Shabbas with Netvin & his family

One of the few, perhaps only non-sightseeing, goals of my trip is to celebrate Shabbat through out, preferably in a different country each week.

Considering that I arrived in Paris on Friday afternoon, I had to act quick if I didn’t want to fail from the start.

Before leaving, I Google-mapped directions to a synagogue, the directions to which I hurriedly copied down as I tried to rush out of my hostel. While attempting to plot my course on the Metro map at the station, I saw a Star of David, figured it to be the same one, and set out for it.

I had seen somewhere that services started at six and so at 7.30 I was just about to give up on my search/goal. Luckily, I crossed the street to try and get a picture of the “Folies Berger” sign that I just came across but am unsure as to what it actually is when I saw that the people who were previously behind me and now parallel with me were an aged man with a hat and his grandson, who happened to have Down’s Syndrome and was wearing a yarmulke. I quickly crossed back and tried to get the point across that I was looking for the synagogue. With his grandson acting as a quasi-translator (I think he just got that I was saying I was Jewish, none of the actual English) the old man eventually asked me, “Ashkenazi or Sephardim?” I probably gave a look with my eyes and hands that said “whichever” and he motioned me to follow them.

We walked up to an unmarked door and let ourselves in; a couple of kids were running around the foyer in regular clothes and I became relieved that my clothes wouldn’t be a problem. We walked into the main temple and it was just unbelievably noisy.

Twenty-five or so men and teenage boys were there; dressed from black hats to jeans and a sweater. About half the congregation were davening, while others talked boisterously amongst themselves, or were perusing books from the library on the back wall. Various members of the congregation came up to the podium to lead prayers while the rabbi sat reading at the front of the temple, only addressing people during his sermon. The teenagers were extremely devout while the smaller kids ran around the temple, making noise; nothing which any of the elders paid any mind to.

Judging from the darker complexion of most people there, I gathered that I had come to the Sephardim temple.

The whole scene was the exact opposite of what I had grown up with, except for the fact that I fell asleep during the rabbi’s sermon.

People came and left through out, and during one period when multiple people left, I joined in. As I stepped out the door one of the men who had just come for five minutes or so was talking to one of the teenagers outside. He started to speak to me in French:

“Je suis American…”
“Ah, ah…Shabbat shalom! What are you doing here?”
“I just got into town, wanted to come to services.”
“Come to my house for dinner!”
“Uh,”
“Come!”

And so I started walking with Netvin to his parents’ home where his family and dinner would be waiting for us.

Once we got to the building, we had to walk up four flights of stairs only by touch since they–and apparently the entire building–keep shomer Shabbas. His parents, wife, and three beautiful daughters (who did nothing but laugh at me the entire night) were ready for us, even though they had no idea who I was or that I was coming, and didn’t seem to regard it as anything out of the ordinary; perhaps it’s not for them.

Netvin’s family is from Lebanon, so we had pita instead of challah, homemade hummus, pickled red cabbage, eggplant, and multiple salads for starters. While everyone else had chicken for the main course, I kept on feasting on the salads as well as rice topped with this amazing lemon, water, and oil broth that had chunks of potatoes in it. It was totally amazing and the entire family said only Lebanese (and some Syrian) Jews make it.

For dessert we had a basket of fresh fruit to choose from and closed with the traditional prayers, which Netvin made had me say in English from a transliterated book his mom had rustled out fromthe depths of their book case. Through out the night Netvin broke out into song and couldn’t help himself from smiling: for him, Shabbat and being with family truly was the highlight of every week.


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