Saturday, May 21, 2005

78. The late service

So I decided to give it another try. One Friday after work I screwed up my courage and ventured into the cavernous church that hosted the late service, famous among singles for the scene that unfolded afterwards on its wide, crumbling stone steps. If you hung around long enough after "Aleinu" you might find a date, or at least a group with whom to go to a Chinese restaurant. Not quite as nice as a traditional Shabbat dinner, but certainly better than microwaved lasagna in front of the TV. The social pressure of this ritual seemed far more intimidating than the religious stuff; it was bad enough to be ignored by fellow worshippers, but even worse that the rejection might continue after the service ended.

I vowed to run down the steps at the end and not look in either direction. I walked inside and sat in the very back row; everyone up front looked like ants. It was early, and people had just started to trickle in--groups of friends, men and women around my age, some looking frazzled and others relieved as they scoped out the crowd for the best possible seats; some all alone and wary, like myself; and a sprinkling of of grey hair. No kids at all, unlike on Saturday morning. I watched as the trickle slowly changed to a deluge, and after fifteen minutes there was barely a space free in the pews. Even the balcony was full. I realized, with shock and also a kind of joy, that there must be over a thousand people in the church--all of them Jews, and most in their 30s. I had never seen so many of us in one place before.

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