My first Tish was in the Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. You can read about it on my other blog, This Year in Jerusalem (one of three, including this one). This was one of the highlights of the trip, and something that will stay with me forever. It was as if we all jumped in a time machine, travelling back thousands of years and seeing things as they had once been, and thankfully still are.
For a long time I felt I had no place in the Ultra Orthodox world. It seemed foreign to me, and I know I seemed foreign to them… foreign in the literal sense as an American, the way I dressed and acted… but also foreign in the religious sense, as a Reform Jew.
I know there is a rift between the degrees of Judaism, with many believing that someone like myself is not really Jewish. It’s a major issue. But we were made to feel welcome here, and for the first time, I realized the true importance of the continuation of this tradition. While I do not anticipate being fully a part of it, I deeply recognized how essential it was to keep these traditions alive. They are continuing our rich tradition and culture for us… keeping the candle lit…
And yet sadly, this also made me feel guilty, as if I was not doing my part… as if I was living my life on my own terms, while they made sacrifices for me… I asked myself, why should they be the only ones to be doing this? But Hashem has a path for all of us, and I do believe there is a place for each and every Jew. I will continue to feel strongly about welcoming others into the mix, knowing that the Reform movement keeps many in the blanket, connected to Judaism, whereas without it they would be lost… gone… far away from believing.
As long as we strive to learn and educate ourselves, live good lives and support our religion, we are in a good place. I am hoping that my journey is elevating me and taking me higher. I believe that it is.
The Tish 2.0 was at Rabbi Shlomo’s house… and was an after dinner celebration of brotherhood and dessert and of course, Scotch. I love that the Rabbis adore their Scotch… and so generously share it. It works out nicely for the rest of us.
When Bobby Blinder invited me to a Tish this past Friday I was expecting more of the second version… He told me The Pittsburgher Rebbe was in town… and was staying with Rabbi Dovid Horowitz of Makor HaChaim, who I had been trying to meet for a while based on an introduction by my friend Jonah. I was expecting a Rabbi from Pittsburgh… Maybe he’d even be wearing a Steelers kipot… Umm… NO!
I was told to get there about 9:30, and so I did. The house seemed empty as I quietly walked to the front door. I knocked… No answer. I somewhat hesitantly pushed the door opened and walked inside… The first thing I saw was the table full of women off the kitchen… and then I turned into the dining room… All eyes turned. The table was full of black coats… black jackets (Kaften)… black hats… and at least 4 absolutely beautiful Shtreimels. I would SO love to be able to pull that look off… but they seem so heavy and hot to wear. At the head of the table, was the Rebbe… Almost a mirror image of the head Rebbe from my first Tish… The Shtreimel… the white beard… the gold and white Kaften… The white socks and black shoes… which I would see later… and a presence… a spiritual and holy presence. I sat away from the table, but they invited me to eat with them, generously making room. I had already had my supper, but you do not turn down an offer to sit at the Rebbe’s table. The Yeshiva boys all introduced themselves, as did the visiting Israeli contingency. Their Shul is in Ashdod, and I immediately wanted to make my way back to Israel to see it, and visit the city. Especially since they are planning a remarkable Beis Midrash.
There was chanting and eating… chanting and discussion… banging on the table and singing… and these Jews knew how to keep the right beat. I so wished I knew more of these songs and prayers… Okay… ANY of these songs and prayers. I was there for a good 45 minutes before Bob arrived… but I was made to feel so included, even though I dressed like I was going out to a much more casual dinner.
At the end of the night, just before I was about to leave… and after the main, multi-course meal… they placed a bowl of garbanzo beans down in front of the Rebbe… Suddenly I heard my name called, and I was motioned to come to the head of the table. Time stopped. I slowly made my way up… and what was a short walk seemed like miles.
He reached out his hand and called my by name… told me I should always strive to hit a high-Marc. I told him I always do. He was warm and funny and held onto my hand tightly. He gave me words of wisdom and a plate of beans… my very first plate of BLESSED Garbanzo beans!!! I felt important and an integral part of this meal. It was spiritual, it was holy. The next morning I was invited to services… I arrived at 9… and did not leave til 2!!! How do they all eat so mucho Shabbos… and every Shabbos??? How did I eat so much? Again… holy… spiritual. People so warm and inviting and genuinely pleased that I was there.
When I tell people about the path I am on… the path that started in Jerusalem this past November, though probably long before that… and they ask me why I am embracing Judaism now… I answer quite simply… Because it is feeding my soul… It is nourishing me… It is making me calmer and more spiritual… and more connected… to Hashem… and to people.
I have a long, long way to go. but I am okay with that. I hope that I will live a long life, with plenty of time to study and learn and become holier and even more connected. There are days when I feel it… there are days when I don’t… Days when I truly meditate as I wrap and feel the presence of Hashem… Days when I am brought to tears and moved… and days where I do it super fast to get on with it and move onto the day…
But the special days, like this past Shabbos… like my entire time in Israel… when I get to study and really have something hit me in the best, most positive way… those are the days I yearn for… those are the days that are Holy… and to increase those days is the goal… It is the path I am on… to find and embrace and to keep and to share the Holy!