My friend Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi, was here this weekend to do two book tour events for 70 Faces: Torah Poems, one of which was a talk we did together at the cathedral yesterday after the service. It was a glorious day, and Mother's Day besides, so I was convinced few people would come - but I was wrong, and we had a good turnout of enthusiastic and interested participants. It had been a lot of work to put it all together (including planning and making one of those loaves-and fishes lunches for a group of undetermined size) but all went well. Afterward we went back to our apartment and out for a walk with coffee and pastries as our goal. It's Montreal, after all!
We ended up in front of the enticing display at Première Moisson on Blvd. Mont-Royal. Since there were three of us, we chose three different desserts: the whipped cream/cream puff/strawberry tower shown here; a small tart made like the famous Quebec sugar pie, but with maple sugar; and a slice of chocolate mousse cake with dark chocolate crust and a raspberry layer. And, of course, some strong coffee.
Several hundred calories later, we buzzingly stepped back outside.
It was wonderful to see Rachel in person. We've known each other for eight years online, and I've recently published her book, so there have been Skype video calls and lots and lots of emails, but we've only gotten together in person three times. We went back to the apartment, talked a lot, drank some red wine and ate some gravlax, and late in the evening went out to a neighborhood bistro for a very simple meal of burgers and salad, mussels and frites, and talked some more, all the way home.
This morning Rachel headed back to her home and family in southern New England, and we went back to our studio and a cat who needed some quality attention after being somewhat low on the totem pole this weekend.
I was hyper-aware, yesterday morning, of all the things we do and say during our formal Christian liturgy that must be strange or even offensive to Jews. Because I was hearing and seeing everything through a different lens than usual, it made me realize how much I'm usually on auto-pilot, NOT paying attention to such things, and also how -- it being right after Easter -- all the people in the lessons and in the sermon - including Jesus, of course - were Jews still practicing their faith in the same basic way as Rachel. Everything that is typically "Christian", from the stained glass and vaulted arches to the liturgies and creeds, has been added on over the centuries as the two commmunities diverged further and further. As I've often thought before, it's hardly a question of "what would Jesus do," but rather "what would he THINK?" And there was my friend, sitting next to me, singing the hymns, reciting the psalms, watching baptisms, and praying the prayers, but carefully leaving out any lines that she couldn't say with integrity and being enormously appreciative and respectful. Yet her religion is there, where we left Jesus and the disciples before Easter, and I'd never quite realized it so strongly before
As I think back over a very busy weekend, I'm appreciating many moments and many conversations. One of the best was essentially wordless, though: standing next to Rachel in the vast space of the cathedral, sharing a hymnbook and singing together for the first time. She has a lovely voice, which I knew, but I didn't know she used to sing in a Renaissance group. On the third hymns she dropped down to the alto part while I sang soprano. I relaxed then, and realized there was no need to be uncomfortable. We're real friends, and friends manage to find the common ground.