Monday, March 08, 2004

Early one morning three or four weeks ago, just after the collective body of American Conservative Rabbis had finished its annual conference in Israel, Alex and I found our Talmud study graced briefly by a special guest. Let's call him Rabbi Monty here - I don't want to reveal his real name. Monty's in his fifties I'd say, a community rabbi from eastern America. He was with us for ten minutes. It felt like a whirlwind passing through our humble chevruta. He drove the pace of our study, drawing diagrams, offering interpretations of meanings of phrases, reading ahead and anticipating the direction of the argument. And then he was gone, but not without first asking if Alex and I were around for dinner or a drink either that night or the next day.

That afternoon I was at the flat, on the computer, when the phone rang. It was Monty. Would Alex and I like to do that drink tonight? Sure I said, but I think Alex has some UJIA reception until 9 or so. I said he should check if he was free - he could find Alex at the yeshiva. Oh good, said Monty, that's where I was headed anyway.

I phoned Alex that night, after I'd finished a Hebrew lesson. Monty had come to the yeshiva again, but had said nothing to Alex. I phoned Monty's hotel room and left a message on the answering machine. He should call if it still wasn't too late, or we could always do tomorrow - just let us know. He didn't call back.

But he emailed both Alex and I when he got back to the States. He made no mention of his invitation / non-invitation. It was a basic good wishes message:

>To my 2 favorite Brits at the Conservative Yeshiva,
>I trust you have had a good week after all the rabbi visitors left. I hope
>we can keep in touch and I especially look forward to hearing about your
>progress in study
>
>Best wishes across the miles,

Alex wrote back with his pleasantries and I followed suit a day later. He wrote back to me immediately - something about how he hoped I didn't mind that he'd taken charge of our Talmud study that day. He said he'd be less forthright in his emails if I promised to keep in touch. I didn't reply - not out of any great spite or bad intention, only that I didn't have much to say or that much time.

A few days later Monty sends me this message:

>Dear Joel,
>
>Is Purim in the air as the Taanit ends and Shabbat looms?
>How does the long weekend play itself out in peoples plans?
>Can you believe that a young Jewish Professional group of
>[censored American city] is having a Havana Night on Megillah Reading Sat ev'g??
>
>What are your best recollections of Purim growing up in London??

Again I didn't reply, this time partly because I'm floored and bemused.

Today I got another message.

>Dear Joel,
>
>Can't wait to hear how your Purim was in Israel. I hope you carried the
>celebration to every extreme of our tradition.
>
>My own memories of the year at [censored institution] are spiced by the
>incoherrence of Purim. The spelling may be wrong but the spirit is
>unmistakable. I can only believe a Brit knows all the more how to do
>it right.
>
>Write soon please, and regards to all,

This time I replied. You must admit though, he does seem slightly deranged.

And you too can find out all about my Purim, as soon as I get some more time over the next day or so.

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