Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Real Israel

Monday, May 21, 2012
Today we arrived in Jerusalem, and maybe the real Israel. We had a pleasant interlude this weekend in Amirim, a village in the upper Galilee, high in the hills near the Golan Heights. Amirim only allows vegetarian restaurants in its community of private homes and guest houses. Yes, the V word. I survived with the help of Esther Stupp (not pronounced shtup), a 70ish woman originally from northern Ontario, where her family were the only Jews in the remote vicinity. Because of the difficulty of getting Kosher meat, she effectively became a vegetarian at an early age. When her older sister came of marriageable age, the whole family moved to Montreal. Esther eventually immigrated to Israel, has four children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all living as Orthodox Jews in Israel, she was proud to report. Of course, saying that someone is an Orthodox Jew in Israel is like narrowing down the field to righthanded people.

Actually, until meeting Esther, we spent our first week in Israel entirely among aggressively secular, middle-class Jews. It almost felt as if we had landed in Scarsdale. That explains my opening sentence. But, back to breakfast with Esther at Stupp's Restaurant -- A Glatt Kosher Vegetarian-Dairy Restaurant. For 110 NIS ($28.60), 2 people get a choice of lemonade with mint or watered-down frozen orange juice, admittedly a weak start. However, almost immediately there arrives freshly-baked breads, a tomato-onion focaccia, an olive focaccia, and a whole wheat loaf, accompanied by garlic-herb butter, a few pats of regular butter, labana (yogurt with olive oil), mango jam (orange marmalade the second morning), caponata, cole slaw, olives, tahina, a large vegetable salad, Bulgarian sheep cheese, and fried potato puffs. Then there is a choice of aggs, but skip the scrambled or simple omelettes and get the deep-fried crepe stuffed with eggs, cheese and tomato, a special treat whose name eluded me. We drank café hafookh, Israeli latte, the best cup of coffee to date. Such a deal.

Breakfast with Esther was not entirely trouble-free, however. My attempt to offer a simple explanation of Reconstructionist Judaism had her uttering prayers of forgiveness, and the idea of ritual equality for men and women was a total non-starter.

We drove from Amirim to Jerusalem, about 2 hours, with a side trip to Afula, the town near Nazareth, where America's Favorite Epidemiologist, still far from earning the title, moved to in Israel decades ago to explore resettlement. To my great good fortune, Afula lacked decent nail salons and the rest is history. Today, it is vastly changed from my bride's recollections, just as I have observed roads, buildings, neighborhoods, communities, villages and towns where none stood 24 years ago, on my one and only prior trip to Israel.

Jerusalem, from the perspective of an automobile driver, is Boston with hills. Once I overshot our hotel, it took almost one hour to get back to the spot, including a sojourn down a street entirely devoted to sleek, new trams (trolleys) unwilling to share the right of way with an out-of-town visitor. Even though I turned off that street to go the wrong way on a one-way street, I saved little time arriving at our destination. The GPS in our rental car was near-perfect, but my last-minute erroneous substitution of King George Street for King David Street as the site of our hotel certainly impeded progress. Fortunately, Hertz was directly across the street from our hotel, once we found it, and we ditched the car so we could experience Jerusalem on foot, as Jesus did.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Our friends Phyllis, originally from Toronto, and Itamar, a kibbutznik, came to Jerusalem to join us on the tour of the Western Wall Tunnel, now reputedly the second most popular tourist spot in the country, trailing only Masada. We were in an English-language group led by a lovely young woman graduate of Hofstra University. The tour was a fascinating look at the engineering prowess of Herod, a maniac with an edifice complex 2,000 years ago. The usual image of the Western Wall is 60 or so yards crowded with Orthodox Jews and others praying and sticking messages into the crevices.

The actual wall runs about 1,600 feet, and was one edge of a major marketplace. Most of it was buried under new construction over centuries. Once the Israelis began excavation and renovation of the buried portion of the wall after the Six-Day War, the project, as with almost any activity in Israel, became the source of inter-group hostility. Arabs objected to the work being conducted almost directly below the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, considered the the point of departure of Mohammed to heaven. However, many Jews, and a few real people, believe that Arab anatagonism was stirred by the evidence that Jerusalem 2,000 years ago was a vital urban center, populated by Jews, Romans, and others.

