I was in the TBE parking lot for the first time in four months. Rather than walking past parked cars en route to the majestic cube of the Sanctuary, this Saturday night I sat in a folding chair at the center of a chalked circle. It was like a personal bubble, at least six feet from the nearest circle on the expanse of pavement. Families stayed together, piling into their circles, a reminder of how intimate family life had become during our Covid-19 quarantine. The excitement of being back in community was palpable.
Havdalah is one of my favorite Jewish ceremonies, marking the “separation” of Shabbat from the more mundane days of the week. After this extended social separation, the rituals and songs resonated in new ways; I noticed small pleasures, easily missed in normal times. Even though we couldn’t pass the spice box, my other senses were alert. My skin felt warm in the soft evening air. My dancing heart pulsed with the waltz rhythm and I could hear the sizzle of the flame extinguished in the wine. I sang with extra delight, behind a mask. I observed a sliver of moon rising over the temple.
Rabbi Saphire evoked a common memory, people celebrating Havdalah under open skies at summer camp. It’s a beautiful image, but something I don’t share. Indeed, even had I been a synagogue member or attended Jewish camp in my youth, I wonder if famed song leader Debbie Friedman’s melody would have been part of the experience in the early 70s.
Instead, I came to Havdalah less than three years ago, part of my first Selichot. Even though I was not technically new to Judaism, I had a voracious appetite for the practices that I’d missed in my first six decades. That night I entered the dimmed sanctuary at 10 pm, drawn in by Jodi’s rendition of “Return Again,” and joined an intimate group on the bimah. It was the first time I felt was at home in the TBE space.
How fitting that Havdalah brought me back home to TBE under such different circumstances. From my isolated circle, the sanctuary was barely visible behind the wall of Jerusalem stone and the row of steadily growing trees. Yet the joy and insight I’ve gained in that building needn’t be held in its walls. Whether I’m in the parking lot or watching families snuggling for a Zoom Havdalah, I am grateful for the reminder of how the sacred and the everyday are constantly intersecting.