Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Good Shabbas / Shabbat Shalom Grunt

When I first began attending Shabbat services regularly and adopted Shabbat observance as a teen, I remember walking down the streets of West Rogers Park in Chicago, wishing everyone a "Good Shabbos" and being greeted by others in the same way. During my studies in Israel, the same thing occurred, but with the greeting of "Shabbat Shalom" rather than "Good Shabbos".  It was almost like a secret handshake: the members of the society were wishing one another the peace and restfulness that comes with a holy Shabbat.

The greeting and response became even more important in communities that were not as large as Chicago. When we lived in Rhode Island, for example, the Shabbat greeting could only be exchanged with a much smaller population. What was extra-special, though, was that the greeting was not restricted to the more traditionally observant Jewish community, but crossed all Jewish boundaries.

When I moved to the New York area, where, as Lenny Bruce pointed out "You're Jewish even if you're Goyish", the "Good Shabbos / Shabbat Shalom" circle grew, even beyond "members of the Tribe". To this day, I'm touched when Sabrina, an African-American manager in the local supermarket, goes the extra yard by wishing her Jewish customers "Shabbat Shalom" as they do their Thursday evening and Friday shopping. Good Shabbos to you, too, Sabrina!

Recently, however, a new and disturbing phenomenon arrived in our Long Island shtetl: the Good Shabbos grunt. That's right, grunt. A number of people - the number seems to rise on days on which there are more guests from outside our immediate community - have begun responding to my "Good Shabbos" wishes with a barely perceptible nod of the head and...a grunt. I did some quick, informal research, and found that the grunt might be a based on local custom. Three friends, all from Brooklyn, reported "It's a Brooklyn thing" or "In Brooklyn, you never respond to someone you don't know". I don't want to unfairly characterize Brooklyn, so I will admit that three interviews do not constitute sound research. But somehow, the "Good Shabbos" grunt has infiltrated a wonderfully friendly neighborhood.

I always loved the idea that people who didn't know one another, would greet each other with wishes for a peaceful, holy Shabbat day. Or, for that matter, even a simple "Good morning" to people of any faith on any day. And I feel disappointed when someone doesn't reciprocate my wishes. Grunting just doesn't cut it.

The Mishnah in Avot teaches that one should always greet a fellow human with a cheerful countenance. Let's all learn to do just that, and teach others to do the same. And if you pass me on the street, please be sure to wish me a Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom, or just a Good Day. And I promise to reciprocate.

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