Flew into DC on September 11. Worked my way from Baltimore aiport to DuPont Circle. Caught up with Avi, aka Meshugavi, to drop off my bags and go shopping for food to prepare for various shabbat meals. Walked across DC, spied the White House from afar and the Washington Monument. Carried wine and potatoes back to his kitchen.
Sliced potatoes, peeled garlic, chopped onions. Chopped apples, measured brown sugar, mixed with oats. Burnt my mouth tasting too hot apple crumble and too hot roasted potatoes.
We went our separate ways for Shabbat dinner. I headed across the city to a the basement apartment in a mansion to see Eli from Challah for Hunger. We lit candles late, said kiddush and motzi, made designer pizzas, laughed about Twitter, learned about Blue Dogs and the P-Rade at Princeton. Around midnight or one, I caught a ride back to DuPont where Avi and I stayed up talking about who knows what.
I promised to try and rally for shul, but in the end my lack of appropriate clothes kept me napping all morning. Then we grabbed the roasted potatoes (that somehow never fully cooked) and walked to shabbas lunch. Down three flights of stairs, up four flights of stairs, meeting a room of new faces, saying the motzi, saying kiddush, washing our hands and eating an amazing shabbat lunch.
Down four flights of stairs, up three flights of stairs, reading in the afternoon sun, up seven more flights of stairs to the rooftop pool for a shabbat swim. Guiltily, I took the elevator and later I answered my ringing phone. I left shortly before havadalah to meet up with other friends, but savored the taste of shabbat. The first I’d fully observed since coming home from Israel.
From DC, I went to Pearlstone Conference Center outside of Baltimore for The Conversation. Everything that happened at The Conversation is off the record, to give us room to be honest. I wrestled with my relationship to my synagogue, my level of observance, my place in the world of Jewish Communal Professionals, and my desire to be in Israel.
I was deeply humbled by the comments I got on Monday night. I read from my novel. My unfinished novel. The novel that I put in a drawer a year ago and gave up on writing. I was deeply humbled by three rabbis who said that I got it right. That I must finish writing it. That it must be published. That they want to give my book to congregants considering conversion. When will I be done? How long will it take it to go to print.
One of those rabbis was Shmuley Boteach. Author of Kosher Sex. A rabbi that I reference in the novel and who played such an important “on paper” role in my own path to becoming a Jew.
I made so many important business connections, but for me, what was truly important was the support for my unfinished work of fiction and the time I spent truly unplugged and present. No blackberry, no camera, no pad of paper to doodle on. I sat with my peers and listened and talked. In the end I told them all that I’d come with no expectations, but that I’d come to terms with why I stopped going to services. That I’d finally acknowledged my desire to be more observant, but my complete fear of going there alone.
I simply don’t think I can live a more observant life in the place I live now and in the solitude I live now. I want shabbat, but only if I have shabbat with a community. Not just community, but a partner. I’m ready to stand in a kitchen before shabbat and cook a meal together. To turn off the oven at sundown. To take the stairs. But I can’t do it alone and I don’t know how I can do it in Chicago. Or in this Chicago neighborhood.
I’m entering the new year in a state of confusion and flux. I love Chicago, but don’t see my entire future here anymore. I love Tel Aviv, but waiver on my ability to sustain a life and a business there. Natiiv is growing by leaps and bounds. I’m consulting with a small local agency, more bands are signing up with me, more Jewish organizations are signing up with me, and I’m traveling more and more.
I know that 5770 is going to be remarkable, but I don’t know how. This is the year that I’m going to give shabbat a more serious try and the year that I’m finally going to let myself be open to a relationship. I know, I’ve said both before… but this year, I think I mean it.