The Yenta In The Most Unusual Place

mickveisraelarkOver the 15 years of my not-quite successful writing career, my work has appeared in a myriad of places, some worth mentioning, most not. I’ve helped other people compose love letters, book proposals and, for a fee paid up front in cash, college term papers. I’ve seen my name in lights, ink, pixels and on the door of my Shalom School classroom (though no one’s ever called me “Mrs. Lebos” to my face and lived.)

But never, ever have I written a Yom Kippur sermon. Intentionally, anyway.

So you can understand why I was a little surprised while sitting in synagogue Saturday, stomach rumbling, sinuses aching, consciousness fading, when I heard the rabbi thunder the name of this blog.

El Yenta Man poked me. “Wake up! He’s talking about you!”

Reb Belzer was reading the post I wrote last Yom Kippur about the curious incident of the Mickve Israel Jesus intruder, in which I came to terms somewhat with the churchy ways of my adopted Jewish community. It was not, um, the most flattering piece in certain parts, which is to say it was not written with the intention that it would be read out loud to the entire congregation on the holiest day of the year.

I began to pray to our good and merciful God to open up an escape hatch under my pew. El Yenta Man started complicated hand miming to indicate to anyone sitting around us that the woman next to him with her head between her knees was the blogger being quoted on the bima. I glanced two rows back at my father-in-law, but his red ears were the only part I could see since he had his face in his hands. At least it wasn’t one of those posts where I detonate multiple f-word bombs.

As the rabbi finished reading, I understood why he had chosen this piece to elucidate his point this Yom Kippur: In the end, I make clear that this congregation is full of good people, good Jews who embody the essence of tolerance and non-judgement of what I (and apparently the rabbi) believe to be True Judaism. (Even if they still, say, break the fast at Walt’s BBQ with a pulled pork sandwich.)

Still, when the morning service ended, I wondered if I could use the ancient secret passageway under the ark (pictured here, btw) to get up to the babysitting room to claim my children without having to face the five hundred people who now knew my web address, which has my punim on it. No such luck. El Yenta Man steered me right into his father, who looked at me and shrugged. “I’m speechless.” I could only assume I had tarnished the family name forever.

Then a colleague of his came up and clapped him on the back. “She’s your daughter-in-law? Well done!”

“Yes,” his wife agreed. “Definitely one of Belzer’s best sermons ever. At least he didn’t talk about Iraq.”

My father-in-law looked relieved. I snuck out of the sanctuary, but not before receiving a bear hug from the rabbi, who has a terrific sense of humor and apparently appreciates mine. But now that I’ve been outed as a a renegade Jew, y’all had better be ready for some crazy African dance moves on Simchat Torah.

I also would like to add that last year’s Yom Kippur post was a turning point in my opinion of Mickve Israel. Sure, I’m always going to be talkin’ some sh*t that the Gothic architecture and its interior cross are always going to make me feel like I’m in Notre Dame, but I’ll take on anyone who dares call this congregation “Judaism Lite.” The 275th anniversary of its founding is coming up this year, and its history is fascinating. (Phoebe Kerness, one of the brilliant docents you might meet if you come visit, brought tears to my eyes when she reminded me that my mother-in-law did much of the research and wrote the text used during the tours, even though she’s received no credit for it.)

During Rosh Hashanah services, the three beautiful young women of last year’s confirmation class each sang a Torah portion with such clarity and spirit it gave me goosebumps. And of course, there is the unique event of “El Norah Ah-Lee-La” preserved in the original vernacular of the Sephardic ancestral founders, sung by Kayton Smith for the past chunk of years. The tune has been passed down l’dor va’dor (generation to generation) and I’ve already asked Kayton if he’d teach it to me, though he assured me he’s good for another twenty years or so.

Such a meaningful High Holidays combined with the rollickin’ good time of Shalom School has finally groomed a real feeling of being at home at Mickve Israel, where my husband was bar mitzvahed and confirmed, where we were married, where our children learn how to make sukkahs out of graham crackers and pretzels.

And that’s why I can overlook the round challahs baked with candied green and red maraschino cherries you usually find in a Christmas fruitcake. 😉

Happy 5768, y’all!

10 thoughts on “The Yenta In The Most Unusual Place

  1. very very sweet Mrs. Le ….uh, I mean Yenta 😉
    Kayton’s El Nora is a truly special & beautiful Savannah tradition — props to you for telling the J-blog world about it; you need to get a recording of it and post it here.

  2. Rabbi Yent:
    Mazel tov on your first drasha-by-proxy.
    It seems that the Belzer rebbe has managed to conjure a little dybbuk – the past always comes back to haunt us. I had a similar first impression of some my Bible Belt area’s schuls when I first moved here from NY.I took a small survey of the schuls and discovered that each one managed to function one level below the Movement to which it was advertised to belong. One Shabbos morning I sauntered into one of the
    ‘showcase’ Reform ‘Temples’ – the main sanctuary was empty, but in an adjoining
    glass-front chapel sat perhaps 10 people
    in an arc, holding hands. It didn’t look very Jewish. I ran to another schul.

  3. “discovered that each one managed to function one level below the Movement to which it was advertised to belong”
    That’s pretty much a dead on description of the synagogues I’ve visited near Houston. I belong to a Conservative synagogue that behaves like a Reform synagogue and I’ve been told the reform synagogue down the road doesn’t have Saturday Sabbath services.
    I pretty much agree with the Conservative Movement’s philosophy so I wish our Conservative congregation would behave more like Conservative Jews. However, I believe that any observance is good observance, so I’ve got nothing against people who are less observant than me. I just wish I could eat at congregation events and not wonder if some bacon grease unintentionally made it into the food.

  4. By the way, the ark is pretty cool. Our sanctuary doesn’t have much personality (a lot of wood panelling), but it’s ours and I can’t imagine having another.

  5. Johnny & Jack — Here’s another view of our gorgeous Temple:
    & there’s plenty more at the website.

    Like the H-Yenta says, it’s neo-Gothic — but it’s not really cruciform, because it does not have the side chapel wings that gothic-style churches have. It was designed by the same architect who planned St. John’s Episcopal church (where General Sherman HQ’ed during the yankee occupation) & just a few blocks away in lovely, historic, spanish moss-filled downtown Savannah, Joe-ja — y’all come and see us sometime & take the tour. … like Yo said, our 275th birthday party is coming up soon!

  6. Johnny:
    I think I’ve discovered that outside the large Jewish population centers, Jewish observance gets pretty loose. A lot of it seems ad lib to me, but I agree with your sentiment that any observance is good; certainly, it’s better than none.

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