1) Friday Night at a Writing Retreat
He was a stranger, and yet, the minute I saw him, I felt compelled to greet him.
Good Shabbas, I said.
Good Shabbas, he responded.
Neither of us bothered to continue the conversation. We already understood each other.
I could write a post on our differences. I was wearing skinny jeans and a purse stuffed with muktzah.
He ate nothing at the welcome reception while I gorged on the desserts. He wrote nothing during the group free-write exercise, preferring to reflect and absorb the creative energy through osmosis. I scribbled furiously.
But actually, we have a lot in common. We practice the same religion. We’re bound by the same commandments. Even if one or both of us doesn’t keep all of those commandments, we share that awareness of them. If I were to read a piece at the open mic containing references to Jewish practice or culture, with Hebrew or Yiddish vocabulary, he would understand it without explanation (and I would never give an explanation at an open mic), and vice versa. Both of us had decided that it was more desirable to spend Shabbat this week in the context of this writing retreat than in our usual context. Both of us had made compromises we might not ordinarily make in order to attend this writing retreat/workshop.
Really, the only difference between us was where we chose to draw the line between “What I will do” and “What I will not do”. But otherwise, we were really quite similar.
2) The Hostage Situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX
But when I first heard the news before the hostages were rescued, it hit me harder than previous synagogue shootings. The fact that I even wrote the phrase “previous synagogue shootings” is its own level of bizarre. I cannot exactly explain this, as I have no geographic connection to Colleyville, TX. Maybe because I just wrote nonchalantly about antisemitic tropes in fictional book characters. Maybe because I got so sick of the role of being the supporting coral pillar of my Jewish community that I basically said fuck it and did something selfish for me this week; whereas the hostages were held for hours for the sole “crime” of Shabbat services.
I will say that I sensed Jewish and interfaith communities coming together in solidarity and prayer. I’m on a lot of synagogue mailing lists (whenever I travel, I often contact a local synagogue to spend Shabbat and I’m lazy about deleting emails); every single one regardless of denomination or geography sent a message about this.
Still, it shouldn’t be horrific circumstances that bring us together.
It should be writing workshops.
(not necessarily scheduled on Shabbat. But you get the idea.)