Another visit to YPS

A couple months ago I visited Young People's Synagogue and had a good experience, so I'd been thinking about going back this week. Then I was contacted by their webmaster, who followed a link to this journal from his referrer logs. He invited me to come back any time, I said I was thinking about this week, he invited me to dinner, and off we went.

(Inter-movement anthropology: Reform and Conservative (and in my limited experience Reconstructionist) congregations have the oneg shabbat, a social time with coffee/tea and cookies (and maybe more) after the Friday-evening service, at which newcomers and regulars can introduce themselves to each other and chat. In my (again limited) experience Orthodox congregations do not have this; everyone is going home for dinner after so there's presumably no need to stand around and eat cookies. Except when dealing with those newcomers. Hence the institution of the dinner invitation -- it's really about being able to sit down and talk.)

They started a little early this week because of Chanukah (need to light the lights before Shabbat starts), but it took a while for enough people to assemble, so he introduced me to a few people and we chatted a bit before services. One person said "are you the writer?" -- the link got around, it sounds like. :-) One person said that most of their members have dual memberships with other congregations; YPS doesn't have a rabbi or daily services. (You can just show up for daily services, of course, but you might want a rabbi.) I knew they weren't a full-service congregation but hadn't made the connection to dual memberships. I met people who also go to Poale Zedeck, Shaare Torah, and Beth Shalom (which is Conservative). I don't know if they have anyone who also affiliates with a Reform congregation; that would probably be pretty unusual.

One thing I find hard about going to any Orthodox congregation is figuring out the behavioral expectations. Orthodoxy is not uniform any more than any other movement is; there are different flavors and, within a congregation, people who understand halacha a little differently from each other. Some are more liberal and some are more stringent, and I don't want to give offense or cause someone to do what he believes is a transgression. But I, from the outside, can't tell who's who on the stringency spectrum -- so, for instance, am I expected to cover my hair? (I didn't and no one cared.) Could I wear pants if I showed up for a class? (Beats me.) May I sing audibly? (No problem here; that's not universal.) Should I offer a handshake? (I never do, but when I was offered one on Friday I accepted.) The problem with just following the stringent path on the "do no harm" principle is two-fold: first, I may restrict myself unnecessarily, and second, I may give the impression that I am that strict, causing people who aren't to treat me that way. Hello, self-fulfilling prophecy. So I enter any new-to-me Orthodox congregation with some trepidation (and probably too much omphaloskepsis).

YPS is friendly and seems pretty easy-going. Having been there twice, I think I have a reasonable feel for the place now. It's comfortable. No need for trepidation. :-) The congregation they most remind me of is Beth Ha-Minyan in Toronto. Oh, and like Beth Ha-Minyan, they do not use a mechitza, relying on an aisle for separation.

YPS was founded about 60 years ago, so the remaining founders (and there are several) are in their 80s and 90s. In large part their kids moved out of town, so they are feeling demographically challenged now -- they're smaller than they used to be and I picked up a sense of concern for the future. I don't know if in the past they were more active (for example having daily services), but I do know they've never had a rabbi -- they were one of the first chavurot, perhaps before the term came into existence. So they're smaller now, but still there doing stuff. I hope they can keep doing so. I can definitely see myself going there on Friday nights at times (and I can think of a couple people who might be interested in coming along). Saturday morning is unlikely; I love my morning minyan. But that's ok; I don't think they expect everyone to be there all the time, though some people probably are.

After services we had a lovely dinner and conversation. (That's where I got some of the history.) My hosts know I'm a Reform Jew and I never felt even a little bit dismissed for that. We talked about lots of stuff that I'm not going to post about. It was a pleasant visit.