Wednesday, July 10, 2013


One can get spoiled after a week of mingling with a self-selected group of six hundred spiritual seekers.  At the Jewish Renewal Kallah I could strike up a conversation seemingly at any time or place and share deep thoughts. Accordingly, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the Kallah mojo could survive reentry into “civilization.” In the first post-Kallah day I was pleased to see the mojo pass a few initial tests.

Enjoying some free time in Cambridge before my afternoon flight home, I was wondering how I might find my way to a lunch with a certain gravitas. I like to eat at truly indigenous places. (My son has a classic tale about traveling to Alabama for a UCLA women’s basketball game and trying to persuade his fellow band members to eat somewhere other than Applebee’s. I like to think he got that gene from me.) When the woman at the Peabody Museum suggested Panera Bread, I thanked her politely and headed down Mass Ave, but not with any intention of following her advice. This reminded me of a time when I was working the dining hall at a camp in rural New York State. My parents were coming for a visit and were sure to take me out for a grand dinner. One of the kitchen hands suggested I have my folks take me to her favorite place, the A&W on Route 9. That’s when I learned that selecting the right person to ask is important.

As I walked along the sidewalk I carefully evaluated who might be a credible restaurant critic. Seeing a thirty-something man in blue medical scrubs, I figured he might be a good source. I was a bit disappointed when he suggested the Burger Shack around the corner. Burgers weren’t exactly what I had in mind, but he couldn’t think of any excellent Italian places in the area. Moreover, he claimed that the Burger Shack would be an experience. I relented and halfheartedly moved along in the direction he pointed to until I spied a Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burger Cottage.  A young lady stood outside clutching a small stack of menus.

Not sure if I had the right place I carefully inquired, “Will you give me an honest answer to a question?” She assured me she would.

“I was directed to a place called the Burger Shack.”

“This is the Burger Cottage,” she stated factually. That didn’t provide the information I was seeking.

“I was told I would have an experience,” I added.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she assured me. “Mrs. Bartley will be right out to seat you.”

“Mrs. Bartley, herself. Imagine that,” I thought.

A hospitable silver haired woman directed me to a seat at the bar overlooking the grill. It looked hot, noisy, and most of all would put my back to the room which was abuzz with animated patrons. I politely requested a seat that would afford me a better view. She offered a chair in the middle of a string of long rectangular tables placed end to end down the center of the memorabilia covered room. Across from me was an Asian lad, his mom next to him and across from the mom and immediately to my left sat his brother. They were well into their burger "experience" at this point. A friendly buxom waitress came by, handed me a menu, and at my request, made a few suggestions from the lengthy list of burger options. After a quick perusal, I selected the iPhone Burger—seven ounces of ground beef replete with Boursin cheese, grilled mushrooms and onions, sweet potato fries, and a pickle.

As I awaited my meal, a mother and adult daughter sat down to my right. I listened to them deliberate. The mom wanted a taste of onion rings but not a whole order. I couldn’t have agreed more, but decided not to chime in…not just yet at least. When my order arrived, however, before touching a thing on the plate, I initiated conversation with the idea of a “taste-for-taste” as our kids used to say. I could barely get the words out of my mouth when Sadie, the daughter, gratefully accepted the opportunity to sample my sweet potato fries in exchange for some of her forthcoming onion rings. Pretty soon I was sharing fries with my neighbors to the left as well, and the party was on!

We shared a lot of information about who we were where we were going or had come from geographically and metaphorically. Sadie said her dad would have loved the Kallah—just his speed. When I remarked how I had been concerned about how long the spirituality of the week would last outside the confines of Kallah, Sadie’s mom (sorry, her name escapes me by now) averred that it was something we carried within that was always accessible even if others were not aware of it. I had to agree.

The party only got better when two young women from Moscow, and a lad from Korea took the seats that the Asian family had just vacated. Sadie and I insisted that Liz, one of the Muscovites, change her order from medium well to medium rare—we had by then established that kind of relationship—one of trust, interdependency, and chutzpah. When Liz took her first bite of burger she was pleased with our recommendation.

The party would soon be ending, so I handed my phone to our waitress who took a group photo. It came out a little fuzzy, but captures the essence of our experience. I hit share on my phone and the others entered their email addresses so we could all share the memory. I won’t be terribly surprised if I hear from Sadie’s dad before long.  
The party was on at Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burger Cottage (Mrs.Bartley at left.)
This would be a fitting conclusion to my little tale had it ended there, but the vibe continued with others along the way home—on the train to the airport, waiting interminably in the terminal for our flight to SFO (delayed, sadly, due to the tragic Korean airplane crash), and all the way across the Friendly Skies with my two seatmates in Row 25, a precocious eight year old girl by the name of Delaney, and a delightful young woman, Amina, a newly minted U.S. citizen, Egyptian by birth, who uses her business acumen to support non-profit organizations. Delaney, her little brother J.J., and their dad somehow were unable to get seated together. 

Amina and I were dazzled and charmed by the child, but also took the opportunity to get acquainted ourselves when Delaney finally plugged in her iPhone and Bose noise reducing headphones. It was particularly stimulating to share ideas about religion, spirituality and politics with Amina. There we were, a young Egyptian Muslim woman and an old New York Jewish man finding a lot of common ground about the universality of spirit and the importance of maintaining the best of our ancient cultural distinctions. When I spoke with Amina about Spiritual Eldering she was among others this week to remark on the importance of restoring some of the traditional attitudes toward age. She commented on how youngers respecting elders, and elders nurturing youngers were behaviors evaporating in Egyptian society much as they have in the U.S.
Amina gazes at a sleeping Delaney.
 I realize I am flying high, literally and figuratively. Writing this while my flight has a few hours more to go, I know (pray) I will come down to earth in actuality. What remains to be seen is how long I can continue to float in the spiritual sense, or at the very least, hover above the fray a little while longer.