First some good news
I just received Brachah Burr’s invitation, and heard about Ettie Svei’s engagement. I also received great pictures from Lele Katz’ wedding. Some of you know who I am talking about. If you don’t, share my simchah anyway! They are building homes that will be BEH part of our future. All of this in addition to the engagement of our tutor, Gittie Smith (Rabbi Smith’s daughter). Somehow, all of these simchahs melded for me, as I entered the Fountain, the Lakewood wedding hall where my grandson, Shaib (okay-Menachem Yishai), got married last Thursday. Sometimes you can't put things into words, but that has never stopped me from trying. I suppose the reason is that as a human being the need to let your inner life be heard is there from the beginning. When Hashem made the first human, the text tells you that he was called a ‘nefesh Chaya~, which means a living soul. The Targum translates the phrase (which presented its own difficulties-what sort of a soul wouldn’t be living, and why would G-d put it into our world?). He tells us that the meaning of the phrase is a ‘speaking soul’, meaning a soul that needs to find expression through the body.
I was at my grandson’s wedding in Lakewood.
That means that when I looked at him, I would see my son under the chuppah, and without too much effort see my own chuppah as well (especially since my son, now grown to full maturity looks very similar to my husband at his age). Without necessarily choosing to do so, I began envisioning my parents wedding, and the generations before in Eastern Europe, and from there backwards to Eretz Yisrael, and to ancient melodies that are foreign and totally a product of my imagination. Or Not.
The chosson stood there, serious and straight, alongside his kallah. They could have been Any Chosson and Any Kallah, generic versions of klal Yisrael’s past and future. The chossons little siblings preceded them down the aisle (how civilized! I have grown so used to people getting married in parking lots…). They sped down on tiny scooters decorated with crepe paper, and threw flower petals as they rode down. They are the future. They grew up when artificial intelligence is part of the scene, where almost all women work outside of the home, and where learning Torah is flourishing more than in any era since the second temple, along with an assimilation rate that competes with the holocaust for its sheer destruction of everything Jewish. They live with profound contradictions, and do so with delightful oblivion. They are the next links on the chain.
I had never spent any real amount of time in Lakewood, where the chasunah took place. It amazed me to see some of the sights. The stately normal homes full of bnei torah, the large number of people who have made Lakewood their home because they want to feel part of something bigger than themselves (or to be near their children who have often made the life choices that they made as the result of their parents wanting to give them something more real than anything else in their world will ever be).
I also davened in the Roberts Shul. It has another name, but it is very much The Roberts shul - the imprint of the man who built it is wherever you look. When I was a child, it was usually true that you could figure out how religious a synagogue was by observing its inside. The most orthodox shul near my parent‘s home was a shtibel. I don’t know what chassidus the rebbe of the shul belonged to. If I am not mistaken, his name was Rav Usher Rosenblum, but he was the only completely uncompromised voice in the area at that time. The shul was clean, hopelessly shabby, and was the kind of place that you imagined the shamash warming up the soda and drying out the sponge cake for the occasional Kiddush. Young Israel was far more attractive, it was more modern looking, everyone spoke English, but the vast majority of the congregants were not observant. And ‘above’ that was Young Judea. It resembled a movie theatre on the inside, dark, plush, and unfortunately Conservative. The stereotype crashed down when I entered the Robert’s s shul. It was built with the intent of making genuine tefillah as comfortable and as beautiful as possible. You enter a small area, carpeted and with a sign directing the women upstairs. Nu-nothing new here. When I got upstairs, I discovered that the large room was carpeted, had comfortable seats, built in bookcases for chumashim and siddurim, beautiful lighting and a general aura of dignity and care that I have up to that point never seen in a frum women’s section of a shul. Gorgeous floral displays were placed on tables. They looked real enough to fool most of the women who had come for the chasunah. There was also a basket with various prescriptions of reading glasses added to the feeling that this is an important place, a place where important things happen. Outside the tefilla area was a room that held a leather couch, and opened to another room where everything needed for young kids to play was ready for them, this includes a door that closed isolating their sound from the tefillah just a few feet away. There is a room dedicated for tzedakah, so that those who are collecting for various causes or for their own needs have a place to be during the tefilah, and so that the people who come to learn and daven have a place to give tzedakah in dignity without being accosted during their learning or davening. There is a Bais Midrash with an extremely impressive collection of sefarim, where a kollel learns throughout the week. All and all, it was quite an experience.
Later Friday night, I took a walk with an old friend, who has lived in Lakewood for many years. Without either of us planning to do so, we headed towards BMG, Bais Midrash Gadol, the Lakewood Yeshiva. I found myself heading back to the stereotype that the Robert’s shul had broken. In my fantasy fed by the Robert’s shul, the Yeshiva should have been a place dedicated to learning the Torah with dignity, grace, and luxury. It isn’t. It’s a yeshiva. Loud, alive, crowded, not particularly more of anything than itself. When we entered the stark Women’s section and looked down all you could see is a sea full of shtenders (lecterns) jammed together. It was past 11, and no one seemed particularly concerned about it. They looked like they were there for the duration, about a thousand of them (the room, by my estimations could hold 2,000, and it was at least half full).
I am back in Yerushalaim now, where the inner and outer worlds meld and become one.