"Where were you yesterday?"
I was asked that by several synagogue "regulars" as soon as I showed up for Sunday morning minyan.
"I went to the Sephardi synagogue on my street," I replied.
This exchange requires an explanation. The Shabbat in question was especially rainy. The rain was coming down in torrents during the time of Shabbat morning services. It is a twenty-five minute walk from my home to my usual Ashkenazi shul. The Sephardi synagogue is maybe three hundred meters up the street. Nonetheless, I still got soaked running between the raindrops while running up the street. It would have been an extremely uncomfortable round trip walk to my usual synagogue.
I did not take "Where were you yesterday?" as a rebuke. It was asked by the guys that I see every morning of my life, as we practice one aspect of our religion together. I took it as an expression of concern about my well-being. Men especially express their sense of camaraderie through the context of a shared activity.
In fact, I was flattered that I was missed. I am not a "macher" in the shul. I hold no special office or responsibility. I am just a regular worshipper who shows up every morning of the week.
The question illustrates what it means to find a community wherein you are not invisible and others care enough about you to note that you were missed. We all also tend to express our concerns about each other's health, family deaths, celebrations, and achievements of children and grandchildren. This kind of sense of community is priceless.
By the way, when I ran to the Sephardi synagogue in the rain, I was welcomed by the congregants there who are mostly my neighbors and are well known to me from my attendance at evening services. In fact, they gave me the third aliyah to the Torah.
This sense of community reminds me of the '80s American T.V. series "Cheers" about the lives and interactions of a cast of regular "barflies" in a Boston barroom. The program had a very memorable theme song that impressed upon me these lines:
"Sometimes you want to go,
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came"
The bar in the show created a small, alcohol-based community among those who apparently were there every day.
I, too, want to go where everybody knows my name and they're always glad I came, and where it's nice to be missed.
To me, it's the synagogue.