Friday, September 05, 2014

Moscow (Part XIX - Shabbat Dinner)


I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for Chabad as a movement. Notwithstanding certain issues of concern vis-à-vis some beliefs in their ranks about the Rebbe, I am super grateful that Chabad exists and do what they do. Anywhere in the world that a Jew travels, he or she can always find kosher food and ways to connect to a Jewish community on Shabbat and holidays, because Chabad is there for you with a warm    welcome and warm food. (I keep meaning to send the Marina Roscha Synagogue a donation to cover the costs of my meals; will have to do that soon!)

When I went downstairs, I found that the auditorium was set up with multiple tables, open to anyone who wanted to partake of Shabbat dinner at the synagogue. It appeared that there was a table for Hebrew speakers (the "Israelis in Moscow" group that I'd found on Facebook), a table for younger people, a table for retirees, etc. Once every three weeks, there is a table for English-speakers, and I happened to be there at the right time. I entered the room on the side where the English meal would take place.

The meal was presided-over by a young American rabbi and his Italian wife, both Chabad "shluchim" (emissaries) in Moscow. Every third week they got a babysitter for their kids on Friday night, so they could run this English-language meal. They were extremely friendly and approachable, and set a happy, hospitable tone to the meal.

The one large table was shaped like a capital "T", and I sat at one end. I just want to say here that the food was MUCH fancier than I expected. I expected a more mass-produced, Ashkenazi-kiddush feeling of soggy potato kugel, gefilte fish from a jar, that sort of thing - typical beige food. But the first course was a fancy fish salad and lots of vegetable dishes. There was lots of "color" on the plate.  The first course was so nice that I worried that this was it, the whole meal, and that there would be no roast chicken. But the roast chicken DID come and I was happy. 

The rabbi and rebbetzin had each person introduce himself or herself, and explain what they were doing in Moscow. Additionally, I got to know the married couple on my right, and the couple who had brought their friend, to my left. It was a bit sad for me, when they asked me how my trip was going, not to be able to say "it's going great." Having to say "actually, so far, it's been terrible" is very sad. But there was a certain relief for me of being out with people, feeling nominally better, and having hot food.

There were people who had first come to Moscow to study or work, and had fallen in love with the city and decided to stay. There were people who came to study or work and had married a Russian and stayed for them. There were tourists, such as myself, who were just passing through. One tourist, on a business trip, was at her first-ever Shabbat meal in her life, brought to Chabad by one of her work colleagues. One man – the only other person at the meal who was Shomer Shabbat, other than myself and the rabbi and rebbetzin -- was a native Russian who simply liked to meet new people and practice his English, so he ate at the English-language meal. Quite a hodgepodge of personalities, but all with a positive vibe. 

To my right sat a very handsome, friendly couple who were "regulars" at the English meals; she is a native Latvian, and he is an Israeli who, it transpired, hates other Israelis. He was so happy living in Moscow and NOT Israel.  That's why they were at the English table and not the Hebrew one; he hates other people who speak Hebrew. I decided that I don't need to understand other people to accept them as they are, and refrained from asking him what the hell is his problem and how he could possibly enjoy living in this ugly, formerly-Soviet city more than Israel. If he's happy – well, whatever!

To my left was another handsome couple. I don't remember their story, only that they, too, were "regulars." Between us was their friend Christo, who was sitting to my immediate left. Christo is a native of South Africa who is great at languages and a world traveler, and is now in Moscow teaching English and enjoying Moscow's underground gay scene. His friends had been telling him for years that he should come to Chabad with them, and this was, finally, his first time there. And yes, he knows it's ironic for a person with a Jewish mom to be named Christo, but such is life. Christo and I are still chummy on Facebook, and meeting him was one of the most fun things that came out of my trip.

After the meal ended I stayed with a bunch of the other attendees to keep "schmoozing," and I got to my hotel around midnight. The meal had been a very positive experience and is now one of my favorite memories of my time in Moscow.

Thanks, Chabad.

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