After the tour, we went though the Makhne Yehuda Market, a covered area of hundreds of stalls selling everything from Kosher meat to T-shirts. I purchased only some of the latter, because they pack more easily. Just outside the market, we ate at Misada Rachmo (Rachmo Restaurant), Ha-Eshkol Street, as jointier a joint as you could expect to find, very busy serving Kosher meals with meat, not dairy products. While a member of your party captures a table as soon as it becomes available (remember Lundy's in Sheepshead Bay?), the rest of you line up to approach a window, order and get your food immediately doled out without anything lost in translation. What may be the best deal of XXI century is their Business Plate for 50 NIS. Great goulash, rice with fava beans and fried onions, chopped cucumber and tomato salad (a common denominator of Jewish-Israeli-Jordanian-Arab restaurants), pickles, pita bread, and a can of Diet Sprite. Alternatives included meat balls, chicken schnitzel, roast beef, other side dishes, or a variety of hummus-based dishes, available à la carte, as they say in that part of town.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Allow me to explain a bit more about Jerusalem as the real Israel. With the exception of Esther Stupp, everyone that we dealt with during our first week was a secular Jewish Israeli, as unlikely to attend Saturday synagogue services as a PLO rally. They were businesspeople and waiters, suburban housewives and retail clerks. Most were of European or North American origin, one or two generations back. Only when we got to Jerusalem were we able to see 57 varieties of Jews, of almost every racial background (except East Asian), representing every degree of devotion to religious observance, from every economic class including beggars and homeless, young men and women in military uniform carrying Uzis or shopping bags. Also, in and around Tel Aviv, noses often seemed to have experienced some alteration, while in Jerusalem you saw noses, real noses, Jewish noses, Protocols of the Elders of Zion noses.

Today, we took a tour of the Israel Supreme Court, given free in English at noon, Sunday through Thursday. Both the building and the legal system were addressed, and I was fascinated by it all. The building is 10-years old, and architecturally based on the square, symbolizing truth/facts, and the circle, justice/perfection. Much of the interior, including the courtrooms, relies entirely on natural light. The court has 15 justices, serving until age 70, appointed by a panel containing government ministers, parliamentary leaders, academics and sitting court members. Currently, 5 members are women, and one other is a Christian Arab. Three judges sit together as a panel, requiring only 5 courtrooms.

I was startled by the volume the Israel Supreme Court handles, over 10,000 cases annually, mostly appeals as a matter of right from District Court decisions. The District Court is the court of general jurisdiction, handling most criminal and civil matters. There is no intermediate appellate level, and no jury system. Adding to the burden of work are two areas of original jurisdiction reserved to the Supreme Court, only a tiny element of the US Supreme Court's activity. The Israel Supreme Court hears matters of administrative law, that is, challenges to government rulings by citizens and non-citizens alike. It also hears "constitutional law" cases, although Israel does not have a written constitution. It does have 11 stated precepts of justice, however, against which legislation may be tested. For instance, the court recently voided the Tal Law, the controversial exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from military service, as a violation of the precept of equality.

We sat in on oral argument on a case, argued entirely in Hebrew, but cogently explained by our guide. The government denied citizenship by naturalization to the leader of a Black Hebrew sect, originally from Chicago, now with several thousand members in Israel. Children of the group have become citizens by birth, and some adults by naturalization. However, the leader is polygamous (how did Romney sneak into this discussion?), and the government opposes on policy grounds. Note that the application is not being made under the Law of Return, which gives instant Israeli citizenship to any Jew by birth (except Meyer Lansky), Kosher converts and, recently, immigrants from the former Soviet Union who can spell Yid. Besides, the racial angle, which might affect relations with African states that Israel continues to cultivate and black Americans, some Israeli Arab citizens are known to be polygamists as well. Discuss.

We flew to Eilat at night, in order to get an early start on our visit to Jordan tomorrow morning. The temperature in Eilat earlier on Wednesday reached 104°, but of course, it's a dry heat.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Holy Moley Land

Monday, May 14, 2012
I am a celibate. By choice, a condition that I usually had thrust upon me by circumstances in the past. This new phase of my life began Saturday night when we went to see a delightful revival of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" at exactly the same time that the New York Rangers were playing the deciding game of the semi-final round of the conference championship. I even left my smartyphone home to avoid the temptation of glancing down every few minutes to track the progress of the game. Until I got home at about 10:50 PM, I had no idea of the result.

