I walked towards the “Great Synagogue” and found my new friend outside waiting for me.
“Shabbat Shalom, Freddy.” He put out his hand and was smiling. “These are my two sons, Eitan and Yosef. Boys, this is Freddy and he is a Mets fan too.”
“Shabbat shalom and it’s very nice to meet you boys.” They each shook my hand with a smile.
“It’s getting late, let’s go inside.” Aaron said.
As we walked into the tremendous temple I could understand why they called it the “Great Synagogue.” The beautiful lobby was museum-like and it was adorned by hundreds of mezuzah. I walked along looking at all of the mezuzahs from throughout the years and different places in the world.
“Meet us inside the shul, we need to start minha.”
I saw these hundreds of mezuzahs and felt…nothing. I could not understand why these were so important. I know it had to do something with the resident of the home acknowledging that it was God’s property. I always thought it had to do with the angel of death sweeping over Egypt and passing on the homes with marks on the doorpost – at least that’s what the movie insinuated. (The Ten Commandments)
I walked inside the temple and it was gorgeous. There was a cantor and a choir behind him.The choir was singing beautifully – while it lacked the soul and fervor of a baptist choir – it was soothing. Still I was uninspired.
Was I numb to my religion? So why did a spark hit me on that Friday night in London? Was it Celeste who I was ignited by, rather than my identity?
After the prayers, we walked to Aaron’s home, it wasn’t far but it was uphill. I was jet lagged and I wouldn’t have minded if we would have taken a cab or even a camel up there. When we finally arrived there was a three floor climb to his apartment. The door was open and the boys had run ahead to see their mom and you can hear her acting surprised to see them.
“You must be Freddy from Brooklyn?” She smiled at me, “I am Sarah. Welcome and Shabbat shalom!”
“Thank you so much for inviting me without even knowing me.”
“This is what we do in Yerushalayim, we welcome everyone.”
Aaron said the Sabbath prayers on the wine and the challah. The meal was delicious. I had never tasted food as good as this and I kept repeating that to her until I felt stupid.
They began to sing some songs and I just sat there smiling like an idiot. I felt…nothing until…
I saw Sarah, with a look of love in her eyes that was radiant. She was looking at Aaron and he returned her look with his own. The boys were bothering each other but that didn’t disturb the mother and father from their trance. He took her hand and smiled.
This is what I had never felt as an adult. Yes there were lovers and there had been crushes – but this feeling of love for another person? Not in my life.
“Were you always religious?” I asked Aaron.
“Not at all. I was never shomer shabbat and I was never kosher.”
“What changed that?”
“I was searching for answers. You see, my parents had been through the shoah and had narrowly escaped being killed. Their parents didn’t survive – they died in Auschwitz.”
He was silent for a moment and then continued. “My parents both emigrated to Brooklyn. They were 17 years old when they met, and they married when they turned 21. They had three children and then I was the ‘surprise’ born in 1965. I remember from when I was a very young child hearing them screaming in their sleep – at first it scared me and then it annoyed me, until I understood and then I would just be there for them.”
“Were they religious?”
“They were when they lived in Poland – but once they came to America they could not understand how to pray to a God that would allow six million Jews to be killed. They still believed, they just couldn’t pray and state that He was the omnipotent figure that they were taught to believe, when their whole family, their whole village was killed.”
“How can you blame them?”
“I know. So I followed their lead and went even further away. After I graduated college, I visited Israel on a tour. They brought us straight to the kotel (the wall) after we landed in Tel Aviv. From the moment I stood there, I was struck by something – it wasn’t the wall itself but it was the sense of belonging. I wasn’t just another Jew born to a survivor – I was simply a Jew. I wasn’t a Jew rejecting his identity, I was a Jew realizing my identity. The trip ended after 14 days but I stayed on. I needed to learn more. So I did, I stayed for another month and then flew back to New York.”
“I have been trying to get that feeling, you know? I just am not feeling anything.” I said, a bit embarrassed.
“A lot of people do not feel anything at first – for some they never feel anything. But I did and the fact that you feel you are ‘not feeling anything’ means that something inside of you has stirred. A part of you is awakened and trying to figure out what is happening.”
“So what happened when you were back in New York?” I asked.
“I began to go to these singles classes in the city, Rebetzin Jungreis would have a class each week for singles.”
“That’s when I met this guy.” Sarah said. “We clicked right away – my father was also a survivor and would have these night terrors which would scare the hell out of all of us. But my mother kept us and my father close to the religion. Aaron and I married within a year and moved to Jerusalem a year after that. We had the two boys here and now we are expecting number three.” She touched her stomach.
“Congratulations! I couldn’t even tell you were pregnant. When are you due to give birth?”
“Another four months.”
Aaron looked at her again and the light shone from his eyes.
Aaron walked me part of the way back to my hotel and then pointed me in the right direction after I insisted he get back to his family. We embraced and I felt as if I had gained a friend. I also felt as if something inside of me was awakened.