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The Outsider

I pass my pekelach forward: Here, throw them. They’re for you. I’m just an outsider

I’m no regular shul goer, but as time moves on, and I find myself no younger but still single, I make an occasional visit to the shul closest to my home.

Having to dress up all week, I like to keep my weekends easy and natural. And in this shul, right on my block, the women’s section is sparsely populated, which suits all my requirements for a stress-free Shabbos morning trip.

One arbitrary week, I enter shul and take a seat in the close-to-empty women’s section. The chazzan begins, and I and the few other attendees daven the Shabbos morning tefillos.

As the davening progresses, I notice the ezras nashim beginning to fill. There’s a slight niggle in my chest. I feel uncomfortable, out of place, and shift over to a less conspicuous seat lest the seat I’d been occupying belonged to a real member of the shul.

I try to hide myself and focus solely on my prayers, though I’m conscious of every additional person who’s entering the shul. Shy by nature, and totally underdressed, I’m no match for the crowd beginning to surround me.

My mind is racing. When is the earliest I can leave, I calculate, exactly how many people know who I am, and how many of them will notice me as I inch out?

And I wonder. What’s so special about this week that so many women and children are showing up? My mind does a quick mental run trying to figure what exactly it is that I’d missed.

Until the answer interrupts my thoughts, in the form of a box of pekelach.


An aufruf.

One elderly woman gives out the pekelach to throw. I feel so out of place; I don’t belong here. I don’t know who these people are. This isn’t my shul. Everyone looks so happy, peering below, I figure they must all be related. I pass my pekelach forward: Here, throw them. They’re for you. I’m just an outsider.

After some moments of watching the men’s joyous dancing and the women’s faces radiating true simchah, I begin to feel some genuine simchah permeating my heart, too. I inch my way forward and look down. Something overwhelms me.

This is different, it feels different, though I can’t place my finger on what it is.

The energetic dancing and lively, heartfelt singing is something I’ve never seen before. For a moment I’m transported somewhere else. Away from the shul that I don’t belong to. Away from all the prying eyes. Away from my awkwardness, and into a world that feels so wholesome, so happy.

I shake myself back to my uncomfortable reality, and with feigned nonchalance, return to my seat.

I come home and something is still niggling. I have no idea what is causing this unrest. I casually mention to my father that there was an aufruf in the shul I attended.

“Oh,” he says. “Yes. A ger tzedek.”

A lump forms in my throat.

My mind flashes back to the women’s joyous faces. Their genuine happiness in a simchah that I thought was for their own flesh and blood.

My insecurities. My self-made walls of separation.

Klal Yisrael. We’re all united.

We just need to let each other in.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 768)

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