Home > Life > “You’re Jewish. Stay for chicken and challah.”

“You’re Jewish. Stay for chicken and challah.”

Last night, my friend, Silvi, and I found ourselves happy victims of chance. We planned a very unassuming evening: we were going to go to my friend’s art opening in Chinatown, and then possibly go to Old City to meander around the First Friday activities. Our tame night out was planned with our current state of unemployment in mind. As recent graduates from an MSW program still engaged in the job search, we’ve been trying to think of affordable ways to spend our leisure time. And leisure time is pretty important when you’re looking for jobs because looking for jobs is depressing. So last night was sort of an experiment to see if we could go out, have fun, and not spend any money.

We loved our first stop at my friend’s opening. But that was the purposeful part of the evening. We didn’t really know what would happen next. Neither of us had even been to First Friday. For Silvi, she’s sort of new to the area and being a grad student didn’t leave her much time for exploration. For me, I typically hate shuffling through crowds of amiable strangers so I stayed away. When we got to Old City, things seemed fairly low-key, so I didn’t have to worry about my irrationally low tolerance for happy people en masse. We wandered around, trying to decide where to go when we noticed a several people walking into what we thought was an art gallery. So we crossed the street to check it out and were greeted by a young man who enthusiastically invited us to go inside and get some free food. One thing Silvi and I learned in grad school is that you never say “no” to fee, so we went in.

We were completely unprepared for what happened next. Silvi and I found ourselves in a Jewish arts center, so yes, there was an art showing, but they were also observing Shabbat. We instantly felt out of place as several people began setting up tables and putting out chairs. Everyone seemed to know their roles and conducted themselves with a degree of familiarity. Silvi and I exchanged wide-eyed glances and hung back awkwardly, trying to decide if we should stay or quietly sneak out. We must have looked like little rabbits ready to bolt as we were told more than once that we could stay for dinner.  Despite the kind reassurances, we decided to leave. We got to the front door when an older man stopped us.

“You’re not staying?”

“No,” I replied. “I think we’re going to go.”

“Are you Hindu, too, like your friend?”

“Uh, no.”

“Well, what are you?”

“Uh, I’m half Catholic, half Jewish.”

“Half Jewish? What do you mean, half Jewish? Is your mother Jewish?”

“Well, yeah….”

“You’re Jewish. Stay for chicken and challah.”

Silvi and I exchanged a look of defeat and acceptance. We followed him back inside and sat down. The man insisted I meet the rabbi. Our escape was officially squashed.

Now, I know that I’m technically Jewish, but I don’t practice. My brother and I were raised heathen so I don’t even know that much about Jewish traditions and holidays. I do know, however, that I’ve always felt a strong connection with my mother’s side of the family and I love learning about their history. Sitting there with about 30 other people for Shabbat dinner, I was simultaneously at home and disconnected from decades of my family’s past.

Despite feeling a little out of place, I had an amazing time. The nerdy part of me loves to learn about the meaning behind traditions, so I appreciated that the rabbi explained to the group the significance of Shabbat, each song that was sung, and the meaning of sharing food. I’m not a religious or spiritual person, but it was pretty great to see a group of people who clearly believed deeply in their faith, but also welcomed little spiritual vagabonds like Silvi and me off the street. The atmosphere was warm, caring, and enthusiastic. While I hate crowds, I do like having a sense of community. At first I couldn’t tell if Silvi was enjoying herself, since her typical expression is a little wide-eyed. Then she tapped me on the arm and said, “I want to come again.” She put a reminder in her phone.

After we left, I think Silvi and I felt injected with a little appreciation for humanity. The feeling was kind of like that sense of elated calm you have after a good family holiday. We both felt too happy to go home right away, so we walked around the city until my adorable-yet-impractical shoes told me it was time to get on the bus.

I recognize that our next cheap play date might not turn out as awesome as last night’s. But that’s OK. The timing was perfect. Over the last few weeks, Silvi and I both felt discouraged with our post-grad school lives. However, last night served as a means of positive distraction and in conjunction, a small sense of hope.

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