I arrived in Oxford far too early on Friday morning, and met hatam_soferet at Chabad. She very kindly fed me tea and we chatted and enjoyed the sunshine for a bit. Then the manic kitten herding started. As soon as I switched on my phone I was just bombarded for more or less the whole weekend. Over the course of the morning we gathered up lethargic_man and pseudomonas, briefly said hi to darcydodo's parents (who very kindly put me up for the weekend) and washed up in the Restaurant du Liban, where we met loreid.
It's true that I seem to end up eating there every single time I'm in Oxford, but it has reliably good food, is centrally located, and is pretty relaxed about people drifting in and out to fit in with other commitments. Anyway we had the usual delicious lunch (though I have to say that £10 is less good value than the £6 that the all you can eat buffet used to cost a couple of years ago). darcydodo joined us fairly soon after we sat down, so we had the whole crowd together at last.
The afternoon consisted of finding somewhere where hatam_soferet and her husband could eat (Balliol gardens, in the end), rushing around trying to buy food for New A's shabbat dinner that evening, and extreme kitten herding. I had been trying unsuccesfully to contact the Thuggish Poet all week, he having just finished Finals, making him available for socializing in Oxford. When I finally got a text from him, it said that Screwy was also in Oxford. This made sense in that Screwy had come up for the Thuggish Poet's birthday party the previous day, but I hadn't realized he was still going to be around. Result: me running up the High shrieking 'I have brothers! I have brothers!'
Hanging out with the brothers got somewhat disrupted by needing to meet New A and discuss catering and other logistics, and then by meeting some friends of hatam_soferet's from yeshiva, one of whom also happened to know Screwy from youth movement connections. But I did get to chat to them a bit, and to meet the Thuggish Poet's girlfriend for the first time. By the time we'd dispersed everyone to their various places of accommodation around Oxford, we were quite pushed to be ready in time for shabbat.
Anyway, Friday night was utterly, utterly lovely. There was some panic about less than successful kitten herding, but everyone turned out to be ok, just not in quite the expected places. It's so good to have a Friday night service in Oxford, just wow. And after the service we were accosted by a friend of my P'tite Soeur's, who recognized me from when I was a school prefect and she was a first year. It turned out that this person also knew lethargic_man from having been the Cambridge uni J-soc mascot at the age of eight or so. Even by Jewish geography standards, I call that pretty impressive.
After shul lethargic_man and I repaired to New A's for a meal. Now, my second year in Oxford I got involved with a small, loose group, mostly of North American postgrads, who used to meet on Friday night in someone's room, and everyone would bring a contribution of something to eat. The group arose largely out of dissatisfaction with J-soc, because spending Friday night with 100 or so 18-year-olds who all come from North London, went to the same schools and the same youth movements and regard religion as mainly an excuse for alcohol is not everyone's cup of tea. I'm absolutely delighted to see that the 'grad supper' group still exists, because it was never a formally constituted sort of beast, it more or less arose spontaneously. And it still has the same atmosphere of friendliness and fairly intellectual discussion and really positive engagement with Judaism and generally yay. And DL (who wasn't into religion when I knew her at Oxford) and New A's friend DK were there, as well as a heap of cool people I hadn't previously met. Also someone that lethargic_man was friends with in Edinburgh a few years ago, so that was also cool.
I had to insist quite firmly on breaking up the party at midnight or so. Then I walked lethargic_man back to the B&B where he was staying, which was unfortunately a bit of a way up Iffley Road. I really appreciate that he pointed out the illogic of my walking him home in a situation where this meant that I'd end up walking back by myself, but didn't argue when I said 'I know, but I want to anyway'. I have very few friends who let me make my own decisions about personal safety without fussing. I don't mind the fussing, because I know it stems from concern about me, but it's really relaxing to have someone who steps back and accepts my judgement in these matters. lethargic_man went even further than that by allowing me my moment of gratuitous chivalry.
The only problem with Saturday morning was that it happened too few hours after Friday night. But I had a lovely time chatting with darcydodo briefly, and then heading out to shul. I had planned to go to the Liberal service, partly to see a different crowd of people from those I'd seen the previous evening, and partly because the Liberal group are desperately short of people who can read Hebrew and are familiar with the liturgy so I thought they would appreciate my contribution. It turned out, though, that they had a visiting rabbi, which meant that I could just sit back and enjoy. In fact his style was rather showbiz; he's very much an old-school American Reform rabbi, running the service as more or less a solo performance. I don't normally like that style, but this rabbi, who styled himself 'the other Lenny Kravitz' did a particularly good job of it. He interspersed the liturgy with all kinds of interesting, thought-provoking and humourous asides, and his singing was pleasant to listen to when he was doing fancy solos (and he allowed space for communal singing as well) and he gave a really lovely sermon. So yay R Kravitz.
Then we joined up with the Orthodox group (reminding me again how Oxford has a far more sensible approach to communal relations than just about any other synagogue in the country) for an icecream kiddush followed by lunch. I had been a bit reluctant to eat at J-soc, but we didn't have any other practical options given that most of us were staying in improvised accommodation with no catering or food storage facilities, and some of the group didn't want to carry anything or spend money on shabbat. Actually, I'm really glad we did eat there; unlike my memory of J-soc shabbat lunches, there was a really lovely atmosphere, people were friendly (though truth to tell there were enough of us that it wouldn't have mattered if they hadn't been) and it was generally brilliant. We sang lots of shabbat songs with enthusiasm and also good tunes, and the ruach was so evident that we even had a makeshift drumming circle going at one point. I think I was almost crying with happiness. There were even enough people around to do a full afternoon service after lunch.
OK, that takes me about halfway through the weekend. More in a subsequent post, since I need to go and make up for four nights of inadequate sleep!