Snapshot

For as many years as I orbited the synagogue on Main Street in Venice, I find it remarkable that I had never entered its sanctuary. I’ve passed by countless times on foot and by car and, as of the previous week, I celebrated Purim here, which took place in the basement, and participated in the Friday evening Sabbath-welcoming service, held in a small adjacent chamber. Having attended these preliminary events, I feel as if I’ve passed some small test and proven my mettle to gain access to the holy of holies. Today’s Sabbath service will be held in main worship hall.

In the foyer, I greet the rabbi.  He says, “Good morning,” with a smile. His eyes offer a less enthusiastic look that suggests: Oh, you again.  I pick up a flyer that details the history of the building and step through a second bank of doors. The most surprising aspect is how big and plain it is. In my imagination, it sparkled like an opulent Catholic cathedral, but in reality it looks like an auditorium for a particularly large high school with dozens of rows facing a stage. I find a spot in the middle towards the front and settle in to read my flyer, which explains that this building, the oldest synagogue in West Los Angeles still in operation, was constructed just after World War II. To save money, the design was borrowed from a military base theatre. It’s like these walls claimed this enormous space and then froze it in time.

The flyer explains that over the years Venice—“the Coney Island of the West”—became “a haven” for Jewish families and retirees and, at one point in the 50s and 60s, the boardwalk was lined with Jewish delis, kosher butchers, bakeries and tailors. I take a moment to imagine this version of the boardwalk—the suntanned limbs of bodybuilders replaced by fedoras and suits. Most of these Jews would have come through New York and made their way across the country by train or plane drawn by those age-old magnets: sunshine and Hollywood. Here was an unlikely, if natural, end point to the diaspora.

A man I recognize from Purim and the Friday service spots me and waves. At those events, he was outgoing and friendly and elaborated on certain aspects of what I was witnessing. I deeply appreciated his efforts to make me feel welcome.

Today, he takes the seat next to me and fills me in on a tidbit not included in the flyer. “See how there’s this middle section of seats,” he says, “and then smaller sections on the left and on the right?” I nod, noticing how an aisle on either side of where we’re sitting separates us from a narrower bank of seats. “That was a compromise. Originally, the middle section was for men and women who wanted to sit together and then for those who still wanted to sit with only their gender, the two sides.” Today, all three sections are coed.

He explains that when the synagogue was built, some congregants were starting to embrace the idea that not all the traditional rules were necessary. This more relaxed approach was formalized in the 1950s when the congregation joined the conservative movement. Members who wanted to remain orthodox broke away and started a synagogue located directly on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Since then, the rule-following spectrum has expanded further to include the more lenient reform movement. It’s a history that continues to play out; the seating arrangement in the auditorium offers a snapshot from this evolution.

The Hammies

After the noise-makers are passed around at the Purim celebration, it’s time for the business of the evening: the “Hammy Awards,” a spoof of the Academy Awards where winners are given a “Hammy” in place of an Oscar. It’s a poke at Haman who hoped to kill the Jews in his kingdom, transforming a solemn topic with fun.

The Master of Ceremonies is a rabbinical student with wheat stalks glued to his t-shirt. He announces the category for “Best Queen.” He reads, very seriously, “…and the nominees are: Queen Elizabeth…Queen Latifah…the rock band Queen…Queen Esther for saving the Jews. And the winner is…” he pauses for dramatic effect, “Queen Esther!”  The crowd goes wild. Noise makers in the air, feet stomping the floor, rabbi chugging beer. A beautiful young woman dressed in robes and a gold chain across her forehead makes her way to the front of the room. She graciously accepts her award, which is a shellacked hamantash pastry spray-painted gold. Mordecai wins for “Best supporting Jew.”

As I left the synagogue that night, I felt giddy and a little baffled. Since Rosh Hashanah, I had been cataloging my sins and adopting the appropriate attitude of remorseful sorrow. I had prepared myself mentally for this very serious mission, one that would culminate in several weeks with Passover, when Jews remember being freed from slavery and the promises they made to God. I had not anticipated my very first stop would be a raucous party-like celebration. I did not realize Jews had a holiday where the point is to be loud and dress up and get drunk if you want to. It reminded me of the Catholic tradition of Carnival or Mardi Gras, the wild public partying before the somber season of Lent. Some historians suggest that Purim and pre-Lenten celebrations developed in tandem as a result of Christian and Jews living for hundreds of years in proximity. They seem to capture parallel moods: a burst of joy before the dutiful weeks leading to Easter or Passover. Regardless of religion, it seems to be human nature to crave levity—a joyful respite in the midst of a serious journey.