Now, the Rangers, having won on Saturday night, are proceeding to the conference finals against the demonic New Jersey Devils starting tonight at 7:30 PM. That is the exact departure time for British Airways flight 0176 to London, where we connect to a flight to Tel Aviv. We will land in Israel about 3:30 PM, local time, 8:30 AM honest time, which will be 9 ½ hours or so after the end of the first game of at least four, maybe seven. Given our experience in Hong Kong and Saigon trying to follow the Giants on the way to the Super Bowl, I am not optimistic about the quality and quantity of ice hockey information I will be able to get in Israel and Jordan. So, I have become a celibate, an ice hockey celibate. I will desist from the mental and physical pleasures, and occasional pain, intrinsic to a relationship with the New York Rangers. Instead, I will gaze upon historic plains, ancient ruins, and holy sites; I will look over the River Jordan without allowing my mind to drift to events immediately in the vicinity of the River Hudson. I will raise my vision higher and higher from the petty squabbles of goonish athletes, and think of humankind at its highest level, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Another unfortunate coincidence in my path to celibacy is the offer by generous Jeff G. to sell me a pair of tickets to this critical round of the playoffs when I will be 5676 miles or 9133 kilometers away. As you well know, in 1994, when the Rangers last won the Stanley Cup, the conference finals between the Rangers and Devils, which went to seven games and included the immortal triple-overtime Rangers victory in Game 6, was a harder-fought battle than the actual Cup finals. So, short of self-flagellation with barbed wire, I am practicing my new faith with considerable pain, but bathed in the joy of righteousness and the wisdom of following the path that will allow me to enjoy the company of America's Favorite Epidemiologist in domestic tranquility for time immemorial.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
We flew to Tel Aviv via London, which probably explained the excellent chicken curry served on the Transatlantic leg. I only wished that they served a human-sized portion, quite the opposite of my usual reaction to airline food. For diversion, we brought most parts of Sunday's New York Times to read as we flew. I found particularly interesting the interview with Jeffrey T. Housenbold, president & CEO of Shutterfly, an on-line photo-sharing service, printed in the business section. He recalled how, at age 17, he saw "Wall Street" and "it changed my perception of the world because I had never known anyone who made more than my father's $19,000 salary. I decided that finance was where I wanted to work." This teenager saw a movie that exposed greed and exploitation and found his life's work. Amazing. If this guy saw "The Untouchables" he might have become dedicated to alcoholic beverage distribution or "The Sopranos" bringing him to waste management. Now, I have to share a secret about the highly suggestible Mr. Housenbold. He went on a wild shopping spree after seeing a double feature of "Tootsie" and "La Cage Aux Folles."

Israel seems expensive at first glance, very First World. However, you can get a real bargain in car rentals. I got a Daihatsu Sirion, a small, four-door hatchback with airconditioning (a necessity) and automatic transmission (unasked for) for $70 for one week with unlimited kilometers from Hertz at the airport. That is a great rate, but you only pay $70 if you leave the car on the lot untouched. Fees and surcharges brought the one-week total to $250 including a GPS add-on. That's really not bad all together, but maybe they should have started at $250 and left it at that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
We are comfortably settled for the next several days in the home of cousins Donna and Judah, in a northern suburb of Tel Aviv. Today, we went on our own to the Museum of the Diaspora, an historic look at the Jewish people as a migrant population. Afterwards, we went to the Tel Aviv port, a redeveloped area on the Mediterranean Sea, and had a late lunch at Benny Hadayag (the fisherman), right on the pier, a well-known seafood restaurant, with half the tables inside and half outside. I had a yellow snapper filet, baked in olive oil, and my bride had grilled mullet (89 NIS each, new Israeli shekels, about 26 cents a shekel). A small portion of oven-fried potatoes came with the very tasty fish, but the real deal was the 11 salads and a portion of Haraime, a North African, spicy braised fish, that was served gratis. The salads included hummus, babaganoush, beets, carrots and potatoes, cucumbers in yogurt, tomatoes and cucumbers, and cole slaw. It was very hard to make all gone.

At our waiter's suggestion, we went a few meters (when in Rome) up the pier to Aldo Gelateria Italiana, a name that did not tax my knowledge of Hebrew. Because one scoop was 14 NIS, you had to order two scoops at 19 NIS. I strongly recommend Halva, the only time I've seen that Middle Eastern delicacy as an ice cream flavor.

