You’re late – even when you’re not!
There’s a suggestion, attributed to some important rabbi, but darned if I remember which one, that if you arrive in shul on time (that is, when the minyan is just getting ready to start), you’re already late. Whether Ze’ev is aware of that aphorism, I can’t say, but he takes it to heart anyway. It would take me about five minutes to walk from their house on Carlton Place to the front door of Congregation Beth Aaron. Ze’ev, going at a slightly slower pace, might take eight minutes for the same stroll. However, we left fifteen minutes before the scheduled start of early Friday night minyan, and, guess what, we arrived before they started, something that with me rarely happens – as in once in a blue moon.
Rabbi Rothwachs was away, taking a well-deserved break, but, never fear, there was a young rabbinic intern, Ben Zion Feld – someone with a bright future in is chosen profession – to give a short talk. I even remember, more or less, what he said, and if I didn’t get it exactly right, there will be those to correct me.
He made reference to something in the Yerushalmi (the version of the Talmud produced in The Land). In Mishnaic times, they (who ‘they’ actually are, I’m not certain) would blow the shofar early Fri. afternoon, signaling it was time for the workers in the fields to stop working; another series of blasts later on for the shopkeepers to close their businesses; and a third series, indicating it was time for the women to light candles. Then there was a final series of blasts, announcing for one and all that it was Shabbat. The question in the Yerushalmi was, what do they do in Bavel? The point was that in The Land, the final blasts were a joyous celebration of Shabbat, but elsewhere, the blasts would have to be more muted, in deference to the Jews being in exile. The young intern should have stopped there, but he felt compelled to give the typical farewell shot, something to the effect of, May we all merit to return to Israel, to which sentiment all are supposed to respond, Amen.
At this point in my life, I have very little interest in telling people what to do, what they should eat and drink, what to wear, where to live. I figure that, on a given day, if my shoelaces are tied; that I’m not wearing my shirt inside out or backwards and there’s no big grease stain on it; that my pants are properly buttoned and zipped; and most important, that everyone near and dear to me remembered to wake up that morning, I’m ahead of the game. (I mention the last item on the list because one of that select group of important people forgot to do just that a few days ago, causing sixty or so people to congregate at the cemetery down the road from us.)
At this point in time, some of us live in The Land, others will show up one day, and others will never make it over. All well and good. But the platitude, May we all merit… It’s not as if any foreign power is blockading our ports or preventing planes from landing; there are no brigands on the roads, making travel less than pleasant. You wanna come, come. You don’t wanna come, stay where you are. As I said, it’s all good.
Besides this slight objection to an otherwise excellent presentation, I was free to experience more than a soupçon of nostalgia, sitting in my old shul for the first time in six years. Of all the communities we lived in, Teaneck was the most rewarding. Of all the shuls I have ever belonged to, CBA was by far the best run, the one that best suited my needs. Am I sorry we left, no; would I want to go back, certainly not. And, as I kept reminding Barbara, just as we couldn’t afford to live there then; we couldn’t afford to live there now – even if we wanted to, which we don’t. Just as we were leaving the community, the shul was requiring that everyone fork up beaucoup bucks to redo the building. The renovation was well done and made possible an increase in programming, but as we were having trouble making the monthly payments on our own mortgage, paying our share would have been one more item we couldn’t pay for. Maybe we would have had to cut back our slices of pizza to once every two months. But to sit there now on someone else’s dime and enjoy the view, to soak up the atmosphere, that we could afford and that I didn’t feel guilty about.
On my own
Shabbat morning, it was agreed that I would be on my own. Ze’ev was planning to show up for a minyan at a more civilized time. I, however, being a creature of habit, would head to the early minyan – the one that used to start at 7:30, but now begins at 7:15 (groan). These days, if you want to enter the shul building, you need to punch in the four-digit code access code – unless there’s someone there to do it for you.
