I have been a ba'al kriah for a long time. In fact, I've been laining every Shabbos and Yom Tov (with the occasional Shabbos off for a bar mitzvah, laryngitis*, etc.) for eighteen and a half years.
For the first sixteen and a half years, I lained in a shul in Kensington. I started when I was young and single and, in fact, walked forty minutes to shul every Shabbos/Yom Tov to lain. After I got married, we rented an apartment closer to the shul so that I could continue to stay there. The people in the shul embraced me as one of their own, and they later embraced my wife and children as well. We were truly happy there.
Unfortunately, the housing market forced us out of the neighborhood. We had reached the point in our lives where renting simply did not make sense for us anymore -- to rent an apartment was costing us almost as much as a monthly mortgage payment would be. In addition, the situation with our landlord was quickly becoming untenable (I'd rather not go into it - and they ended up selling the house shortly after we moved anyway) and we would have to move out. The houses in Kensington, however, were hideously priced. We saw hovels that were more than we could afford -- let alone places you'd actually want to live.
So, we ended up buying in another area of Brooklyn. I didn't want to leave the shul where I'd been for sixteen plus years, but I had no real choice. It was too far from my new house for my kids to walk (if it had been me alone, I would have continued laining there). Sadly, we left the shul where I had my aufruf, where my boys had their brissim and where I was sure they would have their bar mitzvahs. Such is life.
In my new neighborhood, I was fortunate to find a new ba'al kriah position within a week or two. And, to be honest, I'm happy in my new shul as well. However, despite that, my wife every now and again reminds me that she misses the old shul - as I do too. I still have family that davens in the old shul and every now and again I hear from them that they still miss me in the old shul and that my laining is missed as well. Well, it's nice to know that you're missed.
As it turns out, last Shabbos I ended up staying by some relatives who were sort-of in the neighborhood of the old shul. While I still had to walk back to my new shul to lain for Shacharis, I was able to walk in to the old shul and surprise everyone by showing up for Mincha. I walked in shortly after laining started. When the gabbai called me up for an aliya, the person laining handed me the tallis and said with a smile "here, you can lain for yourself." I had Se'uda Shlishis there as well and had a nice time catching up with some of the old crowd.
By some strange coincidence, someone from that shul had a baby boy last Thursday (poor kid - he's always going to be told "when you were born, it was like Tisha B'Av!"), so I had an excuse to go back this morning for the bris. Again, it was nice to see everyone (I got to see some people who weren't there by Shabbos mincha) and catch up with all the old news and gossip. My wife and kids also got to go and see old friends and renew old acquaintences. Heck, I even got to lain again in the old shul.
So, it's been "old home week" for me and my family. Of course, what all this has done is stir up some old feelings. I can't say that I regret the decision to move (for starters, I couldn't afford to stay in the neighborhood anymore and it was the right time for us to buy a house), but I can say that I regret some of the tradeoffs that came with making that decision. I like the new shul: I like the people, the rav, the style of davening, etc. - and it seems that they like my laining (they've let me continue for the last two years) - but it's not the same as the old shul.
When I think about my feelings regarding my old shul and my new shul, I'm often reminded of something I saw on TV. On the television series Soap, there was a character who appeared for a few episodes named Barney Gerber (played by Harold Gould). At one point, he's explaining about his life to Jodie (Billy Crystal) and his marriages. He was happily married to one woman for many years. After many years, however, his wife was killed (hit by a bus, IIRC). He was shattered and felt like he would never love anyone again. As it turned out, he did meet someone and fell in love again. The way he descirbed it, however, was that the new love "wasn't better" than the first. "It wasn't better, wasn't worse. It was just... different," as he put it. The rest of his speech made it clear that he dearly loved his second wife - not in any way that was inferior to the love he had for his first -- it was just ... different.
That's kind of the way I feel about the two shuls. I miss the first shul very much. I miss the people, the rav, even the building. Everything about it had (and still has) it's own charm. But yet, I also like the new shul. It's a differnet style of davening, a different crowd and a different style of rav - and yet I like it too. Not in any way that's worse, or better than the old shul - it's just different.
Now, if we could find a way to merge both congregations into one...
* Yes, one year I got laryngitis on Rosh HaShannah. I tried to lain anyway on the first day but after the second aliya, it was obvious that it wasn't going to work. I missed the rest of that day and the next. By Shabbos (RH was Thursday and Friday that year) I was able to lain again.