Thursday, May 17, 2012
We visited the beautiful grounds of the Baha'i Temple, a universalist religion founded in the early 19th century, that encompasses all the major religious figures that preceded it, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, with space reserved for the later arrival of Casey Stengel. Nine is a magic for the Baha'i, so the grounds, set on a steep hill in Haifa, have nine terraces completely without shade. After taking the noon tour, I thought that I might have erred in traveling with America's Favorite Epidemiologist instead of the Upper West Side's Cutest Dermatologist. We then went further north to the Ghetto Fighters' House, the first Holocaust museum in the world but also the first of its kind to be founded by Holocaust survivors, located maybe 10 kilometers south of the Lebanon border. It has a smaller facility on its grounds dedicated to children victims of the Holocaust. The two buildings were empty, no tourists, no Israelis.

Now, it's true that many Jews have Holocaust fatigue, while non-Jews often think that it's enough already with the Holocaust. I considered this as I wandered through the exhibits today, which displayed the desperate efforts of a doomed people. Here's my equation: We Jews will stop expending time and effort on the Holocaust when that time and effort amounts to only 50% of the time and effort that Gentiles have expended on persecuting Jews. OK?

We had an early dinner at El Babur Restaurant in Yokneam, one of the best Arabic restaurants in Northern Israel. They served 14 salads plus pickles and olives with dinner, which might have left Benny in the sand dunes except I think El Babur charged for this array of appetizers, although I was unable to understand the bill. This photograph was taken before the last plates hit the table.

I ordered the mixed grill with lamb chop (90 NIS), which really was unnecessary after 14 salads, olives, pickles and laffa, an excellent bread, a cross between pita and naan. They did not serve beer or any alcohol, but I was happy washing this all down with pomegranate juice.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bite Down

Monday, May 7, 2012
These days, a telephone call to almost any enterprise consisting of more than a poet and her cat is usually greeted by this recorded message: "Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed." This is annoying for two reasons. First, it delays the conduct of your business while you listen to this jabber when all you want to do is order OxyContin on behalf of Rush Limbaugh. Second, and this really gets me, it wastes all the time and effort I made in memorizing menu options to save time in the first place. For instance, Dr. Perskin, my insightful internist at NYU Medical Center, was simply 2512, spaced evenly as soon as my called was answered. While it took some time, I had this down pat, because 2512 held up to a mirror reads "short guy" in Hebrew. "I’m not feeling well, so I think I’ll call the short guy." See, how efficient that was? Now, I have to listen to the new array of numbers, find a rational pattern and commit it to memory. Can’t they leave well enough alone?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
So, where was Grandpa Alan when Brad Richards tied up the hockey playoff game with 6.6 seconds remaining, sending the game into overtime where Marc Staal scored the winning goal 1 minute 35 seconds into the extra period, ending the game about 2 hours earlier than the last overtime game 5 nights ago with another Rangers win? Right in front of the television set. As a devoted husband, my expressions of joy were restrained in order not to disturb the beauty sleep of America’s Favorite Epidemiologist.

Nam Cafe, 75 Baxter Street, was a pleasant surprise. It’s a tiny place that recently opened. Right now, there are three small tables and three more table tops awaiting bottoms. Its success will have to rely on take-out and delivery business which should not be a problem if the Metropolitan Corrections Center, formerly known as the Tombs, directly opposite, will allow its prisoners to place phone orders.

I had the combo vermicelli salad ($10), pork, shrimp, spring rolls over vermicelli, lettuce, peanuts in chili lime sauce. The contents were fresh, the pork and shrimp char-grilled. The sauce, however, was all at the bottom of the bowl as if it were put in first. The portion was only medium-sized, a bit less than the price warranted. A small pot of delicious, smoky black tea was included, and I was more than satisfied on the whole. Of course, a brief report on my recent trip to Vietnam fascinated the young man and his mother (both born in Saigon) who operate the place.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Art Spar, fellow WES board member, joined me for lunch. Art has a weekly meeting in the neighborhood with a young student as part of his involvement with Big Brother in a program about to be cancelled because of budget cuts. We made a date and I believed that he deserved a special treat because of his volunteer work, so we headed to Xi An Famous Foods, 67 Bayard Street. I had him primed for their selection of hot and spicy food. Just as we entered the small shop, a city inspector came in too. She looked around the ground floor, occupied by the cashier and a handful of tables, and headed to the basement where the cooking is done, including handpulling the noodles, and then sent upstairs on a dumbwaiter. For the next couple of minutes a few dishes came up, but soon everything stopped dead with the inspector underfoot.

