About that 'nightmare' Shabbat - the rabbi responds

Rabbi Elchonon Feldman was so moved by Paul Lester’s column on attending a communal Friday night, he asked for a right of reply


By Rabbi Elchonon Feldman, January 31, 2013
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Rabbi Feldman

Rabbi Feldman

Rabbis worldwide have formed a secret society and many of us meet together regularly to discuss issues at hand. These include world domination, subliminal messaging and, of course, how much whisky is religiously necessary for a proper traditional kiddush.

One of our traditions in this rabbinic association (affectionately known as SERMON — Society of Enlightened Rabbinic Masterminds Omniscient and Neurotic) is our point-tallying system. These points are awarded on a scale from one to 10 based upon a rabbi’s acts of piety and saintliness beyond the call of duty. Attaining points is difficult and no rabbi has ever received a 10. That is until one particular Friday evening. Let me tell you about it.

Our family enjoy a close relationship with our congregation, regularly inviting families for homely, festive meals. Looking through the spreadsheet one day, I noticed that a new family had joined the community — a husband and wife with three children. Lovely, I thought, let’s have them over.

I called the husband, a Mr Paul Lester, and straightaway knew that something was singularly odd. I asked him if he and his family would like to join us for a Shabbat dinner and he inquired if there was any particular night of the week I had in mind.

Wondering perhaps how to make an awkward situation less so, I told him that coming up in a few weeks’ time was an informal Friday night community after-dinner get-together and invited them to join us. Following the meal we would meet some other families. He told me this was perfect and was thrilled that I had asked him and his wife to speak at this get-together. He explained that he and his wife were a kind of media team and between them had interviewed or were on close terms with much of the music world.

Hang on, I thought. Had I really asked him to speak? Not wanting to offend him I declared that he and his wife certainly made a cachet pair, but he wasn’t so sure he knew what cachet meant. This was an unusual start to a relationship.

The evening itself turned out to more interesting than alarming. However, my subconscious may have repressed some of the more salient points of the night. I vaguely recall greeting a large man resembling a lumberjack rather than a hip journalist and close confidante of the Beach Boys. Paul displayed his keen interest in our Friday night meal by gulping wine before kiddush and devouring the entire platter of hors d’oeuvre. He obviously was attempting to ensure that our other guests wouldn’t make similar faux pas. What a mensch!

At the get-together, his anecdotes were so entertaining, we could almost completely forget these earlier embarrassments, and I think I was able to set his mind at rest over the few yawns he says he spotted among the audience.

I count the evening as a thorough success, not least because at the next SERMON session, I was awarded an unprecedented 10 points. Thank you Paul, and welcome to the community.

Elchonon Feldman is the rabbi of Belmont United Synagogue, a community he describes as the best kept secret in London. For more details, visitwww.belmont.theus.org.uk or stop by for a Shabbat service at 101 Vernon Drive, Stanmore

Last updated: 2:56pm, January 31 2013