My intention was to drop off a donation of clothing and stop at the front desk for a receipt. I had no time or interest in shopping, so I was pleased that the collection bins were in a foyer outside the store.
As I lowered my bags into the containers, I heard voices from inside the store that sounded like people chanting. I couldn’t identify the language because the words were indistinguishable from one another; intermittently I thought I heard some English.
My curiosity got the best of me, and, abandoning my earlier resolve, I went in.
It was easy to find the source of the voices because they carried throughout the store. There were four participating people, a man and three women. They stood together in an empty spot between the dressing rooms and the handbags, usually the busiest area of the place. The group was isolated in that space because the other shoppers did their best to steer clear of them.
The customers were doing an excellent job of pretending not to hear or see these four while avoiding them completely, but I was drawn to them.
I walked toward the chanters and listened for a few minutes until they stopped. They immediately noticed and turned to me, obviously waiting for me to say or do something. I obliged. I asked the woman closest to me: “Were you praying? Are you part of some religious group?”
“We never met each other before,” she answered.
“But then how did you get together?” I asked.
“We just felt a connection and were drawn to each other. We felt G-d’s presence upon us.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered a group of people performing a religious act in a public space. But it had never been inside a big, busy store. And in the past the people had known or been connected to one another. I didn’t get it.
“What do you mean? What kind of connection?” I asked.
A second woman answered: “You know, a soul connection. Our souls touched, and we just started.”
The group could see my confusion, and the four were willing to help me understand.
The first woman took my hand, “We feel it with you,” she said. “We can tell you’re a G-d-loving woman.”
“Yes, I am,” I nodded. (I wasn’t going to get into the which-God-are-we-talking-about thing.) My nod was followed by a few amens.
“Can I give you a hug?” Woman No. 2 asked. “We’re sisters of the soul. G-d brought you over to us. Yes, indeed, our souls are sisters.”
The three women took turns embracing me while the man waited.
It was time to move on.
“It was lovely meeting you,” I said. And the bonding experience ended. Almost.
I was near the door when I bumped into one of the women again. There was a question I hadn’t asked because my soul had been eager to leave the store. “Hello, again,” I said. “May I ask you something else?”
“Yes, indeed, sister, what’s on your mind?”
“What language were you using, and what were you saying?”
“Each of us did our own thing, whatever the spirit moved us to say, and it was all English.”
“You mean like reciting your own different prayers, but together?”
“More like blessing each other, from our own souls.”
On my way home, I considered the meaning and power of that experience. Picture this: Several Jews who have never met somehow sense a spiritual connection while they’re shopping at a busy store. They simultaneously reach out to one another.
One says “May you live a long life!”
Another says, “May your hopes and dreams come true!”
Another says, “May you make the world a better place!”
Another says, “May you have a joyful home!”
They repeat these blessings over and over for a while, in a soothing chant, reaching for connections.
Any searching souls out there?