I went to Chabad House of København for Shabbos Mincha, et cetera, tonight. Unsure how to get in, wary of the utterly unmarked door and the apparently-armed possibly-Politi loitering outside to lend an air if not the reality of security, I rang the bell — surely a faux pas, disruptive of ritual, to say nothing of engaging electricity on Shabbos, but no one said anything about it to me. Not that the man who opened the door, muttering along to the liturgy through his teeth, could’ve said anything less. Le sigh.
I wasn’t thrilled with the service. To the upper balcony, we women were sent, not to one half of the downstairs pews demarcated with mechitzah for the pseudo-egalitarianism I prefer to accept. Most of my balconymates were dowdy, dowdy teenagers (or maybe early-twenties femmelets) paying me no mind and children playing too loudly while the men, below, raced through. Afterward, the lean middle aged woman in a white head scarf — Orit! — asked if I’m Israeli.
I’m American, I said, omitted the US, and she said, You sing like you are Israeli.
On the walk through the courtyards to supper I chatted with the rabbi, who invited me to give a Shavouos talk tomorrow night, and I said yes without knowing how I will.
I sat to eat beside the man-boy who I’d guessed, from above, from his polo shirt, conspicuous for its gay chartreuse in the somber sea of black and white and how it bared his arms, would alone among them be willing to shake my hand. Alon is his name — Danish-Israeli — studying finance and working in programming — and he told me that what I’m doing is brave and exciting and asked, if I’m around long enough, whether I’ll help him with a writing problem.
Orit and I talked across the table about the difficulty of taking the sort of leap that I am, of the necessity of changing one’s status quo, of not prolonging some numbing stasis, about how the United States embodies this sinister intersection of populousness and widespread sense of entitlement: the consumption, the emission, the imperative to put everything in evermore disposable packaging, to get an even bigger car. I noticed her declining the fish, the chicken soup, the salads with mayo, and asked about her veganism. She told me that in olden times all Danish housewives brewed their own beer at home, always in the same nook reserved for washing, and to this day any Danish laundry room is called the brygghaus.
She talked about how her daughter and son-in-law are expecting a boy and won’t circumcise him. It’s like beating your child, she said they’d said, which hurt her. It’s their choice not to, she said, but to put it like this… She did not finish the sentence, and I talked about what I’m hoping to do with this journey and in life, hoping to help people isolate which parts of what they say are a constructive sharing of fears and which are something that will hurt.