Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wartime Ice-Breakers

So this past Shabbat (sabbath) the religious singles community in Katamon, Jerusalem hosted about 10 or 20 of our peers from northern Israel. It was a chance to give them a little respite, and a chance for all of us to meet new people.

The first thing I want to say about this weekend is that, despite my notorious "Shabbaton From Hell" series of 2 years ago (link to come when I get around to it), the singles events I attend in Israel are MUCH nicer than the ones I attended in New York. The people tend (with the exeption of those at that infamous Shabbaton in Tiberias) to be very normal, very nice, and very friendly. Unlike the events I attended in America, the singles events here tend to have an even number of men and women, more or less; men will talk to the women even if they are not interested, because they are being friendly; and there isn't a sense of competition between the women to be the most well-coifed, the most well-dressed, the best manicured, the skinniest, etc. There's an undercurrent of cruelty at Orthodox singles events in the States (and perhaps those of other communities as well, but I couldn't say), and that edge is lacking here. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and just, well, friendly. It may not lead to any more dates, but whereas in the States I almost always came back from singles Shabbatons feeling worthless and unlovable, I come home from the Shabbatons here (again, with that one horrible exception) feeling that there is hope in the world for finding someone - but this time just wasn't my time. It's still disappointing, but not as emotionally brutal.

My guest this weekend was a lovely 31-year-old woman from Acco (Acre), S. Her family has refused to leave town during the constant attacks, and until recently she refused to leave her family, so she's spent most of this crisis in and out of bomb shelters, losing her mind. Since the war started, she's been able to go to work only twice. (A man at the Shabbaton, from Haifa, said that his office was open only two days; the second day, a rocket hit the building next door, at which point the boss said "that's it. Everybody go home.") A few days ago S. decided to spend a few days in Rehovot with a friend, then come to this Shabbaton. As of last night, she was planning to go back to Rehovot for another few days and then return to Acco. I loaned her a John Grisham novel and three Agatha Christies (her English is fluent enough), since she said the worst thing about the bomb shelters is that it is so incredibly boring.

Friday night, all the guests and hosts ate together in the social hall of a local synagogue. One of the organizers got up and thanked everyone for coming. He thanked the woman who had arranged the housing, and everyone clapped. He thanked the woman who had arranged the catering, and everyone clapped. He thanked the man who would be hosting "seudat shlishit" (um, sort of a traditional Saturday afternoon meal) at his home the next day, and everyone clapped. He thanked the synagogue for allowing us to rent the social hall for free, and everyone clapped. Then he said "there is one more person we have to thank for bringing us together this weekend . . . "

Someone called out "Nasrallah!" to scattered laughter, and a little bit of people looking at each other trying to decide whether it was OK to laugh.

(Gallows humor, people, it's gallows humor, laughing at our tragedies has kept the Jews alive for thousands of years, so please do not flame me. Thank you.)

During dinner, I managed to follow the conversation even though I was the only English-speaker at the table. For most of the evening, the conversation was typical singles -events fare, but I noticed two things that were unusual:

Just before the meal started, someone dropped a box with something heavy, such as silverware, and it came down with a crash. Everyone from the north jumped about six feet. Talk about being on edge. I felt so bad for them.

Then, as the meal began . . . well, normally the conversation between singles goes like this:
What's your name?
Where do you live?
What do you do?

But this time, it was:
What's your name?
Where do you live?
How many rockets have you been getting?
How many minutes of warning do you get?

Talk about surreal.

Anyway, S. and I went for lunch on Saturday to some friends of mine, who were hosting S.'s friend, but the whole group got together again, like I said, for seudat shlishit. It was all so nice. I met a brother and sister from Tzfat (Safed) who were just the sweetest people ever. I looked around at one point, observing everyone talking and eating and milling, wondering whether someone might get a "shidduch" out of this after all, and knowing that I got a lot more out of this weekend than any "help with the war effort" I put in by hosting S.

1 comment:

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