Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Moishe House DUMBO - Isaac's Post

A Good First Impression I'm no stranger to Shabbat dinner, and after a stint as the president of my alma mater's Hillel, I'm no stranger to feeding Shabbat dinner to young people en masse. Yet, I was still knocked a bit off balance when, a month into my Moishe House residency, and a week after I got back from Birthright, half of my Birthright group showed up for Shabbat dinner, a meal to which many of them were indeed strangers. It’s one thing to roast a chicken and boil some soup. It’s another thing to say some blessings and sing some songs. But it’s a different thing altogether to introduce adult Jews to Shabbat. They know it by reputation – challah, synagogue, something about no electricity? - but they have never really met the Sabbath Bride. The pressure to do Shabbat, or any holiday/tradition/ritual, justice when showing it to a newcomer can be intense. My own experiences and education were so rich and fulfilling that the thought of giving a guest an evening that doesn’t live up to my own expectations, even if the guest has none of his own, is an unhappy one. But, what I discovered at that Shabbat dinner immediately after Birthright is that being able to set or even exceed my guests’ expectations – something that’s awfully easy to do for people with no substantial Jewish background – is a rich and fulfilling experience in itself, and one that totally overcomes my anxieties about delivering “the true meaning of Shabbos.” After all, that’s not how I learned to practice Judaism. So this is what I remind myself: a Jewish life doesn’t happen in a meal, or a day. It happens in a lifetime of practice and observance and identity-building, and it is far greater than the sum of all the chickens roasted and all the songs sung. Every time a Jew who doesn’t know Judaism sits down at our table, we give them the chance to meet each other. It’s not as much work as I think it is. Just a good first impression, that’s all. And chances are, they’ll get along.

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