Tuesday, May 17, 2005

74. Welcome

Finally we reached the end of the service. The man in the big tallit got up once again, and his fellow swayers looked at him with expectant smiles.

"We have some new people with us tonight," he said, staring straight at me. "Welcome! Will you stand and tell us where you're from?"

I leaned forward in the chair while remaining hunched over, not wanting to reveal any more of myself than necessary. "A few blocks away," I said.

"Welcome," said the man, once again. "Please come back. Any time!"

I acknowledged that he was trying to be nice, but even though our great-grandparents probabaly knew each other from neighboring shtetls, I couldn't imagine they were friends. Mine would have invited his over for chicken soup, but his would have been too busy with their important shoemaker or butcher business to respond. Mine would have forgiven his, but they still would sit on opposite sides of the shul.

Or maybe this was what being a non-Orthodox Jew in Manhattan was about, and Queens never got the memo. Or perhaps I was overreacting, unwilling to admit that my long absence made everything seem foreign. No, that couldn't be.

My friend and I left the building and stood outside, giggling. I thought we might have coffee and discuss our visit to the planet of heartfelt mumblers, since I suspected this might have been a date--I wasn't sure why he wanted to come with me in the first place, not certain his motives were entirely religious. But he looked ready to crawl out of his skin, and quickly said goodbye and ran to the subway. I was left on the street corner contemplating what had changed and where, if anywhere, I was supposed to be.

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