Shabbat Recap — On the Clock, Finally!

The local rabbi likes to say there are no such things as coincidences. After Saturday, I’m inclined to agree.

I did get to shul, only to find that someone has moved the service time ahead a half an hour, meaning I was even later than usual (note for the Orthodox-unaware: it’s really not uncommon, at least in Orthodox synagogues, for people to come in late, and/or kind of drift in and out during the service, so I wasn’t exactly disrupting anything), and kind of slunk in, only to find that basically nobody was there anyway.

Rabbi: Well, we have a minyan on one side of the mechitza, but not on the other. So I’m going to give the sermon now, and when we get a minyan on the men’s side, we’ll continue with the service.

Apparently this is the time of year when a lot of the Orthodox community here goes on vacation, which totally makes sense, since nothing’s ticking but the clock outside the kehila, either.

After the service, I was walking back to my bus stop from shul (still coasting on goy privilege so I can keep living here for the time being), the rabbi and rebbetzin caught up to me (I walk slowly) and asked me if I wanted to come back to their house for lunch. I accepted, even though it made me very nervous; I get nervous in unfamiliar social environments to start with, and I always feel like interacting with the rabbi is a real pressure situation. I’m still not comfortable around him yet, really, for some senses of the word “comfortable.”

Lunch was kind of surreal, and the rabbi was doing his best to model behaviour, since in attendance were one guy who comes to shul occasionally but normally goes to the Chabad house near the university; a convert, and his ba’alat teshuva wife whose Jewish education was minimal and curtailed by a mixed marriage (she’s Jewish through the matrilineal line), and who almost became an Anglican minister, at her Anglican father’s urging.

I also got to dine under the fancifully artistically-rendered watchful eyes of five Lubavitcher rebbes. (Apparently no one knows what the other two looked like — there were seven all told.) My friend RH joked in Facebook chat: “A meal with rabbinical supervision of the highest order!” You got that right…

We actually wound up talking until motzei, at which point, the rabbi introduced us to some short videos made by Chabad primarily about R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, called The Living Torah. I mostly found this interesting because I could actually more or less understand the Hebrew in Schneerson’s Yiddish. (I speak not a word of Yiddish.) The rabbi’s toddler son is a big fan, but I don’t know if the family speaks Yiddish at home, although I suspect the rabbi himself is not a native English-speaker, even though he doesn’t have a Yiddish-speaker’s accent. (His actual accent is downright weird, though; it’s not quite New York, and not quite Chicago, and not quite California, and not quite southwestern Ontario, although he does have a bunch of New Yorkisms in his speech. He won’t tell me where he’s from.)

After that, he gave me and one of the other guests a ride home. So now I have the odd distinction of having been given a lift home by a Chabad rabbi.

During the conversation in the car, he also told me that the couple he was mentoring through the conversion process dropped out because they said it was too hard (a fate I devoutly wish to avoid), so he’s available to start teaching me now…

I start my studies in a week!! In the meantime, I’m rereading the three books that will form the first lesson block. I’m on my way, finally!

Women’s Lecture at the JCC

I just got home from attending an inspirational lecture (with dinner) at the local JCC, to which the Rebbetzin invited me. I actually thought the lecture was prety good, if only because it showed me that my coping mechanisms are pretty much in the right place. I don’t often get a chance to talk shop about adversity and how to deal with it, so hearing someone I totally didn’t know (an invited speaker who came all the way from LA) talk about how she dealt with the untimely deaths of five of her eight (!!) children (four died of a genetic disorder, and the fifth died of an accident as a young adult). And here I thought my one friend’s parents — who lost two childen at birth in the late 1940s, then three of the surviving four in three weeks in the terrible influenza epidemic of 1950* — were the worst case I’d ever heard of.

Also, the dinner was very nice. It was so nice to go to a catered event and just not have to worry about my dairy issues — meat kosher! There was even some sort of pareve dessert, which was sort of like a weird quasi-alcoholic tasting chocolate pudding with some kind of ersatz whipped cream stuff on top.

