April 9th, 2005

An Act of Loving Kindness

My friend Dr. Sam, the dentist (above, at De La Concha), invited me to Kabbalat Shabbat last night at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, at West 86th St. and West End Ave. He said that ordinarily these services would be held at his synagogue on West 88th St., but the crowds are large and besides there’s more room for that exuberant hand-in-hand line dancing they do when the ancient traditional music moves them.

Congregation B'nai Jeshurun (http://www.bj.org) is a gathering built on the belief that members must strive to be kehillah kedoshah, a holy community. Each is expected to commit him or herself to “probing and relevant study, prayer with true intention, meaningful observance and acts of loving kindness that bring us closer to the repair of the world.”

When Dr. Sam saw me his face lit up. “Oh, John, thank you for coming!” he said, embracing me. I pointed to the dark blue kippot on my head that they’d given me at the door. “Do I look Jewish enough?” I asked. He laughed. “With that long hair and beard you look more like a terrorist, but that’s okay, don’t worry. I’ll tell everyone you’re my friend!”

He’s a naturally warm, outgoing, kind person, and I’d felt comfortable in his spontaneous hug because I knew it was entirely genuine. He introduced me to his son and daughter, and we sat together in the front row.

A small orchestra composed of a flutist, cellist, pianist and mandolin player made music. A pair of rabbis in patterned shawls sang, and a dark-haired woman stood at the side and with smiles and other expressive body and facial gestures provided an American Sign Language translation. The music captured me. It was melancholy and evocative, a curious blend of deep sadness and transcendent hope.

As I listened, entranced, I felt Sam’s hand touch my shoulder and linger and I looked at him, and he smiled. An authentic small “act of loving kindness” that touched me deeply.

Next Tuesday I’ll take photographs of his clinical staff at his dental offices. He wants pictures of all of them smiling, and laughing, and having a good time, so patients can see how happy they all are. Maybe he’ll put them in a brochure. In return for my professional services, he will have one of his dentists clean my teeth. I said that was not necessary, I’ll be glad to do it, because he is my friend. But he insisted.

I used to hate lawyers and dentists. Now I just hate lawyers! I suspect, however, that it won't take long for Dr. Sam to talk me out of it.