I have my eye on the door of the restaurant because I’m nervous about Nina showing up. But as soon as I see her, I know it won’t be like that. She’s all of five feet, but she might as well be the biggest person in the room from the size of the smile on her face. We hug, and I am flooded with relief. After tonight I’ll email her and hopefully set up a get-together with just the two of us to catch up on the more serious aspects of the time we’ve lost. But when I see her I know this evening isn’t for that. We laugh and swap lighthearted stories. I relax and focus on how good this is—how wonderful to be reunited with Lisa and Nina. I’ve struggled with moving past my feelings of fear and guilt to carve out enough space where a sense of thankfulness and joy might flourish. Life is its own serious journey, and these moments of fun can help grow gratitude—if you let them. Tonight I’m just plain appreciative for my old friends—people who know firsthand the terrible mistakes I’m capable of and smile when they see me anyway.

Purim

Lisa and I arrive at the restaurant where we hope to meet Nina. The dining room has huge windows facing Main Street and sits directly opposite one of the synagogues on my list. I take a seat at our table only to look up and realize I’ve inadvertently placed myself so that I am directly facing the synagogue. It’s as if the big windows have been positioned perfectly to frame the building. Lest I fail to take the subtle hint, the last vestiges of light in the sky are striking the building in such a way that its white façade glows.

The synagogue at which I’m staring is where I will be reprimanded a week later for holding a pen as the sun set on Friday evening. Two days earlier, on the Wednesday night just after I arrived in L.A., I attended a Purim party there. I didn’t know what Purim was, or how it would be celebrated, but the synagogue’s website said the festivities started at 8 o’clock so I rushed down at the last minute. As I approached the building looking for street parking, I became alarmed. A man in a turban and robes was gesticulating wildly near the front steps. I won’t sugar-coat it: with his long black beard, this man looked like he might belong in the Taliban. I thought he was shouting or causing some sort of commotion but, as I passed by, I realized he was laughing.

I was still apprehensive as I parked and walked back toward the entrance. The Taliban guy had vanished, and a side door leading to the synagogue’s basement was propped open. “Hello?” I called from the top of the stairs. No response. I descended one flight and tried again. Still no response. I went all the way down and there, standing at the base, was the guy. My first instinct was to scream, but I bit my tongue. He smiled and stuck out his hand for me to shake. “I’m Mordecai,” he said. That’s when I noticed the elastic straps on his beard and the cheap polyester of his turban. This was a costume. He was dressed as a character from the bible.

The rest of the evening was nothing I could have imagined taking place, much less in a synagogue that falls under the label “conservative,” which is not, as one might assume, an indication of political leanings, but a nod to how closely the congregation adheres to Judaism’s stable of biblical “rules”—they fall between the liberal “reformed” and more observant “orthodox.”

I knew only that Purim is a celebration of the biblical story of Queen Esther convincing the King to abandon his plan to kill the Jews in his kingdom. Esther, who is secretly Jewish, is aided in her efforts of persuasion by her cousin Mordecai.

Aside from several members of the congregation dressed as key characters from this drama, everything starts out on a somber note. The rabbi reads aloud from the Book of Lamentations as we nibble “hamantashen,” triangle-shaped pastries named for the King’s advisor, Haman, whose job it was to rid the kingdom of Jews. Then a bag of noisemakers is passed around. I select one that is like a rattle with little balls inside, in tiny letters on the side it says, “Happy Purim!” The room grows raucous as everyone tries out their noise makers, some of which are cardboard horns. The rabbi raises a bottle of beer to toast the cacophony.

Do-over

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I dove right in to the Jewish leg of my religious explorations by walking into synagogues at the appropriate times. Carrying out my goal of reconnecting with old pals was a bit trickier. Lisa, my friend who had acted as a lifeline to the old gang, tried to get everyone to meet up after the sun set on my first Sabbath. She sent out a group email and made reservations at a restaurant on Main Street. Becky and Deb replied that they couldn’t come, but Nina RSVP’d she’d try to make it.

