Family & Education

Putting on my hat for an essential date with the boss

Going to shul has given Angela Epstein a boost in lockdown


Pink fashion races hat with flower and feathers on a bedroom pillow and box

Tilting my dusky pink fedora at what I believe to be a stylishly rakish angle, I shoot my reflection a final appraising glance. OK, the hat looks a bit more tipsy than rakish. But my hair is brushed, my mascara feathered neatly. Slipping my coat over a tailored dress harvested from a long forgotten Blue Cross sale, I’m ready to head for the door.

Am I off to an essential work appointment? Well, only if you regard — as I do — the big guy above as the boss. Anyway I’ve never worked on Saturdays.

No, this is my Shabbat morning routine. One which, since shuls reopened, has endured as a vital part of the lockdown/tier-strangled week.

Of course there are the noble reasons to keep my weekly, book-and-pray slot at my local shul, Stene Court (known more formally as Manchester Great New and Central Synagogue).

Now, more than ever, the spiritual part of me wants an opportunity to connect with the Almighty as we trudge through the grind of the pandemic.

But I’d be lying if I said this was the only reason powering my decision to attend Shabbat morning services, especially when lockdown gives me the perfect excuse to stay in bed with a mug of tea and a copy of the JC.

You see, my weekly trip to shul offers the chance to feel normal. To revive the “me” who doesn’t regard worn out leggings and a sweater laced with breakfast as the default dresscode.

Then there’s the gentle 15-
minute amble to shul which threads through Broughton Park — Manchester’s densely populated Jewish area. Passing fellow Jews journeying to and from their various congregations we exchange a warm “Good Shabbos” even if we’re complete strangers (it’s a Manchester thing). A momentary connection feels all the more vital in this bleak, disconnected world.

Shul itself isn’t what it was —though full marks to the executives who have worked tirelessly to keep the place open. Candy-striped tape indicates where we can’t sit, so capacity is much reduced.

The rabbi preaches from behind a perspex screen. The low numbers mean the days of all that football terrace chanting is long gone. But such are the demands of Covid-secure in-person worship,

It remains for me a matter of enduring gratitude that the Government recognises the vital part played by religious communal worship during this time. The boost to spiritual and mental health is incalculable. I hope that doesn’t change.

Of course much is missing. It’s impossible to natter with friends (admittedly, one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed a weekly trip to shul). At best, we hiss at a distance, from behind masks, the words obscured by a mouthful of supermarket satin or a blue, papery cover.

And yet, when the Ark opens and those familiar melodies — albeit muted — fill the air, that collective mellow hum is a reminder that in Judaism we are always more than the sum of our parts. Each one is a bar in the scaffolding that holds us together.

The fact that I get to wear the fedora and mascara is just a huge bonus.

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