Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cultural Exchange

On Saturday The Neighbor, The Child and I walked to one of the 4 synagogues in our neighborhood. We'd been invited by the Rabbi's Wife to a kiddush for her daughter's newborn baby girl.

The Rabbi's Wife is a wonderful woman, English by birth, who looks out for the neighborhood. The Neighbor and I really got to know her when we were all working out in the mornings at our local Curves. She's funny, articulate, caring and a terrific cook. She has 3 grown children. One unmarried daughter, Tanya, lives at home. She's makes gorgeous hats. John, their son, lives in California and he and his wife just had their first baby. The middle child, Ana-Aliza lives next door to her folks, with her husband, Chaim, and 2 children. The Child babysits for them.

The Rabbi's Wife loves to tell us about Jewish customs and hear how we crazy Papists do things. It was in this spirit of increasing ecumenical understanding, and just 'cause she likes us, that she invited us to the blessing for the baby.

We arrived just as services were ending. Tanya spied us and hurried over to greet us. We exchanged hugs and "shabbat shaloms" and then she waved her mom over. Rabbi's Wife, wearing a huge black hat waving with black and white feathers came over cooing, "I'm so pleased that you came!" We had to duck under the hat to kiss her cheeks. She pointed out Ana-Aliza, who still looks fairly done in, having had to spend 6 months of her pregnancy on bed-rest. Her sweet little tiny baby was sleeping soundly. We gave Ana hugs and kisses and threw in a few "mazel tovs" for good measure.

Rabbi's Wife introduced us to Ana's mother-in-law, a charming woman from New York, who very graciously accompanied us over to the hall for the kiddush. The room was decorated with pink and white balloons and a gorgeous spread of food was arranged on tables in the middle of the room. Round tables with white linens sat around the spread, with pink toffees scattered on the tables. The congregation gathered around as the Rabbi offered up the kiddush for the new baby. ("What's he saying?" whispered The Child. "He's blessing Celia," I whispered back. "Oh. Right. That's Hebrew," The Child replied). Then the feeding frenzy began. The Mother-in-Law had told us to make ourselves comfortable and "Eat all you like", so we did.

This particular congregation is Sephardic. Historically, Sephardim are those Jews associated with the Iberian peninsula. Most of of them are descendants of the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492, who settled in places like Greece and Turkey. Those influences are prominent in the food. There was Greek salad, tyropita, smoked salmon with cream cheese and vegetables rolled in tomato and spinach tortillas, pickled fish, Caesar salad and some sort of fabulous crustless quiche thing with cheese and spinach. As I was filling my plate an old man came up to me, gestured to the tyropita and said, "Have you tried one? They're good".

"I certainly plan on it. They look delicious".

"They're better with whiskey," he said.

"Well, you'll have to point me to the bar," I joked. He grinned and gestured to the back of the room. Sure enough, there was a table containing several bottles of good whiskey, vodka and wine. (I'm not a fan of kosher wine. I'm sure someone somewhere makes very good kosher wine but I haven't found it yet). The Neighbor and I filled little plastic shot glasses with whiskey, toasted to the baby and drank. The old man was right. A bite of tyropita with whiskey...fabulous combination.

We seated ourselves and tucked in. Then I noticed a woman we knew, Judy, whose father, may he rest in peace, used to live next door to us. Judy rents out the house now and we rarely see her. I called her over and we had a lovely time catching up. She couldn't believe how big The Child had grown. We had a great time talking about the old days when her dad was still in the house and catching up on news of each other's families. Mother-in-Law came over to see how we were doing. "Are you getting enough to eat?" she asked.

"What are you, a Jewish mother?" Judy joked.

"Why, yes. Yes, I am", smiled Mother-in-Law.

Later we were joined by the Rabbi's Wife, who barely got to eat anything because every time she lifted a fork to her mouth some other congregant would come over to congratulate her. Just as we were getting ready to leave the Rabbi came over saying, "Are these our neighbors? Oh, I'm so glad you could come!"

