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Sunday, May 21, 2006

What a Shabbos!

This past Shabbos, I traveled to New Square, which is a Chassidic community near Monsey. The community is completely made up of Skverer Chassids, and is very strict about many standards, such as tznius, interactions between men and women and contact with the outside world. Before Shabbos, a friend who I was going with sent me a welcome letter from our hosts explaining some of the customs and the schedule which we would be encountering during our Shabbos there. It mentioned the modesty standards, and explained the limitations in interactions between men and women there. It also made an incredible point of stating how excited they were to have us as their guests. There were six of us there for Shabbos. We arrived erev Shabbos to bedrooms made up for us with soap, towels and tissues on each of our pillows. Our hosts children gave up their rooms for us, I slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed for the first time in my life. After we put our things away, we came downstairs and our host fed us kugel and salads before Shabbos started, since it would be a while until we ate again. We got ready for Shabbos, lit candles, and then went to take naps. The Skverer Chassidim have their own kind of schedule. The men came home from shul around 10:30 at night and then we came down from our naps and proceeded to eat a leisurely meal until around 1:00 AM. Our host came downstairs and she was dressed beautifully, but as if the custom of the community, she was wearing a sheitel with a white scarf on top of it, and a white apron over her dress. It was something that I have only seen in Israel, which is actually where I felt like I was for much of Shabbos. My friend and I were trying to help set the table, but we missed some of the custom. As we came back into the dining room after setting the plates out, we found our seats moved way down to the end, where we would be eating with the wife, a whole table between ourselves and her husband. We asked her if this was the way she would sit if we weren't there and she told us yes. Wow. After dinner, we went to the Rebbe's Tisch. I had never been to a tisch before, and this was certainly an experience to see. There was probably at least 700 men there, standing on bleachers, wearing bekishe's and shtreimels. They were singing their hearts out, with incredible energy and melody. I don't have words to express the amazing energy in that room, with so many people all singing to honor their Rebbe. All I could do was listen and let the energy gush over me. We got home around 3 AM, and sat around chatting with our hostess for a little while before going to sleep. In the morning when we woke, the schedule was quite different than in most frum communities that I have been to. We went to shul around 12:30, in time for the Torah reading. The women there were very helpful and friendly to us, showing us where we were in the davening and wishing us a good Shabbos. We then went to lunch around 2:00. My friend and I went to a different family for lunch. The wife was the typical Jewish bubby, stuffing us with food and then chastising us for not eating enough. Before we left, she admonished us that the only way she would know if we enjoyed our time there was if we came back, which we assured her we would. After lunch it was back to our host's house for a nap and some good conversation until Shabbos was over. We went back to another tisch, this one in the dark, which was incredible again. Watching the shadows of the men swaying and singing was just really powerful. It was an amazing experience. My reflections from this Shabbos still haven't processed. Many of the things I witnessed and learned were so foreign to me - the head covering, the separation of the genders, the fact that women don't drive. But I honestly felt that the members of the community do all these things because they sincerely believe it's the best way to serve Hashem. I can't tell you how many times I heard my host's 2-year-old say that she was doing something "Lakovod Shabbos" (for the honor of Shabbos). I don't understand a lot of it, and I don't think I could ever live to anything near such a standard, but there is something to it. It was an incredible Shabbos, and I am so happy to have had such an experience.

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