I spent last Saturday attending a bat mitzvah in New Jersey. It was a long drive and an early start, so we awoke early, plucked our daughter from the crib, changed her diaper and plopped her into her car seat, still wearing her pajamas.
Upon arriving to the temple three hours later, my wife and her sister brought our daughter, Clara, into the ladies room to change her into something more appropriate.
While waiting outside the restroom door, I removed my iPhone and began answering email.
A few moments later a woman approached me and said, “Cell phones are not allowed inside the temple. You need to turn that off now.”
Her tone and demeanor were less than polite.
“Oh, okay,” I said. “I’ll turn it off now.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re not welcome.”
It’s a phrase I’ve used before in circumstance such as these.
She was already turning to walk away, so this unexpected comment spun her back in my direction. “Excuse me?”
“I’m willing to follow your rules since this is your place and not mine, but I don’t have to like it or pretend to like it.”
She stormed off, resuming her position as guardian of the lobby, shutting the doors to the temple and directing people where to go.
Immediately I regretted my decision. It was Shabbat, and though I am not Jewish, I understand the religious significance to the day, which forbids work of any kind, including many arcane rules pertaining to technology.
And yes, I find these rules ridiculous. For example, one such rule prohibits the extinguishing of fires, even when great property damage will result.
When it comes to the use of electricity, it is acceptable to leave the lights on all day, but the flipping of the switch to turn the lights on is prohibited, making this a ridiculous and environmentally damaging rule. Wikipedia explains it thusly:
This prohibition was commonly understood to disallow operating electrical switches. When actuating electromechanical switches that carry a live current, there is always the possibility that a small electric spark will be generated. This spark is classified as a kind of fire. However, as science became more advanced, and the properties of fire and electricity became better understood, this reasoning broke down: fire is a chemical reaction involving the release of energy; the flow of an electric current is a physical reaction. Therefore, some hold that the proper reason it is forbidden to complete electric circuits is because it involves construction or building, which is also prohibited on Shabbat.
I couldn’t help but wonder what the guardian of this lobby would do if I turned off the lights in the temple and then started a roaring barn fire in the middle of the lobby.
Would she be as adherent to her rules as she was to the cell phone rule?
But this was not why I responded with “You’re not welcome.” I answered her in this fashion because the woman was rude in the way that she responded, making a non-Jewish person like myself feel less than welcome in the temple.
And I immediately regretted saying it, because I don’t keep secrets from Elysha and knew that I would have to tell her about our exchange. I knew that she would be disappointed in my response.
As I was mulling over the best way to relate the story, while listening to my wife and sister-in-law attempt to coax my less-than-cooperative daughter into her outfit, a woman and her son approached the restrooms, stopping to speak to the same woman who demanded I stop using my cell phone.
“Excuse me,” the woman said, holding the hand of her toddler. “Should I take my son into the ladies room, or would it be better if I went into the men’s room with him?”
“You can take him into the ladies room,” she replied. “But please try not to be as loud as those women who are in there now. It’s completely inappropriate.”
Again, she was not polite. And she was talking about my wife behind her back, with no intention of addressing her complaint to her directly.
Instantly, all the regret I had washed away.
Perhaps this is how things always work. Every time I am brutally honest or rude to someone, perhaps I am simply operating under the guise of karma, balancing the score for some other poor person who had been or would soon be wronged by my target.
And I was not the only person who responded sharply to this woman. A couple hours later (because anything done in a Jewish temple must take at least three hours to complete) a man entered the lobby and removed his cell phone from his pocket. The woman, still guarding the lobby, pounced once again, demanding that he put it away.
“I’m checking the time, lady,” he said, flashing her the screen that indicated the time. “You wear a watch. I carry this.”
As she turned to leave, I gave the man an approving nod.
Solidarity is a fine thing.