Overheard in a Starbucks on Saturday morning.
Woman 1: "...so then I only found out after six weeks of eating sushi three times a day that it really isn't a good idea to have raw fish more than 3 times a week due to the mercury levels"
Woman 2: "Yeah, but I bet you knew what the temperature was just by stepping out of the house..."
It was funny at the time.
Okay, so after getting a bashing from my teacher about being religious in my practice of Shabbat because I hadn't read the book on Shabbat, I bought the book. And saw what I had been missing out on. The energy available to everyone from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday is quite phenomenal and awareness of how to connect to that energy is key.
So I don't quite get it. I can't remember the significance of every prayer and meal and song. But with a better understanding from reading the book and a desire for more energy to get me through the week, I booked both the Friday dinner and Saturday lunch and arranged to sleep on a friend's sofa for the night.
My friend - W - was taking other 'non-Kabbalah' friends to the Friday night Shabbat dinner, and she prepared them as best she could. "Okay, so the men will be on one side of the room, and most of them will be wearing white. You will hear a lot of people greeting you with Shabbat Shalom, which basically means 'peaceful shabbat'. And if you can't follow the songs, mouth the word 'bubblegum' over and over and just try and enjoy yourselves"
It is so long since I have been to a Friday night shabbat - or any shabbat service for that matter. Or indeed any large gathering of people at the centre. Or, actually, any large gathering of people full stop. And so I was feeling a little bit of trepidation - a little bit of fear at being overwhelmed. A teensy concern that the question most on people's lips would be "so what happened to you? Where have you been?" As though my absence from the centre indicated a lack of devotion and would somehow create a zone of exclusion.
We arrived late - the first song had already started - and I found myself sitting with strangers at the back of the room, without a song book to hand. I started to feel a little disjointed. A little bit "I don't really feel as though I am meant to be here. I don't really want to be around lots of people."
I set my focus on raising my energy. And a wonderful thing happened. Not only did many of my 'friends' find me after the connection and before the meal, but I was also approached by people I had seen at shabbat services for over a year who I had never really spoken to and they greeted me with a surprising warmth. I spent the rest of the evening talking to and hugging people. And not just perfunctory 'mwah-mwah' pecks on the cheek, but hugs filled with such warmth and love that they brought tears to my eyes. I did indeed feel overwhelmed - but how nice to feel overwhelmed with joy for a change. Where did all of this love come from?
I questioned W as we left the centre.
"What you don't realise" she explained "is that we have a really strong community here in London and your energy is really important to the centre. And even though these people have never spoken to you before, they've missed your energy without even realising it. And now that you're back, they've gravitated towards something that they have been missing"
W's friend gave his feedback on the evening as we travelled home in the cab.
"The songs after the meal all sounded the same to me. That was the funniest part of the evening - it was like
"Song Number 12!" "La laaa la-la-la la laaaa la-la-la-laaa laaa..."
"Song Number 32!" (deep inhalation) "La laaa la-la-la la laaaa la-la-la-laaa laaa..."
"Song Number 21!" (inhale and pause) "La laaa la-la-la la laaaa la-la-la-laaa laaa..."
"Song Number 9!" (even longer pause to build the suspense) "La laaa la-la-la la laaaa la-la-la-laaa laaa..."
Each rendition of song he la'd to the tune of 'Hava Nagila', the song played at Jewish weddings - nothing like what was actually sung - but this made the story even funnier as he told it. We laughed all of the way back to W's house.
I slept the best I could, on a short sofa. Saturday morning arrived and everyone could have used a little more sleep.
Other people were stopping at W's, hence why I was on the sofa. One couple I had seen around a lot but never spoken to, and this gave us the opportunity to finally talk to them. It's surprising what an impression I've made. Both of them said individually:
"The one thing I really remember about you is from the one shabbat where Marcus wanted to know the names of the two old men who sit on the balcony in The Muppet Show, and you were the only person who knew. What were their names again? And how did you know that?"
Hey, what can I say - Statler and Waldorf. A small gem of useless information gained through repeated playing of the Muppet Show 2 album.... I really know how to make an impression...
At the service on Saturday, I reconnected with a couple of women who I had lost touch with during my two month visit from Leonardo. More hugs were exchanged. In fact, I couldn't stop hugging. They say that you need four hugs a day for survival - I think in this one weekend I have stocked up for the entire month. It was hug-tastic.
The prayers after the second meal are long and hard to follow. The parts that held a tune I sang along with. And the rest of the time I mouthed 'bubblegum'. Hey, this really works. Good tip.
Lunch ended at half past three, at which point I remembered that the trains were not running. In a daze from the energy of a full shabbat and barely able to keep my eyes open, I made my way to Liverpool Street and caught a bus to Stansted, carrying the warmth of the weekend home to my little, cold house.
And then curled up on my even-shorter sofa, I slept like a baby.