I’ve always loved the Venice Boardwalk first thing in the morning before the fog has burnt off when it’s just locals milling about—those with and those without homes—and shopkeepers prepping for the day. On this morning, I can almost imagine what it would have been like in the 50s and 60s when this was something of a Jewish main street with the occasional Gidget in a sea of black fedoras.
Today, I’m dressed like a throwback to an earlier time when bathing beauties came to the beach completely covered. I’m wearing a dress with opaque black tights under and a blazer over. I approach the synagogue, a simple stucco building that doesn’t even attempt to take in its unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. I read on the website that once inside the first door, I’d encounter a second set of doors. I’m relieved I remember that the entrance for women is on the left because I feel awkward enough as a visitor without having to be escorted out of the men’s section. I’m the first person to arrive on the lady’s side and, as I take a seat, the men begin to chant prayers in Hebrew. I catch glimpses of them through a thin strip of lattice that runs across the top of the room divider.
A few minutes into the service, everything comes to a screeching halt. The men stop praying. A woman has taken the seat next to mine. When she sees me looking around, confused, she whispers, “They’re waiting for the minyan.” Almost no prayer in the Jewish prayer book is recited from the first person. They are generally offered from the perspective of “we.” Among the orthodox, only men count toward the minimum of ten worshippers needed for a valid “we.” This morning, the male congregants are slow in arriving.
As the minutes tick by, I feel a little like I’m dangling on a frozen Ferris wheel. Luckily, I’m not alone. The woman next to me is also here for the first time, though she is an actual Jew. Her grown children live in Los Angeles and whenever she visits, she likes to worship with different congregations. “My kids call me a ‘synagogue slut’,” she says. I snort my approval. We have such a good time swapping stories of religious tourism that I’m a little disappointed when the Ferris wheel cranks back to life after 15 minutes or so.
At the end of the service, the congregation gathers together on a back patio for the prayers over wine and bread. A table is spread with snacks of the dairy persuasion; I sample the banana pudding and soft cheeses. A woman in a red dress and gold sun hat sits perched on a low wall like some exotic, radiant bird. I smile at her. “Are you coming to my house for lunch?” she asks. She seems to be looking at me when she speaks and I think she must have me mixed up with someone else. The people I’ve met these past weeks have been friendly and welcoming, but no one has invited me to come home with them. Maybe she forgot her glasses?
“Do you have lunch plans?” she asks looking directly at me. She stands and I’m surprised at how tall she is. The hat puts her well over six feet.
“I…I…” I don’t know what to say. I hadn’t planned on lunch, especially in an orthodox home whose customs I understood only vaguely.
I was interviewed recently for a website called the Two Cities, which is a Christian-based site about culture and theology. Started by a group of students who met at a Christian liberal arts college, they seem to take an approach that includes humor and openness to meaningful discussion. I appreciate their desire to talk to the likes of me.
Here is a very brief snippet of the podcast conversation I had with writer Justin Campbell about the One None Gets Some project: http://www.thetwocities.com/podcast/the-two-cities-podcast-episode-1-preview/. The full conversation will be posted at the end of the week and I will link to it for anyone who is interested.
With much respect, Corinna