The young woman at the cash register, normally taking orders, was completely flustered and never passed along my request for Concubine’s Chicken. Art and I were not the only hungry customers stymied by the turn of events, but we were the first to leave, saving our patience for spending time with our respective grandchildren. We went right to 69 Bayard Restaurant, 69 Bayard Street, to admire the engravings of George Washington on the walls and devour some classic Chinatown Cantonese food in contrast to the more adventurous, but quarantined Xi An cuisine.

Thursday, May 10, 2012
Last night I was spared the agony of watching the Rangers underperform in a playoff game that would have eliminated the other team by attending the West End Synagogue’s monthly executive committee and board meetings. I peeked at my smartyphone during the evening to see the score, but this caused only momentary pain as it went from 0-0, 0-1, 0-2. In the few minutes to walk home, the Rangers revived slightly, leaving the final result as 1-2. But, instead of sitting and watching in front of the television set and moaning and groaning for more than 2 ½ hours, I furthered the International Jewish Conspiracy.

I also did something last night at the meeting that I had not done for years, I drank instant coffee. It was terrible, worse than I recalled. Normally, at WES functions, we serve real coffee out of restaurant-grade urns. A relatively small, in-house gathering, such as a board meeting, does not merit this level of service. I pledge in the future to prevent WES from serving instant coffee to any guest, visitor or non-member of any stripe to prevent a resurgence of anti-Semitism.

Friday, May 11, 2012
Last night, there was no Rangers game, no Mets game, so I generated my own excitement. When I started eating a chocolate lollipop, not a Tootsie-Pop mind you, but a 2" disc of high-quality chocolate on a stick, I was surprised to find that it contained nuts, or a piece of a nut, or actually part of a tooth, my tooth. What makes this particularly interesting is our scheduled departure on Monday evening for a 15-day trip to Israel and Jordan. Fortunately, there was no pain and the ugly molar is towards the back of my big mouth. I went right to the dentist this morning on the way to work and he advised doing nothing until my return. Then, I can look forward to a root canal and a crown.

Therefore, there was going to be no gnawing on spareribs at lunch today. Instead, I had a plate of near-great beef chow fun ($7.95) at New Mandarin Court, 61 Mott Street (4/12/10, 7/13/10, 11/16/10, 11/7/11), a very reliable restaurant. The portion was very large, an immediate attraction for me, and it was loaded with slices of beef, between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. There was no unnecessary roughage, only yellow and green onions stir-fried in. However, the noodles needed to be a bit more al dente and the whole dish could have used a dash of spicy/salty/peppery flavor in order to achieve greatness. They must be given credit for a noble effort and encouraged to stick to their wok.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Walk the Walk

Monday, April 30, 2012
My two favorite cuisines, Chinese and Italian, have the use of noodles in common. Before I proceed, I must note that Mother Ruth Gotthelf’s salmon croquettes, now retired from the field, transcended them all. This culinary confluence of two disparate nations is often attributed to Marco Polo, who traveled between Italy and Asia in the late 13th century, and thus purportedly introduced fettucini to Alfredo. However, a wide variety of noodles appears in commentaries over 2,000 years ago. In any case, I was reminded of the similarity this afternoon, waiting at a bus stop, with a Chinese-American mother and her son, about 10 years old, coming home from school. The kid was eating leftovers from lunch, meatballs and rigatoni, the ridged tubular noodle. It wasn’t the obvious cross-cultural elements that struck me, but the realization that, in spite of the broad array of Chinese noodles, lo mein, chow fun, mei fun, made from wheat, rice, plant starches, hand-pulled, knife cut, extruded, none of them are hollow. Macaroni is hollow; ziti is hollow; rigatoni is hollow. What’s the story? The Chinese invented gunpowder after all. You would think that hollow noodles would follow easily from that.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
May Day. Workers of the world unite and stuff like that.

Danny Macaroons reminds me that, in New York City, he sells through non-Starbucks coffee shops and cultural institutions like Birch Coffee, Oslo Coffee, Untitled at The Whitney Museum and Bergdorf Goodman. Now, here’s a kid who went to high school in Great Neck who should have paid someone to take the SAT for him. Instead, he has become a distinguished baker.

