Party, Party!

They’re having the party at Beit Boyer, which is on Efrata in Jerusalem. Do you happen to know where that is?

I replied, I know exactly where that is. We (Encore!) rehearsed there for the longest time until – I guess – they got tired of us using their space. I could find Beit Boyer in my sleep.

It does help, if you’re invited to something, to know where you’re going. And we were heading to a belated celebration of Batya’s getting married – well worth a trip out to the far reaches of Jerusalem.

Let us begin at the beginning, so you know what and whom I’m talking about. All the way back when Barbara was a teenager in Rochester, NY, she would, with some frequency, head over to the home of a young couple to spend time Shabbat afternoon. Later, Barbara moved away, and Dick and Estelle did the same, and the connection was lost. And then, years – no, decades – later, out of the blue, Barbara realized that Estelle was teaching at the Yavneh Academy in Paramus NJ, which is where Natania – and later, Tina – were going to school. When we finally moved to Teaneck, the Harrises were living a few blocks away, on the other side of CBA (Congregation Beth Aaron), where many of us davened. Thus, we were able to renew our acquaintance.

Their daughter, Beth (later known as Batya), had returned from Israel, and so we got to know her as well. Then Barbara and I made aliyah, and some years later, Dick and Estelle did the same, although Dick passed away suddenly and unexpectedly a few months later.

All the while, Batya was living in Passaic, NJ, resolutely unattached, and I have to assume it was her decision to remain that way. That’s how some people choose to live. Or at least until they are ready and able to find a suitable life-partner – in Batya’s case, Shimshi, a gentleman with a passel of grown and married kids from a former marriage.

Recently (don’t expect me to keep better track of time), Estelle posted on the Beth Aaron olim WhatsApp group that her daughter, now close to or past 50, was indeed getting married. To prove it, there was a Zoom link to the wedding, which would take place at a normal hour in NJ, but well past our bedtime here in The Land.

But Batya and Shimshi were coming to Israel for Pesach, and there would be a party held in their honor at the aforementioned Beit Boyer the Sunday evening before the hag – catered by – who else? – Holy Bagel, and we were invited.

Follow me, said I. We take any bus going down Derech Hevron, get off at Tzomet Habankim (still called that even though all the banks that were at that intersection are long gone), make a left and go up Ein Gedi two blocks. Turn right onto Efrat, go a block and a half until you get to the end of the street. The building there is Beit Boyer, and don’t ask me who ‘Boyer’ is or was.

When we arrived, I started going the way I had done so many times before: through the gate, down the slope, through another gate, into the building, and up a flight or two of stairs. But Barbara, who had been content to let me lead the way, demurred. I hear music coming from over there, pointing to the other direction. There’s no way to get in that way, I insisted. The entrance is down this way. I ought to know; I had been in that building hundreds of times for rehearsals.

Barbara re-insisted; she heard music, and that’s the way we should go. What, was I going to argue? We walked the way she said, and there, where there had never been an entrance, was a set of stairs and a ramp. And there was music from the top of the stairs and there were people standing around – a few of whom we knew. We went inside to put down our backpacks, find Estelle and Batya, and survey the food situation. I stopped dead in my tracks. Are we in the same place? What has happened since I was last here?

The ‘Beit Boyer’ I knew was something you find all over Israel: a minyan that would meet on Shabbat in a space that was not their own – in a school, a community center, or the like –  and which might be used for some other purpose during the week. Thus, all the furnishings, the chairs, the bima, the aron, the mehitza, would be portable and, shall we say, heimish – as in not so fancy-shmancy, but good enough for a make-shift House of Worship – assuming one isn’t too persnickety about one’s surroundings.

The shul part of Beit Boyer, where we rehearsed, had taken up a little more than half of the space on the top floor. Those of us who got to rehearsal early enough helped stack all the chairs – not so easy because the chairs, even though they all looked alike, were different sizes. When rehearsal was over, we would unstack the chairs and put them, more or less, back where they had been before on the men’s side of the mehitza. There was a lobby area with a bulletin board for shul activities, like talks in people’s home Shabbat afternoons, and, a nice touch, another bulletin board with pictures and names of the members, some of whom I recognized from our shul in Teaneck.

Arrangements like this can last for decades. For example, there’s a similar but smaller group that meets at the Matnas (community center) here in Ma’ale Adumim. Our locals have been just about getting a minyan together for longer than we’ve been here. The individuals involved in all these endeavors may come and go, but the situation remains. Let’s call it bare bones and leave it at that. It’s perfect for those who don’t want to get involved with a regular bona fide beit knesset – with all that entails – but who do want to daven with a minyan, at least on Shabbat.

