The Grand Duchy of Shabbat

I came back right at 6:30 and another, younger man intercepted me as I tried to make my way to the side entrance. It seemed as if he had already been made aware that a stranger had come by earlier.

-Excuse me, but I have a few questions.
Oh, okay.
-Why are you here?

And so began a fairly long interrogation as to my motives for coming to a synagogue on a Friday evening. The man–Benjamin–seemed incredibly serious, in his thirties, and wore a brimmed hat that made it seem like he was the Elliot Ness of Shabbas.

-What holiday was celebrated last week?
-What is the next big holiday coming up?
-What do you like to eat during it?
Personally, haroset: but do you mean matzoh balls?
-Do you remember what your Torah portion was?

I have a pretty odd relationship with Judaism, but even I recoiled at my answer. “You do it for the cash and party in America,” I rationalized to myself. A real man.

-I’m sure vou’re not used to getting questioned like this, but in Europe we have to do this.
I understand.
-No guns, no knives, no spray?
No, no.
-Okay, you can go in. I’d like to talk to you afterwards; there’s a dinner.
-Oh, can you please turn off your cell phone?

Menorahs with lightbulb flames flanked the ark, families with kids came in, I was told the whole thing would last around an hour. This all seemed familiar.

It was pretty busy and I stood in the back awhile until a contigency of old-timers pushed me along to a chair. A couple of prayers later I realized I had been standing on the women’s side: This was Europe, after all, and the temples are Orthodox.

More and more people came in through out the service; an old man who resembled my Grandpa Jack made funny faces at them and I wondered if my Grandpa would do that, too. Another man waved at people with his thumb on the tip of his nose just like my Uncle Pinky. Luxembourg did not feel exotic, but it felt warm.

After the service and kiddush, people mingled around for a bit but most left and I began to think that I had misheard Benjamin. There was no table setup for dinner. No sisterhood cooking a chicken. I went out and re-confirmed with him. “It will start in just a little bit; it’s just for the young people.”

A door was opened up inside which revealed a long table with a table cloth and chairs waiting. I tried to blend in by setting the forks. When all finished, Namri, a blonde-haired and bespeckled guy in his 20s welcomed and thanked everyone for coming to the first dinner for the younger group of Luxembourg Jews.

Everyone washed their hands, said the hamotzi, and then started passing around the hodge podge that any 20-something guy is expected to assemble: Macaroni with a little bit of cheese and cherry tomatoes, dolmades, challah, more bread, salad, pickles, deli-meats.

No, it wasn’t exactly kosher, but Namri got the okay from some of the higher-ups.

I sat across from Benjamin, who, without his hat and suit jacket, I realized was also in his twenties. Since he no longer had to interrogate me, he was actually pretty funny in a self deprecating way. He was from Strasbourg, France. I sat next to Sylvia, who didn’t really know if she should consider herself Belgian or French. Steve was from Pairs. Moshe was from Israel, his girlfriend Shlami from Slovenia (They met in Brazil, of course.).

-Is anyone from Luxembourg here?
No. It’s a very international city.

We talked like we were on a first date without the awkwardness about where we came from, what I was doing, politics, etc.

As the dinner began to wind down, Namri setup a piece of paper gridded into six areas, with six cups, and a bottle of wine.

-Mike, you have to play.

I’m not sure if it’s a regular thing for them, but it was definitelz\y my first time playing drinking games (with wine, no less) at shul. Namri kept on bringing out another bottle each time we thought we were off the hook from doing shots of wine. We were wrong 4 or 5 times. And then he brought out Limoncello.

Proper shots. Oy vey…

While maybe not the most religous of activities, drinking really did bring a group of us together. I couldn’t stop laughing with moshe and Shlami, Rafael kept on lobbying for bigger pours, Namri giggled each time he made the rounds with whatever bottle he was holding, and Benjamin–one time security guard and now friend–loosened his tie and unfastened the first button of his shirt.

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