The Ch’ai Life Britta Lok­t­ing On Dat­ing

Forward Magazine - - Contents - BY BRITTA LOK­T­ING

I re­cently spent a month in my home­town, Port­land, Ore­gon. I’ve been toy­ing with the idea of mov­ing back. My high school friends, once dis­persed around the coun­try, are back, go­ing on lake cabin trips and hav­ing slip-and-slide back­yard par­ties. And it would be nice to live near my fam­ily and in the place I feel most com­fort­able and se­cure.

How­ever, there are sev­eral rea­sons I haven’t moved back, and one is that I have not yet found a like-minded com­mu­nity there. I won­dered whether the Jewish scene has ex­panded since my child­hood. In a city of over half a mil­lion peo­ple, there is roughly one sy­n­a­gogue for each de­nom­i­na­tion: Reform, Con­ser­va­tive, Re­con­struc­tion­ist and Or­tho­dox. It’s been that way since my child­hood. I grew up go­ing to Neveh Shalom, a Con­ser­va­tive sy­n­a­gogue. The Jewish com­mu­nity cen­ter up the hill from Neveh serves as the city’s only Jewish cen­ter. It is where buses de­part for sleep-away camp each sum­mer and where B’nai B’rith Youth Or­ga­ni­za­tion meet­ings are held. It was where I at­tended preschool and kinder­garten and where my dad’s aunt, work­ing as a sec­re­tary, knew my mother in high school and, years later, played yenta to make a match be­tween my mother and her nephew, my fa­ther.

In my old bed­room, I did a quick Google search for sum­mer events and found only one con­cert at the JCC. I texted a fam­ily friend, the wo­man I know who is most knowl­edge­able about Port­land’s Jewish life. She told me to check out a group af­fil­i­ated with the Reform sy­n­a­gogue, called Jews Next Dor. An event was hap­pen­ing the very next evening.

When I was pack­ing I had for­got­ten how ca­sual Port­land

The black stiletto pumps with studs, adorn­ing the leather an­kle strap like a dog col­lar, seemed ex­ces­sive among the Birken­stocks.

is. The black stiletto pumps I threw in my suit­case at the last minute, with studs adorn­ing the leather an­kle strap like a dog col­lar, seemed ex­ces­sive among the Birken­stocks and Nike sports­wear. As I dressed for the event, my mom perched on a chair and claimed that peo­ple in Port­land dress up for happy hour. She in­sisted I wear them.

I ar­rived at the taco restau­rant early. It was a nice night; peo­ple were drink­ing be­side the fire pit out back. I had no clue whom to look for, so I asked the host­ess if there was a Jewish group with a reser­va­tion. She said there was a group of 15 com­ing in shortly, but she had no idea if they were Jewish. I waited awk­wardly by the door. Then, two women walked in and si­dled up next to the bar. I knew in­stantly they were here for Jews Next Dor (the curly hair, pale com­plex­ion, lively de­meanor; one of them joked about that later). I walked over and in­tro­duced my­self.

Dur­ing the next few hours, the booth re­served for our party filled up and peo­ple squished in. We or­dered tacos and talked about our jobs and how the city has changed. About an hour later, 20 young men and women were chat­ting like old friends, which is ex­actly what they were. I was the only one who didn’t know any­one. It felt like din­ing with some­one else’s fam­ily, so much dif­fer­ent from the par­ties I attend in New York, with open bars, peo­ple wear­ing nametags and a line for the coat check. One man talked about the kom­bucha he brews. A math teacher who had just moved to Port­land from Den­ver wanted to know which taco was my fa­vorite.

At around 9 p.m. we asked for the check (nights end early here), and we man­aged to split the bill 20 ways. As we waited for our credit cards, the teacher turned to me. “Do you hike?” he asked. “Uh, yeah, I guess. But not in­tensely,” I said. “Do you want to go on one with me?” “Okay….” I gave him my phone num­ber, won­der­ing if these are the kinds of dates peo­ple in Port­land go on. I wasn’t keen about the idea of trekking through a for­est alone with a strange man. He did call me to fol­low up on the hike plan; I told him I was busy.

In New York, I tire of the big par­ties and the iso­lat­ing feel­ings they bring. I usu­ally sneak out early, re­lieved to go home. I hear the story of how my par­ents met and think, “That’s what I want.” But then I won­der if Port­land, where spend­ing an en­tire day sweat­ing un­der pine trees is con­sid­ered a lovely first date, is too re­laxed.

So, I am re­turn­ing to New York, in­tent on find­ing my own lit­tle Port­land there.

ANYA ULINICH

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