Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Little children

Where am I now, you may ask. The answer would be: just outside of London.

The last few days were exhausting. So exhausting that I was sure I was coming down with something. I've been around little children with runny noses and ear infections all week. On Sunday, I sat down to read for a couple of minutes around 10 in the morning and promptly fell asleep. Maybe I wasn't sick, though, because today, I feel fine. It's hard to say.

On Friday, the Shabbos Sheva Brachas began and lasted until Saturday evening. In the Orthodox tradition, after a wedding, and including the wedding, seven dinners are held where the seven blessings are said. Right, you don't go off on a honeymoon or right back to work. You take two weeks off—the first week for the Sheva Brachas and then another week to set up your household. Because, remember, you were living at home or boarding school and now you'll be sharing a new apartment with your new spouse, so dishes, ovens, furniture, etc. must be provided.

The Shabbos dinner is the most important one, after the wedding itself, so the full American contingent planned to be there. Unlike years past, we only went to one other event. For the first Israeli wedding I attended (my nephew's), I went to all of them. We've been scaling back ever since them, since there is a certain unpleasantness involved. First, there is another large, formal meal of varying quality. (Even when the quality is high, the food isn't interesting.) Second, often, little English is spoken. Third, usually, the men and women sit separately. If the dinner is held in a hall, the separation may be effected by a physical partition. Last, the men sing and dance, but the women aren't allowed to—men can't see women sing or dance, though I think singing is worse. All together, it's an uncomfortable experience, at best, though I've had some nice conversations with people. This time, I talked to my niece, Adina, and played with her baby—and was otherwise bored. We were often hushed when a man was giving a speech, even though we couldn't see him or understand him—even the one speech in English was a bit difficult to follow. Like I said, uncomfortable, and annoying.

So, the Shabbat (that is, Sabbath) meals are a big deal. The dinner on Friday and the mid-day meal on Saturday are the main events, but there was also a buffet meal late in the afternoon on Saturday. For the meals on Friday and Saturday (lunch), we had something like 70 people. My sister-in-law, Tikvah, was in charge of the whole thing, but this year, she didn't do the cooking herself. A friend of hers provided the food (for pay) and another neighborhood man was hired to do the serving and clearing. It made for a much more relaxed time than in years past, though Tikvah was still running around non-stop. The rest of us didn't have too much to do but we did help with setting tables, filling serving bowls, folding napkins and the like. The Friday meal was tasty if much like our previous meals—salads, soup, fish, chicken, dessert. The Saturday meal was the same, but no soup and chopped liver instead of fish.

A lot of speeches were given, but very few in English. I talked to the other women and played with babies and little children. I wasn't bored exactly, just not fully present. I don't know how else to deal with these events anymore. One more niece to marry, and maybe I'll never go to another Ultra Orthodox wedding. Am I obliged to go to those of my great nephews and nieces? I sure hope not.

I'm trying to remember the interesting details and it's all slipping away, maybe because it was so similar to years past. I didn't talk much to the bride or groom. The groom did greet me once he figured out who I was. He said he'd heard all about me, all good things, and it was good to finally meet me. That gave me a good impression of him—he was smiling, happy and sincere. I truly hope they have a good marriage. The both seemed comfortable and pleased to be together, so I'm encouraged.

After everything wrapped up on Friday, I found myself back at the family home, with three nieces, two husband and a variety of little children. Dad, Susan and Tikvah were asleep and my brother was learning. My other brother and his family had driving back to their apartment in the center of town. The rest of us sat around and ate things—cookies, candies, chips—all the things Susan would be so dismayed to see. Eventually, everyone settled into their rooms. I slept ok but not great, as usual.

On Saturday, I went back to the hall around 10:30. Dad was there already, helping to set up. I helped too. Around 11am, all the guests started to arrive and the party was back on. Because the afternoon meal had to start by 4:30, Tikvah stayed at the hall until then. I went back to the apartment and read for a bit before going back to help out, though there wasn't much to do.

Saturday night, Tikvah basically collapsed from exhaustion. My youngest niece looked around and decided to do some of the cleaning before she went to sleep. I did a whole bunch of dishes as my contribution. Another niece and her husband also stayed and helped a little. In the morning, my youngest niece was heading to school around 8am. Before she left, she had to help take care of her two nephews, living with them for the time being while their mother settles in with her newborn son. Oddly, this arrangement didn't seem to meet with the approval of Tikvah's friends, but it seemed reasonable to me. My youngest niece ends up doing a lot of the caretaking and I'm not sure what I think about that. She is good at it, for sure. She is 16 and just starting to mind.

My Sunday was fairly relaxed. Around the house were my brother, Tikvah, Adina, the two kids and Adina's baby. I helped a little and did nothing a little. My brother arranged for an airport shuttle and after the lazy-ish morning, I left at 1:30 in the afternoon.

The next phase of my trip is complicated. I flew to Paris. I stayed overnight with Claire. I got on the Eurostar on Monday and I'm now in a little town in Surrey, staying with friends and contemplating my next move. My main plan is to do very little and prepare mentally to go back to work next week. Work, ach, not looking forward to that. As it's especially grey today (no surprise), I believe I will head to the movies and a bit of London walking. Tomorrow, I'm for Bath.

Grateful for: calm time with family.

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