Standing in front of the building as I arrived was someone from the shul, checking for anyone who didn’t belong. Are you a member?, he inquired, as he had never seen me before. I explained who I was and how I got to be standing in front of his shul on a Shabbat morning in July. He must have figured out that this over-age Jewish guy, holding a tallit bag with a smile on his face, posed no threat to the safety of those inside the building; he entered the access code and opened the front door for me. Do you know where to go?, he inquired solicitously. The last time I was here, six years ago, the early minyan was over there (pointing to the room to the right). Well, now it’s upstairs, to the right. Gotcha!
Back in the day (‘The Day’ being when we lived there), I would struggle to make it to the 7:30AM Shabbat minyan and join ‘the guys’ afterwards for a few minutes of schmoozing, kiddush, and then some serious gemara time. Several of ‘the guys’ have also arrived in The Land. In fact, I looked around the shul and wondered, Where is everybody? Not that the building seemed empty. Au contraire, mes amis. There were plenty of people in each of the minyans I attended. But where was ‘everybody,’ as in the men and women I used to know? Maybe one-quarter of the faces seemed familiar from fifteen, ten, even six years ago. Some of the older ones have moved to the Greener Pastures in The Sky, others have simply dispersed hither and yon, and lots of the neighbors we knew have made it to The Land. (According to statistics provided by Nefesh b’Nefesh, more families have made aliyah from Congregation Beth Aaron than any other synagogue in America. Well, then! There is even a Beth Aaron Olim WhatsApp group, on which people here keep in touch.) While I’m pleased to see so many of my former landsmen here, it was unnerving to see a sea of unfamiliar faces in the shul I used to know.
One thing about the early CBA minyan that mercifully has not changed is the appropriate speed at which they approach the davening. We started on time at 7:15 and ended at 8:50. That’s one hour and thirty-five minutes, folks! That’s all it should take. At the equivalent time back home, they’re reading the haftorah, and I’m out the door, heading home to set up kiddush for the faithful.
There being no one but me available for kiddush, I acted on my own. Why I didn’t think to acquire a small quantity of herring at the Grand and Essex Market the day before, I can’t imagine, but I had thought to take home some cold coffee from Patis, and I still had a wee amount of whisky left from the week before – enough to make kiddush and wait for everyone to assemble for lunch. As far as I know, the Atlases always –always! – have guests: singles, divorced or widowed friends, out-of-towners, and other random individuals. This week, Ze’ev and some others had volunteered themselves to show up at an additional minyan that is scheduled from time to time, one for people who are not now ‘observant,’ but might be some day, or at least are interested. (This minyan is in addition to the early one I went to, plus two at 8AM – one being in the basement for those who still want to wear masks – and the main minyan at 8:45, for those whose attention span is a lot longer than mine.)
Seated around the Shabbat lunch table were several men and women whom I did know, including the fellow who was in charge of the special minyan, and one fellow who would be part of the target audience of this occasional minyan. At some point in the conversation, the question was brought up for consideration: If you were going to give a book to a ‘beginner’ about ‘being Jewish,’ what would it be? One suggestion was the Haggadah, and there were others, but the majority were in favor of the Kitzur Shulkan Aruch, a condensed version of everything one should or shouldn’t do. I was too busy re-filling my wine glass to join the discussion, but if I had, I would have demurred. Why not give a newcomer a siddur and teach him/her how to pray – even a little every day? Before you overwhelm said beginner with all the do’s and don’ts – of which there are many – why not encourage the novice or not-so-novice to first make a spiritual connection? Otherwise, what’s the point? Anyway, the meal, like all the ones we’ve had from Susie’s kitchen, was delicious. The wine I bought? Meh. But I’m not sure anybody else complained. I’m just funny that way.
Usually, if we’re in Teaneck over Shabbat, we try to spend time on Saturday night with other friends. However….. However, we had to be up crack of dawn to catch the #167 bus on Queen Anne Road going to Port Authority, in time to board the 9:30 Peter Pan bus heading to western Massachusetts. We would finally get to see my brother and Abby in their much-more-than-a-cottage in the Berkshires. You may tag along and keep us company. But our literary journey won’t get underway for a few days. Again, your patience is required.