Of all my high school buddies, I was surprised Nina’s the only one to accept as ours was always the relationship with the most friction. At times we acted like we were in a battle for who could be the biggest jerk. Last we had gotten together, 15 years earlier, she had stormed out. Her mother had died of cancer a year or so earlier and she seemed to be milking some residual neediness that irked me. Everything I said and did that afternoon communicated that I would not indulge her emotional fragility. When she scooped up her car keys and fled, I was officially the valor in our little war. We hadn’t spoken since—not even when her boyfriend was killed a few years ago.

Thinking about the afternoon I last saw Nina, I feel the hot burn of shame. What had she needed from me? To be hugged and fussed over a bit? Could I not offer my friend these small gestures of comfort? No, I couldn’t; as I see now, I was too terrified. I could not fathom that Nina’s mother had gone from vibrant to dead in a matter of weeks, the brain tumor that first made itself apparent on a trip to Israel, of all places—when her disorganized thinking alarmed her travel companions—metastasizing uncontrollably seemingly overnight. It was like Nina was a balloon and her mother had been her tether to the ground. After her mother’s death, Nina seemed to float aimlessly. I didn’t want this tragedy to be something that could happen and, if it had to be, I wanted proof that a speedy recovery was possible. I needed Nina to be regular Nina, not devastated Nina. I was so desperate for her to be okay that I refused to reach out and pull her to earth, even for a few moments.

I’ve beat myself up about it. I could not be there for my friend because I could not get past my own fear and anger. It’s no different from what motivated the behavior of the people Moses left at the base of Mount Sinai. They were terrified at having been left alone, so they reached for the quick-fix to soothe their anxiety. They did this forbidden thing because they were only human. After his initial fury, Moses calms down. He understood because he was human too. God is less sympathetic. He wants to smite them all and start over with a fresh group of people. Moses talks him out of this rage. New people would have the same faults. Moses comes back down from the mountain with another set of commandments; the people get a do-over. This list of guidelines from God represents the crux of the faith: behavior, not material things, should be your source of comfort. Your actions, doing the right thing, what you think and feel as you interact with others and the world around you, these are what God cares about; this is all anyone can know for sure. As I waited to see if Nina would actually show, I nervously hoped for my own little do-over.

The pain

“This is a critical juncture in the history of Jewish identity,” the rabbi says in his talk after the day’s Torah portion. “The foundation of Judaism, monotheism, is tested.” I’m at a reformed synagogue in Santa Monica housed in a plain, square building. In high school, I used to drive past it regularly on my way to my friend Becky’s house. Inside, the atmosphere is laid back. Only a handful of people have come to formally celebrate Sabbath.

The exact Torah section we read begins at Exodus 32.

The crowd Moses has led to freedom is freaking out. Moses promised to return from his mountain-top meeting with God in 40 days, but now those days have come and gone. The rabbi explains that more than likely Moses wasn’t really late, that it was probably a misunderstanding—the people had started counting the days at sunrise while Moses was counting them according to sunsets, something like that. Either way, collectively, the people enter the throes of a classic panic attack, their anxiety like a runaway train. If they couldn’t trust Moses, then maybe the God who helped them escape wasn’t reliable.

To stop from spiraling out of control, they revert back to what they know: worshipping something they can see and touch—an “idol.” The invisible one-God idea is too scary. They melt down all their jewelry and shape it into a calf, giving them something on which to focus their energy. Soothed by the certainty and solidity of the object, their anxiety subsides. Of course, at that exact moment, Moses returns.

Moses is furious. It’s not so much the idol itself that makes him angry as what it represents.

Before monotheism, people were accountable only to those who shared their gods; it was considered a crime to steal from members of one’s own tribe, while stealing from other tribes afforded you a hero’s welcome. One God introduced the concept of a unified humanity, making everyone connected—the entire world as a single tribe of people derived from the same source. To create an object to worship is to break apart the one-God idea. It might seem a small fissure, but it challenges the very essence of monotheism. It shatters the possibility of a unified humanity and, perhaps to make this exact point, Moses throws down the stone tablets with the commandments from God and they break into pieces.

The rabbi slows down. In his talk about the Torah section, he wants to make an important point about the human condition. He says that when we are faced with ambiguity, we tend to default to anger, depression, or fear. The one-God idea comes strapped with a degree of ambiguity—there can be no proof, nothing concrete to touch—as illustrated a few sections further along in Exodus when Moses’ request to see God’s face is denied. So the very thing we hope will alleviate our anxiety inevitably leaves some intact. “This pain,” the rabbi says, “is written into the human condition.” If you learn to tolerate it, you can trade certainty for faith. If you learn to trust it, you can swap being a part of something small for being a part of something infinitely vast. Here is the key: to bypass quick fixes for the slow trudge toward a deeper, more powerful solution. The rabbi puts a finger in the air and offers a sly smile that suggests he’s sharing the simplest and most profound of secrets. “The pain,” he says, “is the opening for the divine.”