It isn't always easy to be the outsider in a situation but I must say, we were made to feel very welcome. It was lovely to be included in a special occasion like that and to remember once again that the things we share in common with others are more important than our differences. I couldn't help but sit there, embraced by the kindness and hospitality of everyone, and think what a contrast it was to be enjoying such warmth when all over the planet so many people, even those who share a common birthright, are busy killing each other. It's so hard for so many to reach across their differences to find common ground and there we were, celebrating life together. It would have made me very sad but I was too full of good food to be melancholy for long.

The Neighbor and I went back to the bar for a final shot of whiskey and to say goodbye to friends, old and new, before walking back home. It was a good time. And as I told The Neighbor, "You gotta love people who do shots after services".

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Blogger jp opined...

Now that was a great post.

I was talking with The Child about what she was going to wear for the event and she said that she didn't want to dress up too much, because it wasn't about her and she didn't want to call attention to herself.

I told her that it was okay to look as good as she wanted, and if people happened to notice that was really not at all her fault, because some people just can't help it when they look good.

She laughed.

February 13, 2007 10:52 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

That explains why she wore the purple velvet ballgown with the Romanoff tiara and the diamond drop earrings. I was wondering about that.

February 13, 2007 11:12 AM  
Blogger Dariush Alavi opined...

A wonderful post. It reminded me of growing up in Dubai, where, at times, people of different cultures really did manage not just to get along with each other, but to become friends and form deep, lasting relationships. It CAN be done.

As your post pointed out, I think food is of vital importance in such enterprises. I'm not a fan of Mr Steven Spielberg's work and I didn't much like Munich, but what I did enjoy about it was the way it showed people coming together over a table adorned with lovingly prepared food. It's hard to eat with someone you hate, isn't it?

February 13, 2007 11:50 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Dariush, how about this for a motto:

Break bread, not heads.

No? But you're right. If we could just get more people to eat together...

February 13, 2007 11:55 AM  
Blogger Iwanski opined...

Shots after service?

From this moment forth, I am a Jew.

I renounce Pan.

February 13, 2007 3:44 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

I hear you, Iwanski. One can only drink so much mead and the pan pipes get a little irritating after a while. It's like, come on, find a new melody for crying out loud.

February 13, 2007 4:38 PM  
Blogger gina opined...

What a wonderful post about a really wonderful event. And for the record, I think my favorite food ever is Greek (don't tell my grandparents!) I think the quiche-like dish may have been spanakopitas, or not. :) I could live on feta cheese. And dolmades are a guilty pleasure (Costco sells some amazing pre-packaged ones). I think it's so cool that you were able to share in this ceremony, experience their culture, expose The Child to it, and finish it off with shots. Awesome!

February 14, 2007 7:27 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Gina, I too adore the feta. And the quiche thing wasn't spanikopita...no phyllo. It was firm, like a quiche. Really tasty. And your secret is safe with me.

February 14, 2007 7:35 AM  
Blogger rosemary opined...

Thank you for the late night visit...did you ever watch Sanford and Son.....was probably on TV when you were in utero...but Fred the elder Sanford would grab his chest and say the following when something amazing happened...like Lorraine visiting my blog...."It's the big one Lizabeth, I'm commin, it's the big one!" I am honored. I love reading about your life...and thanks for putting simple word verifications when I visit....you know, caring for the elderly.

February 14, 2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger jLow opined...

What a fantastic post!!

Being out here in the middle of the Baptist Bible Belt, we don't see that degree of contrast but your meaning was not lost.

Would that we ALL could put more importance on what we have in common instead of what we don't.

That sounds like a good formula for peace.

February 14, 2007 12:38 PM  
Blogger Jon opined...

Drinking whiskey and not telling them about your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I just don't know what I'm going to do with you . . . .

February 14, 2007 2:38 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Yes, Jlow, it certainly does sound like a formula for peace.

And Jon, now you know why I made such a poor Baptist.

February 14, 2007 2:42 PM  
Blogger Red7Eric opined...

That's so cool.

February 15, 2007 7:43 AM  

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