Are we in the same place? What has happened since I was last here? We were now standing in a beautifully wood-panelled beit knesset that took up the entire floor, complete with proper chairs, an area for kiddushes and catered events, and lavatory facilities that you wouldn’t be squeamish about using if need be. In other words, a place you’d want to daven in if you are persnickety about your surroundings. I was confused. Was this beit knesset here all the time, say on a different floor from where we had been rehearsing? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that was impossible. There is no other floor; there had been no stairway and ramp in the back of the building leading up to where we were now. The answer was more mundane. Defying all the odds, the Beit Boyarites had gotten their act together and had transformed their lackluster prayer space into something worthy of respect. Clearly, time, effort, professional planning, and oodles of money had been involved.

Now I was curious. How did this happen? I wanted to find out, but, as I remembered, that bit of information was not why we had come all this way. Let’s first pay our appropriate respects to our hostess and the newlyweds. (Thank you for coming. Thank you for inviting us.) Then let us give proper attention to the spread from Holy Bagel. Plenty of time to ask around.

The event was scheduled from 5-7PM, and we showed up on the earlier side. By 6PM, a number of our friends-from-Teaneck began to arrive, and in the process of engaging in chit-chat with all and sundry, I made it a point of asking the few people whom I thought had been involved with Beit Boyer if they knew what had happened. One couple had fled during COVID and joined one of the ‘backyard minyans’ that have popped up like toadstools on suburban lawns. Another woman seemed to remember that the changeover had taken place a few years ago but knew no more about it. I still don’t know what, when, and how, but – you know what – I can live with not knowing what had happened.

At some point, I found myself in a conversation with Mel, someone I knew in passing back in CBA days. It occurred to him that he couldn’t remember my name, which I readily provided. But he knew he didn’t know my name, and he wasn’t afraid to say so. My problem was somewhat different.

There are many times when I am reminded of the climactic scene from Proust’s novel. ‘Marcel,’ having just returned from a prolonged absence, is invited to a party at the home of some Very Important People, with whom he had spent considerable effort ingratiating himself in years gone by. He looks around the room and recognizes no one. All he sees are a bunch of wizened alte cockers sitting around. Then he realizes: these are the same people; they have simply grown old and frail, virtually unrecognizable to our protagonist. And what does that say?

That had not happened to my friends-from-Teaneck. (OK, Estelle is looking a bit older than we remembered, and Abe now needs a walker.) It wasn’t that they had changed in the months or years since we had last met, and I failed to recognize them. They stood out in a room of other people I had never met. It wasn’t them; it was me.

Does this happen to anybody else? You’re with someone you’ve known for forever and a day. You know exactly who they are, but their name escapes you for the moment. Please, don’t anybody ask me to introduce them. I’d be so embarrassed. You start going through mental gyrations. The wife’s name is so-and-so; they have x number of kids. You remember their house in Teaneck. Anything at all to jog your memory. On and on while you’re chatting away, until at long last, your mental google search comes up with SO AND SO, that’s his/her name!!! Thank God. I’d be so embarrassed if anybody knew.

The party kept going. People circled around the table containing heaps of salads, having a little of this, a little of that. The fellow at the keyboard kept playing the kind of music you would expect him to play. At some point, a small group of women started dancing on one side of the mehitza. A group of guys started milling around on the other side doing what passes for a yeshiva bochur trot in slow motion, after which a mincha minyan was formed. With my unerring eye, I spotted a bottle of Scotch that someone had brought, no doubt to finish the few inches left before Pesach. OK; I don’t trot, and I had already davened, but I do drink. You need someone to drain the dregs in the bottom? I’m you’re guy.

There was one important bit of business to take care of before we left. I approached Jeff and June. We have a date for May 5. It was their turn to look puzzled. May 5, Yom Haatzmaut. We have a lunch date. Remember? Then, they remembered.

One of my ways to keep some kind of order in my life is by a process of repetition. Do the same things with the same people event after event, year after year. When we first arrived here in The Land, we and the Glazers would head to a get-together at the home of friends of theirs for Independence Day. When that barbecue finally flamed out, we began getting together every year for lunch in Jerusalem. We’re doing that again this year, right? But this year, there will be an extra added attraction: Arvin and his trumpet.

When Arvin was living and working in The States, he was a member of a band that performed once or twice a year. Now that he is retired and he and Gila are here, he has joined a bunch of bands, and he gets to concertize all the time. He had told us that he would be in a concert at 2PM at the First Station. We can do both. Lunch, followed by a musical interlude. What could be better?

But for now, we really had to go. – except we couldn’t leave empty handed. When Holy Bagel is doing the catering, you never have to worry that there won’t be enough food to go around. Au contraire, mes amis. It wasn’t a suggestion; it was more of a plea. Take some food with you. In our generation – which includes me and Estelle – food is not supposed to go to waste. There on the serving tables, in addition to the salads that had not been consumed, were at least fifty bagels. This was one week before Pesach! We would take some of the ones that had been pre-filled by the caterer, which we would consume in the next few days prior to the official Pesadiching of our apartment. But I think back longingly at the bagels that remained on the table, unloved and unwanted, which is not how one wants to remember an event celebrating a wedding – especially one at which the bride looked so radiant, ready to finally start on the next chapter of her life.

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