It was Shabbat. It was my holiest and my most memorable observance of God's Day-of-Rest while deep in Chareidi country. The lovely summer morning felt good on the skin and lent itself to comfortable walking because one was not supposed to be riding any conveyance since sundown last evening. So the streets were quiet and only the breeze and human footfall made imprints on the atmosphere. No elevators were used. No telephones either, no computers, no PDAs. There was no cooking on this day as well. All the food shopping and cooking were accomplished before sundown yesterday. No laundry too. This day, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, was for davening and communing-in-prayer-and-with-food with family and friends. The din from the secular world seemed muted, as if the religious community was insulated from it. It was restful and was festive at the same time, just like a day-of-rest ought to be.
This week-end, Shabbat Pinchas was extraordinarily special because Ari was to be presented, together with two other grooms who were also getting married this upcoming week, at the Xelz Synagogue as part of the pre-wedding intense cleansing ritual of davening, fasting and reading from the Torah. The Xelz Synagogue is an impressive edifice. It is vast, modern, polished clean from its rafters to its floors, with beautiful craftsmanship and humongous crsytal chandeliers. We women, although praying quietly alongside the men, were separated from them by location and by an immovable screen. We were in what was designated as the women's galleries which are balconies overseeing the main hall below which is the men's domain. There is also a separate balcony without screens for boys. The boys are free to join the men. Sapir, Menuha's mother, was hailed and honored as the mother-of-the-bride by the women's leadership. She was moved by their reception of her. The ladies were also looking for Noya but she was indisposed that morning. I on the other hand felt that I must be sticking out like a sore thumb. But I did not feel insecure; I was confident that I was where God wanted me to be and He had His reasons why that was. At a designated time, under the tutelage of Miryam and Rani the women showered goodie bags to the young boys who were eagerly awaiting the treats down in the men's grand hall. Miryam, a 17-year old girl, well-dressed in black-and-white of course, brought all the treats in small pouches which she carried into the gallery in tall Hefty bags. Her mother Rani was as welcoming as her; Miryam is one of Rani's 14 children. Earlier I was particularly touched by the masculine roaring chants, which could already be heard on campus from the open high windows, and at one time seemed to overflow with emotion to my ears despite the fact that I do not understand a word of Hebrew. Before I knew it, I had tears in my eyes.
When Ari arrived this morning, crisp and handsome, wearing a spanking-new tallis gifted to him by Menuha, I knew I was in for something truly religious and esoteric. As days unfolded, this was proving truer and truer. As I was getting deeper and deeper into the thick of the religion in the Chareidi tradition, it was like an unmitigated exercise in immersion. I felt cocooned in a cloud of safety, as if nothing unsavory could touch me. I was in the zone of kindness and benevolence and my soul was in an attitude of humility so that I was able to soak it in. I have yet to comprehend all of it in the light of my own background. One thing I know for sure, this lifestyle of prayer needed to be lived with kindred spirits hence the apparent insularity.