Sunday, May 15, 2005

72. Clueless

(Continuing the story.)

We walked into the lobby and asked the security guard where the services were. Unbeknownst to us, this synagogue held multiple small services in different rooms, and only occasionally a big, standard issue version in the main sanctuary, which is what we had hoped to attend.

He sent us, instead, to the end of the hallway and a musty, wood-paneled room filled with crammed and towering bookcases where about twenty people in their 30s to 50s were sitting in a half-circle of folding chairs, mumbling and swaying. They seemed weird or possessed, and my first impuse was to run in the opposite direction as fast as possible. I was also surprised that anyone under the age of 85 who didn't already wear a black hat would bother to pray so fervently. My friend and I took deep breaths, looked at each other for strength, and stepped gingerly into a back row. A woman with a distracted but beatific expression on her face walked over and handed us prayer books already opened to the correct page. A man in a huge, tent-like tallit stood up and started singing, and everyone joined in with loud, spirited off-key voices. I had no idea what was going on and was sure my ignorance was flashing on my forehead like a big neon sign: "Clueless Jew! Keep away!"

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