People sometimes assume that my trips leave me culture shocked. They don’t. Nothing changes. People are still earning it and spending it. What does happen is that meeting new people and seeing more of the planet is always endlessly fascinating. I will give you a bit of a blow by blow, not so much of people, but of what encountering people tells me about our journeys. One of the things that I am supposed to resent is the traveling from place to place. The truth is that I like it. I like people watching, and I like the quiet time when I find myself sitting next to people who have absolutely no reason to have anything thing to do with me.
When I landed, I encountered my first surprise. It was still winter. Dvora Schorr a dear old friend rescued me. She took me home in her heated car. She didn’t tell me that she had literally just moved. It couldn’t have been too convenient to have a guest, and she probably knew that I would suggest that this time I stay elsewhere, so she didn’t tell me.
LESSON ONE THIS TRIP: DO ANY MITZVAH HASHEM SENDS YOU.
After speaking in Rebbitzen Assaf’s sem I was off to Baltimore by train. I had a ticket for what I found out later is a “silent car”. You are not allowed to speak loudly, call on your cell or make any other kind of noises. What a pleasure. Although it had all of the charm of a dentist’s waiting room, it simultaneously had the capacity to be a backdrop for a bit of hisbodedus. My chavrusa of many years standing met me at the station. It was still winter. She drove me to Burlington Coats just as they were closing and helped me find what was literally the only jacket left in my size. From the looks of things, they too were surprised by winter lasting so long. The next day, I returned to the NY area with Bracha Burr, one of my Bnos Avigail girls. She did me the great favor of letting me nod off for the 4-hour trip to Monsey.
LESSON TWO: GIVE PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED, NOT WHAT YOU LIKE TO GIVE
Monsey for Shabbos was next. My best lesson here came from my almost 3-year-old granddaughter, Elisheva. She remembered me! Well, I don’t know that for sure, but she greeted me as Bubby, and stayed glued to me whenever we were together. She likes to chat and doesn’t mind if you don’t answer her comments (or understand them). It’s fine as long as you look at her and hold her. My next stop was Brooklyn for a day of learning. Interestingly there too I felt the instant joy of bonding with people I know. Some of the people have been coming to these classes for years. Two of them are Old Neve Girls who learned there 40 years ago! They invited me for lunch with the same inviting smile that Eliasheva mastered sans the innocence. I denied myself the pleasure of having time with another friend and the delightful food was waiting for me. I knew that she would understand because she is a real friend, and she also has that smile. The cream on the cake was having 11 Bnos Avigail girls for a shiur and shalosh- seudos. The warmth was palatable, as was the feeling of being relatives who are getting together for something worthwhile and fun.
LESSON THREE: A SMILE GOES MUCH FURTHER THAN YOU THINK. IT MAKES YOU VULNERABLE AND IS AN OFFERING OF LOVE.
I have a special place in my heart for Persian Greatneck. The almost palatable emunah coupled by the need to bring whatever we learn into real life practical applications without it being heavy or pedantic is a real delight
Although the style is different, the substance is the same in Passaic and Englewood. They both gave me enormous inspiration. Their questions are real and serious, and the people asking them are not asking out of intellectual curiosity (although they are intellectually demanding), but out of an honest desire to know and to let what they know affect their lives.
LESSON FOUR: SINCERITY COMES IN MANY SHADES.
And now, for the relatively new places: It’s easy to group Out of Town as one big version of Small Town America gone frum. To a large degree this description fits. I was introduced to Cincinnati years ago, by Paula Weinberg who brought me out there several times. When I told the women gathered that Paula is the one who introduced me to their community they all (for real) applauded her! There is something to be said for being the only show in town!! Denver is larger, more established, and nonetheless more varied by its nature than the East Coast communities that I had been to. The most interesting place for this trip hands down, was Seattle. I had seen Seattle quite a number of years ago but never in the spring. Its outstanding and unforgettable beauty is in a class of its own. Its far more beautiful then Prague or any of the other European cities whose beauty is man-made. The people are also beautiful, earnest, chilled, and ready to hear more
LESSON FIVE: BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
The last days of my trip were in London. On the way there, I had my basic rule of travel not only broken but fractured. The blessed silence of the air was pierced by the unending dia-monologue of the minister who sat next to me. A member of the Witnesses, he became interested in me when he saw me davening. He asked about the letters, the direction of the pages etc. I naively thought that the end was near when I finished, put away my siddur and closed my eyes. I figured that the end of the flight is near, and I can use some shuteye. But no. He wanted to tell me how The End Is Near in an entirely different context…!
LESSON SIX: MEETING PEOPLE YOU WOULD NORMALLY AVOID CAN BE FUN!
I could have easily ruminated about why I do this. I am no longer a teenager (I know that this is shocking news) and I should be past getting a charge out of packing up and heading out, but I don’t. If there was any doubt, it was allayed by my stay with Joanne Dove, who runs England. No apologies to the parliament or the Queen are necessary. They, as the Talmud tells us, no longer have genuine freedom of choice. Their hearts are in Hashem’s Hands. Joanne, however, chooses to see possibility, spiritual ambition in everyone she encounters, and moves right in and harvests it. I always come home from her house wondering where I missed the boat (a similar feeling to when I would speak to Henny Machlis who prepared Shabbos for over a hundred guests on Thurs. night, just like me. The only difference is that I did 20 guests and ended up emotionally and physically finished by the time I hit the hay, while she was still her mellow self).
LESSON SEVEN: WATCH THAT LIFE-LOVERS!
Are you wondering why you are getting a travelogue when you wanted some learning? It is because I am sharing real learning with you. The kind that I took in the last two weeks. The kind of teaching that people do without even knowing that they are teaching you.