First off, I can’t believe I forgot to include this (oh right, other then the fact that it’s incredibly embarrassing): When thinking of ways to spread the word and get people to come, and having the illustrious TSR with us, we figured what better technique to utilize than a funny video introducing us!…in a way people wouldn’t forget! I give you – “PENN COMES TO KENTUCKY! JOIN US FOR SHABBAT DINNER!”
Back to that Friday night – I really can’t go into full detail regarding all of the night’s experiences (each person probably deserves their own post, but that’d be too much) but there were a few notable ones:
1) Towards the end of dinner, one of the men from the community came over to speak to me. As we started talking, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a bill of money, and slipped it into my breast pocket. “I want you to have this”, he said, as I awkwardly tried to dodge his hand, “to help defray your costs.” As I tried to protest, he insisted, explaining that he really “felt a debt of gratitude to ya’ll for coming all the way down here”. To have a cadre of lively, young and interesting Jewish college students go out and visit them in middle of Jewish American nowhere and share a beautiful Shabbat experience with them was something he couldn’t understand and for which he was so grateful. I tried to explain to him the appeal of this Shabbat for us as well and after speaking for a while, I think we both left appreciating each others appreciation. But wait, I still had a dollar bill in my pocket! I quickly ran into the kitchen and surreptitiously emptied my pocket into an open drawer, freeing myself from the onerous offering. When we came back after Shabbat to pick up our stuff, I checked the drawer and there sat the forlorn $20 bill I had rejected the night before. I happily picked it up and we in fact did use it to defray some of our personal costs.
2) At (what we thought was) the end of the evening, as the adults’ learning corner was winding down and the students were on their way out, we began closing up the room. One of the organizers pointed out that we couldn’t leave the candles lit, and she went over to blow them out. “No, no, it’s okay” we called after her, not wanting her to be mechalel Shabbat, “why don’t we just stay here until they go out on their own?” She agreed, and after bidding everyone goodbyes and ‘Shabbat Shalom’s we settled in to wait for the candles to go out, figuring ‘how bad could it be?’. Bad. We stayed there until close to 2 in the morning, as those candles burned dazzlingly and defiantly. So we used that time to finish davening ma’ariv, recap the evening’s excitements and breathe sighs of joyful relief. That’s when the cop arrived. Yep, the neighborhood security guard was doing his rounds and found a group of college students in some empty hall, sitting around a table of candles. We offered for him to join us and, pleased to get an interlude to his boring duties, he pulled up a chair and joined us.
Now this guy had a great story – he was getting trained in the Marines when he got thrown out for going to the bathroom without his boots. But it was all for the best, he said, since the dismal turnaround in his life led him to find God. And now he was studying to be a priest – while working as a security guard in his spare time to make some money. “Ah, a priest”, we exclaimed, leading to a whole discussion about religious education, Israel, his homosexual brother (for whom he fasted weekly to ‘save him from burning in hell’), and good ol’ Kentucky. After having spoken our fair share, and perhaps having touched on some touchy subjects, he remembered that he had assignments to resume and left us alone, once again watching the Shabbat candles.
3) And finally, C.H. First this guy (who taught at the University) showed up Friday night and brought us a (kosher+mevushal) bottle of wine! Then, he offered to show us around town the next day, and we planed to meet at the Conservative synagogue. (Side note: we decided that in keeping with our mission to connect to the Jews of Lexington, Kentucky, we’d visit the local Conservative synagogue, meet the people, etc. But not all of us felt so comfortable praying/eating there so we decided upon davening, making kiddush and eating lunch in our hotel rooms, then doing the 3.4 mile walk and getting there for the end of davening/luncheon.) At 9AM the next morning we were surprised with a knock on the door – it was C.H.! Inspired by the previous night’s learning tidbit about hachnasat orchim, he figured he would walk us to synagogue as well – and told us we had to hurry, or we’d be “late for taking out the Torah”. Being in the middle of shacharit, and not wanting him to know that we preferred davening/eating in the hotel, we told him we’d need some time to finish getting ready. So we finished davening, wolfed down a quick kiddush/lunch and went out to get him from his blue corvette, where he was waiting. It ended up being a lovely day – we made it to synagogue in time for moose-off, met some interesting people at kiddush, and got the scenic tour of campus and greater Lexington on the way back. After a good 8 miles of walking with C.H., we bid him farewell for the afternoon, and planned to meet up again for havdala. So after Shabbat ended, the 7 of us and C.H. joined together for a beautiful, musical, and spiritually uplifting havdala ceremony, with some kiddush levana thrown in for fun! While most stories I document happen on Shabbat/Y”T, we were lucky to catch this priceless one on film:
Without a doubt, that Shabbat was surely a memorable one, for us and likely for many others. Hopefully this won’t be the last we hear of the Jewish community and our new friends in Lexington, Kentucky but until further updates, this will have to do for now. May we all merit to share the beauties of Shabbat in places and with people She has yet to embrace.