In other chassidic communities, “singles meals” and “singles events” aren’t the norm. Most singles stick with their family and friends until they are married, and even then they tend to settle nearby.
I imagined what it would be like to live with my family and marry a boy from my neighborhood who grew up just like me – and then live down the block from both of our families. It sounded so simple, so easy, so safe.
How very different are our lifestyles.
Toward the end of our meal, after two and a half hours of “So, in your community do they….” and “Wait, so you don’t have….?” as we dissected each other’s communities and cultures, the couple suggested I catch the end of a rebbe’s tisch a few short blocks away. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it felt like an adventure and I was there to explore, so off I went.
* * * * *
Sitting in the gallery above, with my nose pressed against the glass overlooking hundreds of Bobover chassidim below, I shivered slightly. I felt out of place. There were only about 15 women on the benches and I had found an empty seat toward the middle where not too many women were seated.
Each woman was covered neck to toe in a refined, black, loose-fitting outfit, a white kerchief tied atop her wig. Feeling a bit out of place, I pulled my shawl tighter and looked around me anxiously.
Finally I caught a woman’s eye; we smiled and wished each other “Good Shabbos.” She had a kind glint in her eye and was looking at me inquisitively, so I decided to make a friend of her.
“Can you tell me what’s going on?” I asked, gesturing toward the Rebbe below, in his shiny gold garb, who was shukling back and forth, waving his arms as he spoke passionately to his people.
The woman moved closer to me. She explained that the Rebbe was speaking to them about the New Year. She patiently translated from Yiddish to English some of what he was imparting to his followers. Then, all at once, the Rebbe stopped and a young man placed a very large gold bowl filled with steaming soup broth and spaghetti before him.
After taking a few bites, the Rebbe pushed the bowl forward and a serving bowl-sized portion of liver was put down in its place. As the Rebbe ate a few bites of the meat, a young man apportioned the soup in the oversized gold bowl into about 20 regular-sized bowls, which were passed to more young men standing on bleachers on either side of a huge table in front of the Rebbe.
One by one, each boy stuck his fingers into the bowl and pulled out what looked to be a thin piece of spaghetti and brought it to his lips before passing the bowl to the next boy in line. This process happened over and over as the Rebbe sampled the meat, some kugels, and finally dried fruit and cake for dessert.
In between his bites, the Rebbe led the congregation in song. With sweeping motions, he riled the crowd, their voices soaring, blending. At one point, the Rebbe looked at each of the chassidim in turn, raising his hand and shaking it in their direction. As his eyes met those of each of his followers for a full moment, allowing a pause in which their eyes locked, they responded in kind, each raising his hand and shaking it in the Rebbe’s direction.
This moment of connection, this purity in their worship of G-d through bonding with their leader, made my insides tremble. Who was this man who could arouse such fervent, simple devotion? Who was this man who elicited such an unwavering reverence for Hashem and His mitzvos? And who were these chassidim who so differed from me?
In that moment I remembered something I had learned many years ago: Be not jealous of another, but for his spiritual height.
I looked at those chassidim and wished so fiercely to be one of them.
If only to have that one moment of physical connection with my Rebbe – the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, the eighteenth anniversary of whose passing we marked this past Shabbos – I’d give anything.