Baby Moses

I remember the baby in a basket, sailing down a river. The entire movie about Moses and the Jewish exodus from Egypt and how the Ten Commandments came to be, and all I recall is that tiny floating baby. I was about eight when it was set to air. I was staying the night with my mom’s parents and I felt a buzz of anticipation to have a date that evening with my grandparents in front of the television.

As show time approached, I was belly down on the carpet. Fresh martinis clinked from the sofa behind me.

My excitement soon drooped like the saggy robes worn by the characters on screen, kicked away like the dust from their sandaled feet. The entire thing looked so old-timey and weird. What was this stupid story? Once the baby got old and grew a beard, I lost interest and wandered out of the room.

But the first few moments of the film are seared into my memory.The scene, as I recollect, goes like this: a woman sets her basket/baby into the river and lets it float away. The pained expression on her face reveals the difficulty of her decision. The baby will most likely drown but she deems this option safer than the baby staying with her. She’ll take the risk for the slim chance of the baby’s survival. Several frames focus on the baby up close, chubby and oblivious. The baby doesn’t have long; the basket is no better than a sieve. I was riveted; I had such high hopes for this movie. A woman standing at the bank downstream spots the basket. That this stranger is big-hearted enough to fish out the baby is almost too good to be true. That she turns out to be royalty and raises the orphan in the palace is the most surprising in the series of unlikely incidents that leads to the baby’s survival. Then the kid grows up in a montage of, like, two minutes and what I deemed the best part is over.

It’s not just me who got hung up on the baby. I’ve since spoken to others who confess that when they were younger and first exposed to the Moses story, the floating baby part captured their imaginations too. It makes me wonder if this aspect of the account resonates so profoundly because it speaks to our own survival stories: each of us here against all odds, the chances of our individual conceptions perhaps even slimmer than those of baby Moses being scooped from a river by a queen. We may not be able to grasp the improbability of our own lives—the chain of events leading to each of us being here too complex to fathom—but in the Moses story, the miracle of survival is writ large.

When I arrive in L.A., the synagogues, who appear to all be on about the same page in their weekly readings of the Torah, are mid-way through Exodus. The rabbis are going over the plot points covered in the movie about Moses and the Ten Commandments that I was too immature to understand. At long last, I get a second chance to discover what’s so great about the grown-up Moses. The first service I attend, we read about the people waiting at the base of Mount Sinai for Moses to return. These are the people who had been slaves in Egypt. Moses leads them to freedom with the guidance of God, who weakens the resolve of the Egyptians through a series of plagues and then parts the Red Sea for a speedy on-foot escape; the waters then flood the Egyptian army. When the people make it to the base of the mountain, Moses tells them to wait patiently while he goes to the peak to meet with God. Sounds straightforward to me, I thought, as the reading concluded. What could go wrong?

Important research

My second Friday in Los Angeles, before my understanding of Sabbath had unfurled its first petals, I was at a conservative synagogue for the intimate evening service that officially welcomes the Sabbath. It was held in a small room adjacent to the main sanctuary; about 15 chairs formed a circle around the perimeter. I was one of the first to arrive and as I waited, I took out my day planner and set it in my lap. I was holding a pen. The rabbi approached. As he knelt in front of me, my mind raced with the possible admonishments I was about to receive. I was dressed modestly, but I was wearing pants. Was it the pants?

“We don’t write on the Sabbath,” he said, his eyes locked on mine.

I looked at my pen like it was a fork I hadn’t realized was so filthy. I let it drop into the gaping mouth of my bag. “Thank you,” I said as if he just saved me from contracting bubonic plague. I had been mulling over how to recognize the Sabbath given that I needed to drive myself to and from the synagogues I was visiting and, as a house guest, I was not in perfect control of my surroundings. The rabbi’s reprimand gave me my answer. I could do this: absolutely no writing. No notes, no computer, no writing utensils of any kind. If I wanted to record events or thoughts from Sabbath, I had to wait until after the sun set on Saturday night. It was a small thing, but it invited the spirit of the Sabbath into my life and, from there, I found it much easier to embrace other aspects of the day.

