"Thank you for your honesty. I really appreciate it."
How did he react?
"Thank you for your questions! I like them."
How did I feel?
I met Daniel in a gay club. The dance floor was 7 square meters. Drops of water came dripping off the ceiling. Song by song they became more until they turned into a full on rain. For hours we danced our lives away to hits like Womanizer, I Kissed A Girl And I Liked It, and Oops I Did It Again. The topless men’s sweaty abs around us looked just like the photos of oiled bodies that decorated the walls. In Germany dancing with someone means moving in the same direction and sincerely touching each other’s outer limbs. In many cases at least. In Jerusalem dancing together means sex on the dance floor. To a German like me at least. There was a lot of Jerusalem dancing that night. However moving with Daniel was different. Very physical, too, but more careful. Yet not the least bit less ecstatic: While he clapped his hands and swayed his hips his expression looked like a little boy's who has just been granted a truckload of his favorite candy. Total bliss.
At some point we left the bundle of bodies. Daniel offered me a cigarette from his tobacco. I sat down next to him. He wore a sweater, jeans and sneakers. On top of his head there was nothing but his hair. No hat or Kippah. However when I asked him what he was doing in life I figured he was religious. His job was closely related to Judaism*. He explained his work to me and showed me pictures of it on his phone. Excitement glowed in his eyes and his voice pitched higher as he said, “And look, here, this is what I am working on right now-...” While I watched his pointer stroke the display of his phone I suddenly realized this was the first time I was having a conversation with a religious Jew. Ever.** I looked at him, “Daniel, you are religious, no?” “Yeah. I am.”, he answered. “But where is your Kippah?” He grinned, “I left it at home. I don’t always wear it. I believe in adjusting the rules, you know…” “I see. But do you pray?” He nodded, “Sure! We do that three times a day.” “Yeah, I know. That’s so impressive.”, I paused, then added, “Hey, can I ask you something?” He shrugged, “Of course!”. “What is it about Judaism that makes you feel at home? As in, what makes you go like, this is the right thing for me. I am in the right place.” Daniel perked his eyebrows up. “Phew, that’s a tough one. I mean especially since I have no idea where this is coming from in you. Do you believe in something?”, I smiled, “I’ll tell you afterwards. I think it’s more interesting if you don’t know about my beliefs. Just know that I don’t judge.” I looked at him. He remained silent. I added, “And, obviously, that you don’t have to answer. I understand if you feel it is too personal.” Daniel shook his head, “No, it’s fine. Just a second. I’m thinking.” For a few breaths we sat and watched three guys in leather jackets pass a joint in front of us. Then Daniel said, “Okay. Basically it is two things. First, the community. The way Jewish people help each other. There are very strong bonds among us, no matter the grade of religiousness. Having a network like that makes me feel safe. I know I’ll never be lonely with all these people bolstering me up.” I nodded. “I get that, yeah. Community is the most important thing ever…” Daniel smiled. Then he said, “And second: Shabbat. I keep Shabbat. That means for instance, I don’t use electricity, I go to the synagogue, all that. But my favorite part of Shabbat is Shabbat dinner. No one is on their own for that. Being alone for Shabbat dinner is the saddest thing. You always spend Friday night with your family, friends or whoever- someone you like to be around.” “Totally. That is a wonderful idea.”, I added, “I am convinced a place like Berlin could use a Shabbat. You know, a Berlin weekend consists of 70 hours of dancing and drinking on drugs. That’s what many people finish off their crazy work week with. Not everyone and not always. But it is what the city is famous for. I don’t think that should be forbidden but I do long for something that slows everyone down every now and then. Like Shabbat. To me it sounds like a reset for a computer. You take a break from all distractions and reconnect with what and who you actually care about in life. That’s what I imagine it to be like.” Daniel agreed, “That’s what it is.” I smiled, “Thank you for your honesty and openness! I really appreciate it.” He smiled back and answered, “You are welcome! Thank you for your questions. I like them.” Then he asked me, “Are you religious?” I slowly shook my head, then nodded, then laughed. Eventually I said, “It’s complicated. I was not raised religious. But my mom is a musician and when I was a kid there were all these baroque pieces playing from her room all day. They have Christian lyrics. That’s how I connected with Christianity. Later