it seemed to take pride in its all around goodness. The salads added color to the other wise brown mess that was beginning to form on my plate.
My buddy Kalman was standing beside me, chowing down as well, when a girl of about 27 came up to us and introduced herself as the shulls welcoming committee. I was impressed not only was the shull nice and conducive to davening it was actually friendly. Kudos to the folks who run the shull in the Yeshiva of Central Queens (YCQ) basement other wise known as Congregation Ishei Yisroel. This girl proceeded to introduce us around and people actually talked to us, it wasn’t at all like I had been told of singles scenes how they are supposed to be quite shallow. Maybe it was the Queens vibes- but it was all good- people who didn’t care what you did and just wanted to meet new and interesting people who may be possible shidduchim for them- bravo. Even my buddy Kalman who lives down the block was super happy at all of these introductions going around. I left shull feeling satisfied with the food, the women, and the friendly and rather diverse atmosphere that I find very rare in large cities such as New York.