When I got home from synagogue on Saturday afternoons, I made a concerted effort to relax. At least until sunset, my job was to loll around. At first it was a challenge, but I got the hang of it.

One afternoon when I was engaged in this non-task, my stepmom came into my room. “What are you up to?” she asked. I opened my eyes, realizing I had nodded off while contemplating the row of trees outside the bedroom window. “Very important research,” I said, wiping the drool from my lips.

Temple in time

My understanding of the significance of Sabbath opened slowly like a rose to reveal a more complicated and alluring beauty than I had imagined.

We humans think we are in charge of our worlds. We organize, create, build, and sweep up as if we are running the show. Sabbath is about giving up this control, acknowledging we aren’t the bosses by surrendering for a day the drive to alter the world in any way. At the same time, it’s a celebration of being. It speaks to the fundamental struggles of the Jews. For a people with a history of being slaves, this day of is a powerful statement of freedom. Slaves can’t decide when they’ll work and when they won’t. Sabbath is an exercise of free will. The fact that Sabbath can be practiced anywhere is vital for a people who spent generations on the move. Unlike temples made of stone, temples built in time are yours no matter where you are. Far from just the Jewish day of worship, when Jews go to synagogue on Saturdays, it is the Sabbath itself they are celebrating.

Yet, I wasn’t surprised to learn that even the most observant use creative loopholes such as lights on timers and slow cookers set on Friday morning. Some also have low-tech solutions. One man I met at Saturday worship services told me that growing up as an Orthodox Jew his favorite Sabbath activity was playing Scrabble with his siblings. To keep score, they would fold pages of a book, a dog-ear for each point. “It’s not writing!” he said when I narrowed my gaze at him. I wasn’t too shocked to find out he was a lawyer.

It took a while, but eventually I was able to pull my attention away from the activities that are not allowed on Sabbath to those that are encouraged. What’s a Jew to do? Say her prayers and go to synagogue—of course. Other than that: read for pleasure, tell stories, play games that don’t involve writing, nap, eat food that’s been prepared in advance, kick back in a hammock, daydream, take a walk around the neighborhood, eat some more, nap again, contemplate the beauty of creation, be grateful to have one day every week when hustle of normal life is set aside.

The idea of a weekly block of time free from work is a notion that much of the world has embraced, religious and secular alike. The weekend has become so central to how we experience time that it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t exist. Yet, the original intent has been turned inside out: we use our weekends to prepare for the work week—not vice versa. Laundry, groceries, cleaning—Saturday and even Sunday are opportunities to get chores done so that come Monday we can focus on our jobs or school or whatever it is we really do. Even the most observant Christian family does not use Sundays to officially suspend the daily grind. Meals will be cooked and cleaned up after, laundry will be washed and folded, errands run. Special “family time” may be carved out, but no radical existential statements underlie the day. The Sabbath may have been a potent gift to the world, but we’ve been running with it so long and so hard that not only has the contents dropped out along the way, we’ve forgotten what was ever in the box.

Sabbath

I was prepared for how this journey would change the way I saw the Los Angeles I knew from my old mental map. To experience the Venice Beach boardwalk from inside an Orthodox synagogue that sits at the end of a long line of shops hawking pizza slices, t-shirts, and “medical” marijuana is to never see the boardwalk in quite the same way again.

What I did not expect was how it would change my perception of time. Not the epic generational time of the Torah, but regular, everyday time: the ordinary hours and days that make up our weeks, months, and years. The most obvious difference is the start of the new day at sunset instead of the usual sunrise. It cuts in half what I previously perceived as a single block of time, a small shift with surprising consequences. Suddenly, I have twice the opportunity to acknowledge a new day, two access points where before there was only one. It’s the difference between a watermelon whole and a watermelon sliced open.

But the more meaningful difference is how every week builds toward the Sabbath. I had not realized the significance of the Sabbath, how it beats at the heart of Judaism. I had thought it was equivalent to the Christian Sunday, the one day out of the week when worship services are held at synagogues. Then, I saw it only as a list of things you aren’t supposed to do from sundown on Friday to after sundown on Saturday. Observant Jews can’t drive, turn on or off a computer or television or light, write with pen or pencil, buy anything, do laundry, cook, clean, garden, lift or move objects—nothing that is “work.” It seemed like a collection of rules so extensive and complicated that it would be more effort adhering to them than whatever toil from which they were trying to save you.