on I went to a Christian school and volunteered in the church later on, so yeah, I did consider myself Christian for a while there. I still feel something when I enter a church. However I feel something, too, in a synagogue and other holy places. I like Buddhist and Hinduist ideas, and I am currently fascinated by a Sufi poet. This guys’ words really move me. In short: I do believe divinity exists, but I wouldn’t limit it to one single religion. I believe that god exists in people. In everyone. I think we all have god inside. There is moments when I am more connected to that feeling and moments when I sense it less. For example I connect when I teach Yoga. Or, you know, when you are deeply in love and you look into the other person’s eyes. That’s one of these moments when you just know god exists.” Daniel grinned, “Alright… And do you have a practice, like praying?” I answered, “Yeah. Kind of. Yoga. And meditation.” “You do Yoga?” “Yes!”, I said, “It’s my job, I teach Yoga, and it’s my favorite thing in the world.” now I was the one to speak with a high-pitched voice. Daniel said, “Wait a second, I learned something once, a breathing exercise. Can you tell me what it is good for? I have been wondering about that forever.” “I can try, sure.” “So you breath into the count of five. You hold your breath, same, counting to five, then you exhale, counting again. Then you repeat. Three things, inhale, hold, exhale, all for five counts.” “That’s a cool one”, I said, “Here’s what I learned about it: Apart from the physical and psychological benefits of slowing down the breath the spiritual idea behind that kind of breathing is this: In- and exhaling you experience life in its mortal form. Duality, movement, time, you know, like black and white, right and wrong, up and down, becoming and passing away. Differences, variety. All that. The breathing moves through your body, like everything moves and changes through time. That’s one side of it. The other side appears when you hold your breath. In Yoga that is called Kumbhaka. In Kumbhaka you experience stillness. Emptiness. Maybe oneness. Nothing moves. The opposite, or other side, of diversity. Oneness. Eternity. That’s the idea behind it put in a very simple way.” Daniel, who had been listening closely, nodded, “Thank you! That’s really interesting. So do you practice Yoga every day?” “I try to. But if I honestly don’t feel like it I don’t.” “For how long?” “Most times, 60 to 90 minutes. Sometimes less.” “Woah”, Daniel cried, “That’s a lot!” I shrugged, “I always feel better afterwards. And you know, it’s up to me. If I don’t want to do it, I don’t. Sometimes there is 3, 4 days in which I don’t practice. But at some point I’ll miss it.” He grinned, “Yeah, I can relate.” Suddenly I heard a shout, “Hey, guys!”, Daniel’s friend was standing in the club’s door. He approached us. “You should come inside! They are playing Rihanna! It’s awesome in there!” He had reached us and took my hand. “Come! Now! You’ve been out here way too long.” I laughed, “Alright…” Daniel said, “I will finish this cigarette.” Daniel’s friend pulled me up and dragged me towards the door. Daniel told me, “It’s fine, I’ll see you inside.” I asked, “Are you sure?” “Yeah!”. I looked at him. Before I turned around I took in the expression in his eyes. I saw warmth, lightness and humor. And I realized: I had just received another moment for my collection of encounters in which I feel connected to divinity. Spending time with Daniel fell into that category. The way we had listened, really listened, and talked to each had flipped a switch inside of me. I had left the club feeling like I needed oxygen and a break from everyone. After hanging out with Daniel I felt connected, peaceful and happy. Grateful for that experience I turned around. As I passed two tattooed guys who almost fell over making out I prepared myself for the sound of Rihanna’s voice, thirty sweaty bodies and countless crazy dance moves inside.
*Real name and personal information withheld **The reason, I guess, is I was born and raised in and near Berlin. Despite the fact that a lot of Israelis are currently moving to my hometown there is still a minus of 348 000 Jewish people in Germany today compared to 1933. Back then there were 503 000, today there are 119 000. Those 119 000 are definitely not visible in the same way they are in Jerusalem. In Berlin I see a kippah on the street once every couple of months, sometimes even years. Not a single time have I seen a hat and payot (side curls) there. Although I do have Jewish friends in the US (most of who define being Jewish merely as having an awesome party called bar mizwa when they are young) I don’t have a single Jewish friend in Berlin. And I have never in my life spoken with a religious Jew. Figuring how much of an impact the holocaust still has in that way gives me the creeps.