It’s an oft-used Hebrew idiom: M’shaneh makom, m’shaneh mazal, “Change your place and you’ll change your luck.” I’ve been pondering the phrase for several days now. A friend even used it in a conversation just this morning. A more literal translation of the Hebrew would suggest, “if you change your place, you change your mazal (meaning the astrological constellation under which you are situated. The words mazal tov we often to congratulate one another, are actually astrologically rooted. Another time.)
My mind locked on this phrase in a most unexpected manner in recent days as I have been enjoying some vacation time. It’s not been a travel vacation but more of what folks call a “stay-cation.” Nonetheless, I sensed that even two days away from my usual surroundings might be a welcome diversion. On Sunday I packed up and headed out to spend two days in the Berkshires in Western, Mass. Some reading, perhaps a bit of study, and catch up on sleep. Maybe I’d even do some writing. Mostly, I thought that sitting in a different set of surroundings would allow me to more fully feel the sense of having vacated my usual haunts and habits.
There was, however, one wrinkle: Sunday afternoon’s AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. Where I was headed I would not have cable service (nor internet for that matter – a part of the allure.) The Berkshires may provide a quieter, and in many cases, more rural surrounding, but they are hardly cut off from the world. I’d scout the town of Lee for a restaurant or pub where I could catch Sunday’s game. That turned out to be a relatively easy mission. What I did not expect was an experience that would draw me right back to what my colleagues and I, both lay and professional, work at creating at Temple Shalom: a welcoming environment which exudes what is now often called “audacious” or “radical hospitality.”
I parked my car in Lee with about 30 minutes until kick-off. I began scouting my options along Main Street of which there were several. I first walked into a relatively new Craft Beer and Whiskey Bar named “Moe’s Tavern” which was hidden around the back of the stores that front Lee’s main drag. The place was mostly empty. One long table was partially occupied and a number of folks were seated at the bar. A server quickly greeted me and answered my questions. One gentleman, whom I’d soon learn was named Josh, offered to take me around to Main Street to check out their store front Craft Beer shop. He opened up the shuttered store, and offered gracious explanations of their wares I thanked him, suggesting I was going to walk around for a bit, indicating I might well return to Moe’s.
I walked down the store-lined street to another venue, a sports bar/restaurant. Their obvious advantage was their full menu of food options. While Moe’s allows patrons to bring their own food, they only offer random bagged snacks for purchase. I’d missed lunch and was hungry. So, I stepped inside. The place was half empty. A second room offered larger TV options. It too, was only about half full. There were quite a number of servers and a greeter present. I found myself standing awkwardly for an uncomfortable amount of time. Walking around, I spied a small table for two which was empty, with a “reserved for 1:00 pm” sign on top. I asked a nearby waitress if I might sit as it was way past 1 pm. I received a brusque answer and wandered back to the other side of the establishment in search of a menu and a table. Asking if I might glance at a menu, I found the wait staff flustered at my request. I found a menu on my own. In the meantime, no one had offered to seat me. I quickly realized that game time was drawing near. While Moe’s might not offer food for sale, I felt more drawn to returning to a place that graciously welcomed me than the one which offered more of what I sought, but which felt cold and unwelcoming. Moe’s it was. I spent a mostly delightful afternoon (leaving the outcome of the game aside. The Broncos deserved their win), in surroundings, and the quite pleasant company of complete strangers.
As the final seconds wound down I packed up my gear, disappointed by the Pats loss. I returned to my car with a sense that in spite of the outcome of the game, I had been blessed with a really powerful object lesson in that which I spend so many of my waking and working hours addressing: make people feel welcome; helping them see that we value their presence and that they have a place in our midst.
In a world which can so often seem impersonal and increasingly disconnected as we “connect” via our myriad technological devices, we all need relationships and personal engagement. Getting out of my usual box served to reinforce something I know so well, yet so easily could forget. Thank you Moe’s for reminding me of a very powerful and important piece of the work I do. I will most certainly be back!