I wanted a new restaurant today and the Diamond Hill Café, 127 Canal Street, seemed like the perfect choice. There was no question about its newness, its shiny exterior promised that. The name comes from its position across from a stretch of the Bowery and Canal Street covered with jewelry stores, roughly equivalent in scale to 47th Street, but appealing more to Chinese tastes with bright gold and jade mixed in with the diamonds and sapphires. The hill comes from the slight elevation of Canal Street there that serves as part of the off-ramp of the Manhattan Bridge. The name shows imagination, even if the front door of the restaurant is no more than two feet higher than the nearest intersection. However, Diamond Hill did not get added to my ever-growing list of Asian restaurants in the greater Chinatown neighborhood, because it served Mexican food only, as I learned from a quick glance at the menu in the window. So, I moved on down the line until I got to the Century Cafe (sans accent), 123 Bowery, a large bakery serving some hot food at the rear, beyond the cases of sweet and savory items found in a typical Chinese bakery, usually to be avoided. It was new to me, but it has been around for awhile.

I had shrimp dumplings ($2 for four) and a “combination over rice” ($3.50). It’s hard to explain just what was combined here. A 4"x6" tin of rice was covered with braised cabbage, a fried egg and a variety of small pieces of unrecognizable parts of unidentifiable animals. The many tables were crowded with older Chinese folk (that is, older than you if not me) who were mostly schmoozing or reading newspapers, having made their last purchase an hour or two earlier. I would eat the dumplings again.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
I was fortunate to have Dean Alfange as a companion for lunch. We went to Dim Sum GoGo, 5 East Broadway, for duck dumplings almost as distinguished as Dean.

Thursday, May 3, 2012
So, Grandpa Alan, where were you at 12:14 AM when Marian Gaborik scored the winning goal for the New York Rangers near the end of the triple-overtime period? Asleep.

Michael Ratner came to lunch today and we went to Wo Hop downstairs, 17 Mott Street. We ordered classic Chinatown food, a bowl of egg drop and wonton soup for Michael, crispy honey chicken, shrimp egg foo young and pork fried rice. We loved it, although we first ordered salt and pepper soft shell crabs, 3 for $9, a steal. Such a steal, they had none although it was barely 12:30 when we got there. Michael is just beginning a major renovation project on a newly-purchased apartment in Manhattan, completing his migration with Marilyn from Westchester. I'm confident that Michael will not emerge from this project as crazed as I might, because he spent over 40 years in the construction trade and probably has faced nearly every imaginable snafu in erecting structures (could I have found one word to use instead of the last two?).

Friday, May 4, 2012
Over the years, I have entered many churches on several continents. More often than not, I was a tourist looking at art or architecture, but I have attended a fair share of life-cycle events, weddings, christenings, funerals in churches. However, I don't recall attending regular Christian church services and have no sense of what an ordinary service is like, or how the congregants behave week in, week out. By contrast, I have become habituated to attending Saturday morning services at West End Synagogue, the home of anarchic Jews, a pattern of behavior that continues to surprise almost shock me, my friends and family.

I have come to realize that I go to WES services not to pray, not to recharge my spirituality, not to seek answers, but to walk. I am a shul walker. I walk into the sanctuary and, before I even sit down, I go over to David G. and give Connie a kiss on the cheek. I see Moshe and poke him in the ribs. I wave to Bliss and Bert, nod to Eva and Jerry. I find a seat, but soon I sidle over to Simon and Alex, those two delightful brothers attending Stuyvesant, and make a feeble attempt to tease them. When it’s time for one of those prayers where we wrap another person in our prayer shawl, I’ll move over to an unattached person to envelop.

If there’s a kid having a B’nai Mitzvah, or the Rabbi is delivering his D’var Torah (Jewish sermon), I’ll try and stay in one place out of respect. But, as soon as someone takes a breath, I’m back in action. There’s Dr. David B., who has probably been to a Mets game this week. “Hey, Martha, how’re doing?” Then, Gary M., to get his view of the Rangers playoff prospects. This is like a candy store. How can you stay still?

Sometimes I just move around without aiming at anyone. I hold the Hebrew prayer book with folded arms against my chest and I avoid focusing on anything, so as to resemble a state of deep concentration. I might nod my head or move my lips a little bit as I walk across the back of the shul, but I try to avoid egregious overacting.

I know that some Christian congregations feature hyper-kinetic conduct, but the typical Jewish service is fairly physically static, aside from standing and sitting and standing and sitting. I’m not looking to flop in the aisles, or even wave my arms over my head rapturously. Just let me walk the shul, which is why I came in the first place.