I also got to see some people I knew, and have some good conversations, although people have seriously got to stop telling me things I had already figured out!

* Get your flu shots, folks. This year, next year, and every year.


I have to hand it to Chabad from time to time (although they wouldn’t take it directly from me) — they’re very, very slick about promoting Judaism, and whoever comes up with a lot of their campaigns is very sharp and very adroit.

Their latest thing is sukkot on bicycles. They are pedaling these things around in cities around the world, and inviting Jews in to pray and eat. There isn’t much room, but they are apparently kosher (fit for use), as you would expect.

The pictures are priceless.

Bike sukkot

Sukkot on bikes in New York City, courtesy of Chabad’s outreach movement. The large text says “Your sukkah has arrived!”

I Probably Should Mention a Few More Things

I don’t actually remember a time when I wasn’t interested in Judaism.  I was probably the only kid in white, suburban Canada who doodled alefs ( א ) and shins ( ש ) in their binders at school.  I think I picked them up from movies and tv.

When I was in my 20s, I met (and dated) a guy who’d converted to Judaism because of his ex-wife.  While I have no doubt he was a sincere Jew, by most Orthodox standards, he was pretty much what they call “OTD,” or “Off the Derech,” which is sort of the Jewish equivalent of being a lapsed Catholic.  Then again, considering that he lived way out in the middle of nowhere even for here, it’s really hard to blame him.  In any case, he had a whole library of books he’d no doubt accumulated because of his geirut (conversion) process (like the one I’m accumulating), and he let me read a bunch of them.  I can honestly say I read Pirkei Avotyears before I ever even considered converting.

I’ve been studying Hebrew off and on (mostly off) since I think about 2002, but I only really got serious about it again about two years ago, when I signed up to do an ulpan-style (Hebrew in Hebrew) course over the internet.  I’ve completed two of those courses now and I’m working on the third.  Unfortunately (for my religious life), I’m studying Modern Hebrew, which means that when I go to Israel — and I’ve been twice already — I can do about well enough to get myself in trouble, but when it comes to Tanakh (Jewish Bible) Hebrew, there are diacritics and things I’ve never even seen.  (Eek!)  I read out loud pretty badly, but I don’t read out loud well in English, either.

Now I periodically attend a small Orthodox synagogue in my city.  I can’t really estimate how many people usually attend, because it features sort of a rotating cast of characters, but they often have a hard time getting a minyan — ten men, at least first thing Shabbat mornings for Shacharit.  I don’t help in this regard at all.  It’s a little bit zany, and probably more chaotic than the average Orthodox synagogue (which is probably saying something), as people seem to have a good sense of humour about being more or less totally stranded and doing what they have to to get by.

There is going to be a lot of Hebrew and Jewish-specific vocabulary used on this blog.  I make no apologies for this (despite being Canadian) because it sort of comes with the territory.  I’ll do my best to define words, and you’re free to leave comments asking me what a word means, but as always, Google (and maybe is your friend.


A Note On Chabad

Although the local Orthodox rabbi is (as far as I can tell) a Chabadnik and I do recommend their site, I am not affiliated with, nor do I necessarily endorse, Chabad.  Their interpretation of Judaism is theirs, and I’m still finding mine.  Their site, however, is the most comprehensive go-to one-stop-shop for information on all things Jewish online.  It does lean heavily strict, though, or what people in the Orthodox community refer to as “to the right.”



I’m marginally insane.  I went from being completely irreligious to wanting to convert to Orthodox Judaism, and I’m trying to do it in a medium-sized city in southern Canada with a tiny Orthodox community, no kosher butcher, no kosher restaurant (at all), and a very busy Chabadnik rabbi.  Converting to Judaism isn’t easy to begin with, which is why I’m sort of extra-crazy.

Even the people at the shul think so.

Along the way, you’ll get to “meet” them, and I’ll write about some of my (mis)adventures as I continue along the process.