Sunday, May 29, 2005

86. A smile

The rabbi had a gentle, determined voice, light and with intricate twists, like taking your hand and leading you though the woods to a clearing. People began to clap along and some joined in, a man up front with a guitar, a woman in the second row with maracas, accompanying just loud enough so that his singing could float above the music.

Others stood and linked hands and began to dance around the rest of us, just like at the synagogue. Except here, without pews, they could snake behind rows and around folding chairs, so close I almost felt like I was in the dance, too. I froze in my seat, not sure how to react. I couldn't join them, even though I had come here to get to know them. I lived in the real world; we didn't run around like a bunch of hippies. It wasn't cool. And the whispering vestige of Rabbi N., reminding me that instruments made everything null and void, had emerged a few weeks before as I listened to the cantor at his keyboard. Playing an instrument on Shabbat was in the same category as carrying, a forbidden kind of work. I could almost feel the earth churning beneath my feet as various relatives turned in their graves.

Yet I was impressed at how unselfconcious these people were, a state I could rarely achieve. And it did look like fun. I watched the rabbi, whose hands were flying arcoss the drum skin, and who had a broad smile on his face.

Rabbi N. had worn a perpetual scowl. The one at my old synagogue in Queens always looked on the verge of tears, what with the mortgage. From this small sampling I extrapolated that rabbis were not happy people. This--a rabbi who smiled--I had never seen before. I was astonished.

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