Saturday, September 06, 2014

Moscow (Part XX - Shabbat Day)


In typical Chabad style, the prayer services on Saturday morning started at 10 am (very late by most standards). I showed up at noon, and they were still at Torah reading (that is, about halfway through the service). I was glad I'd slept in! There was a bar mitzvah that morning, and at the end of Torah reading the women in the balcony threw down candies at the bar mitzvah boy.

I felt happy and proud that I was raised to be able to follow an Orthodox service, and could walk into any synagogue, even in a place as "random" (to me) as Moscow, and follow along.

After the service, everyone who was staying for lunch went down to the same side room where the English-language meal had taken place the night before. It was a much smaller crowd this time. Although their doors were just as "open to all" as they'd been the night before, in practice the only people who normally bother to go to the Shabbat morning service are people who have a certain commitment to Orthodox Judaism.  Additionally, it seems that the elderly tend to go to bed early on Friday nights, but make sure to attend synagogue in the morning.

So it was a much smaller and much older group of people this time. Additionally, unlike the night before when everyone sat where they wished and the presiding "shluchim" had everyone introduce themselves, at this lunch meal the men and women sat at different tables, and the entire "program" for the meal was one rabbi after another giving divrei Torah (sermons) – in Russian, naturally. I felt like Friday night was all about Chabad doing outreach, and Saturday lunch was Chabad being themselves – which is fine, but it didn't feel as exciting as the night before.

I was very grateful to once again be getting a free, hot, kosher meal, but a bit sad not to have much of a chance to talk to the people around me. Even when there were breaks in the sermons, the elderly women did not seem talkative, and anyway the language barrier was a problem. However, I did meet three very nice women who were younger (20's? 30's? one was divorced with a child – I think she was maybe in her early to mid 30's): Miriam, Golda Leah, and Lilli.

Lilli was a bit withdrawn, but Miriam and Golda Leah were thrilled to be meeting someone who lives in Israel (Golda Leah had lived in Israel for a year, and misses it badly) and to practice their English. I told them how to find me on Facebook, and we made tentative plans to get together again before I left the country.

One interesting thing I discovered was that many of the regulars at this synagogue had never been given Hebrew names by their parents, and so when they decided to become more involved with Judaism, they asked the rabbi of the synagogue to choose a name for them. Apparently he was partial to the name "Miriam," because I'd met two women who got that name through him. This Miriam told me that at work she goes by her birth name, Mariya, but in the Jewish community she goes by Miriam.

After lunch I went home and slept some more, desperately willing myself to recover, physically, from whatever had disabled me as I left Ben Gurion airport. I also had another concern: yes, I now had the PIN code to my credit card, but what if something else went wrong with it? What if it didn't work?

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