But it wasn’t until I met Barbara—mother of four and a lifetime Orthodox Jew (not counting her brief mid-20s Buddhist phase)—that I began to get it. We were talking about how she and her family prepare for the Sabbath; she was explaining the chores and errands that must be completed to ensure this chunk of time can be free from these responsibilities. Her family members have the normal weekday obligations—jobs and school—but in addition, Monday through Thursday is also the time when they grocery shop and clean the house and make food to serve through Saturday night. Friday before sundown, the finishing touches are addressed: the slow cooker is filled with whatever she might want to serve warm, the lights she wants left on are turned on, and the table is set for the primary meal her family will share on Saturday afternoon when they return from the synagogue.

As Barbara was explaining her Sabbath-prep techniques to me, I began to see that for her getting ready for the sun to set on Friday evening was like arranging to stay at a remote cabin in the woods. Everything you need must be purchased and organized in advance because once you arrive there will be no electricity, no cell phone reception, and no leaving to purchase something you forgot.

Only here the idea is to create the retreat right where you are.

Book of Doubt

When I first arrived in Los Angeles from Dallas, we—my dad, stepmom, and I—lived for over a year in a 500 square foot bungalow in Santa Monica. It was a few doors down from a small apartment complex occupied exclusively by a family of Hasidic Jews. The front of their building was quarantined by a low fence and crammed with playground equipment. I traipsed past countless times on my way to the candy counter at the neighborhood liquor store. Along this route was the stretch of sidewalk that my dad wanted to search, believing we would find my name among the many scrawled into the concrete.

Some of the Hasidic boys were my age. I had never seen anything like them. They had tassels at their waists and curls at their ears. In those months, I officially went “boy crazy” and I weighed even those boys as romantic partners. I would see them in the evenings walking in their uniform of tiny suits with the rest of their family members: one dad and one mom, and a string of siblings from big to small like stairs stepping down. I thought they looked particularly fetching when they topped off their outfits with kid-sized fedoras like old-timey gangsters from a school play.

For all the time I spent eyeing those kids, I never once spoke to them—nor they to me. Whatever made their world operate was too different from the particulars of mine; it was like we occupied dimensions so distant that any sound I might utter would dissipate before it reached their ears. I had the idea that they might be an optical illusion, a projected image on a screen; if I snuck up and looked behind it, I’d see only dust bunnies and boxes.

My dad and I walked back and forth in front of the apartment building, searching the names and messages left in the sidewalk. I kept glancing up at the building. It looked exactly the same, right down to the playground equipment.

Dad and I came to the corner without finding my name and then doubled back. A hundred other names were there, but we couldn’t find mine. Had it been washed out by time? Had my father only imagined our subversive act?

At first I was disappointed, but then I decided maybe it wasn’t there for a reason.

According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the “Book of Judgment” is opened and those who have lived righteously will find their names inscribed in the “Book of Life,” while those who have not will be written in the “Book of Death.” It’s a theme that Christians have galloped away with, sometimes to horrifying effect. When I encountered it at a Baptist church, the Book of Life was presented as set-in-stone—your name is either in there or it’s not. If it’s not, then you can forget about spending eternity with God.

In Judaism, I discover a more flexible interpretation. Besides these two options, there’s another place your name can be. It’s the location of a majority of our names. Those who are neither all bad nor all good, but a mixture of the two, will find their names in the “Book of the Doubtful.” Technically, the period of reflection and repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provides the opportunity to have your name reassigned to the Book of Life; more realistically, I think it’s a long-term goal: you hope to do enough good during your days on earth that the scales tip in your favor.

Perhaps all sidewalks are an extension of the Book of Life, I thought. My name wasn’t there because it is in the Book of the Doubtful. Like most people, I have some work before it gets reassigned.

As my dad and I got back in the car, I spotted a Hasidic man standing near the apartment complex. I knew then that I would try to visit the synagogue in which the residents of this building worship—due to the rules about not driving on Sabbath, it had to be within walking distance. At the very least, a visit to that synagogue would allow me to inquire about my old Hasidic neighbors. As long as I was righting the old wrongs I had drudged up with my Rosh Hashanah soul-searching, this seemed a good one to add to the mix. Maybe our two worlds could finally speak.