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Shaarey Zedek shul review

3 hour shabbos daveningIt’s not all that often that I can sneak into a shul without being noticed and once I am noticed or recognized it makes it that much harder to conduct a proper shul review. Luckily for me, I showed up to Shaarey Zedek in Valley Village during birchas kohanim on shimini azteres. I was able to sneak in, throw on a talis, browse the siddur collection, make sure the mechitza was kosher, and listen to some painful prepubescent boys lengthen the davening by 30 minutes in the name of chinuch (or upholding the modern orthodox mantra to make services painfully long)

For all of you who don’t know, Valley Village is like the Five Towns of LA, although there are yeshivish, chassidish, and other types of Jews, it seemed to skew towards middle to upper middle class center to right of center Modern Orthodox. At Shaarey I immediately went to work on trying to label every person in the room, which is all the more complicated when you’re trying to do the whole yuntiff davening in 15 minutes. Good thing they had kiddush afterwards, which allowed to me to check out all of the girls my age in their hoochie shoes and short skirts. Don’t worry, I pounded herring and made sure that none of the sexy looking skinny dudes in cool sunglasses tried to pick up my wife.

The chairs at Shaarey are very comfortable, they are blue, which is going against the minhag of making all shul benches and chairs red. Not sure if anyone before me put much thought into it. I also noticed that they have really good leg room, but the annoying shared armrest thing. They also have great back of bench shtenders for everyone. I’m not sure if I could convey to you how important back of bench shtenders are to me, but if I would have seen the rabbi at kiddush, I would have felt the urge to go up to him and tell him that this single feature was what I liked most about the shul. The shtenders didn’t have any complex pole which had to be placed in a slot, it was merely a simple spring loaded bar that swing out, such engineering was a great kiddush hashem to those from more religious institutions that laugh at modern orthodoxy and say they don’t come to shul to daven. Any shul with such a good seating and davening situation is obviously putting the davener first. I just wonder if the ladies also had shtenders.

In that time period before the end of shul, when people are socializing, I made a beeline for the library/beis medrish, it wasn’t very inspiring. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the generic seforim and books that occupy 99% of the shuls in America. I then went to check out the bathrooms, I noticed that they had two types of toilet paper available, the generic bathroom tissues for those who get nostalgic over such nightmares and regular old toilet paper. I wanted to be dan l’kav z’chus and assume that the posek of the shul allowed such a thing that deviates quite far from the mesorah, or maybe they assumed that everyone in the shul knows that regular toilet paper on shabbos and yuntiff is clearly assur as stated in the Tur.

Apparently there are three minyanim at Shaarey, including a frummer and faster one than the main sanctuary. In general, it seemed like the classic right of center Modern Orthodox shul that has a frummer rabbi than the congregants. Sure, I noticed some black hats and beards, but it was the older baal habatish crowd that wore the yeshivish gear, while the bulk of the shul was younger, hip, and more modern looking. I should note, that women seemed about 50-50 on hair coverings and many of the ladies in short skirts and platform heels still chose to cover their hair with a fall or sheitle. (Basically the shul was too diverse for me to take a proper sample set and I showed up too late)

I wish I could tell you all about the amazing kiddush, but unfortunately it was one of those kiddushes that seemed not to be sponsored. There was herring, dry cake, and soda. There was some mild pushing and double dipping as well.

I’m rethinking how to rate a shuls friendliness when it’s a large community. I slipped into Shaarey and no one said a word to me (save for my hosts and one person I knew) but that doesn’t mean it’s not friendly. If you would have dropped me from the sky, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that I was in an out of town shul, it felt like a big NY shul. It’s not like I expected the rabbi to approach me and ask if I had a place to eat.

Think of this as a partial review.

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{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Izzy October 3, 2013, 10:34 PM

    Well, there’s no Kiddush that I honesty have had that is better than the Chatsworth Chabad…just my personal bias. The chulent made by the Rebbetzin is beyond comparison….rich and meaty, it’s as complex as any great Napa Cab. The Rabbi makes the herring (when available) and is layered with thinly sliced jalapenos….is so addictive. Persian salads abound. No complaints about the L’chaims. This is a small Shul and all are greeted with genuine warmth.

    • dk October 4, 2013, 9:39 AM

      we all know what chatsworth is famous for, don’t we? 🙂 great that a chabad is there too.

  • Charles Zucker October 4, 2013, 10:50 AM

    Heshy, this isn’t necessarily a bad review of SZ, this is the worst review I’ve ever read about anything. Like you walked in on the movie during the credits and were still hellbent on reviewing it – let’s look at the list of songs they used… Willem Dafoe was in it? What’s up with that? And they thanked the city of San Antonio… Hmm…

    Here’s what I’ll tell you about the Valley Village community:
    1) We moved there 4 years ago, not knowing a soul. Immediately, my pregnant wife was prescribed bedrest. And this group of strangers sent over five meals a week FOR THREE MONTHS. I assume this is de rigueur in many places but it’s still better than NOT being fed.
    2) We’ve floated around three shuls – SZ, Bais Tefila & Young Israel, and people have been uniformly friendly to us which I define as someone actually speaking to me, let alone inviting us for a meal. Since I’m not particularly friendly (or at least solicitous), I can only deduce that contact was initiated by the other side.
    3) It was nice to meet you, when you get over your teenager-like disdain for Los Angeles we’d love to have you down here.

    • Heshy Fried October 5, 2013, 10:44 PM

      Woa, woa there, I didn’t mean to offend your shul or community. The people are incredibly friendly, at all the meals we ate at peoples house people were awesomely laid back and super gracious. On the street they make eye contact with you as they say a full good shabbos – they don’t do the lazy nod just to shoe you away.

      • Heshy Fried October 5, 2013, 11:00 PM

        And I love Valley Village, I now get to come to LA without going to the part of it I don’t like, it’s closer, the people are nicer and the pizza is better.

      • Charles Zucker October 7, 2013, 6:39 AM

        Six days a week we have plush toilet tissue and on shabbos we have to make a positive choice between plush and the sandpaper. How does this make us a bad shul

        • The Mrs. October 10, 2013, 4:33 PM

          That toilet paper reminds me of hospitals LOL

  • Former Shul Pres. October 4, 2013, 12:21 PM

    Interesting blog. Aside from the fact that by definition most of this is rechilus or Loshon Horah, assuming you are a frum person who is knowledgeable of halacha, have you ever heard of “Thou Shalt Not Steal”. Copyright infringement is just that; plain and simple. So for starters do you have rishus to use the copyrighted image from the “Yom Kippur Survival Guide” that is on this entry?

    As far as the specifics, yes it is hard to do a review on an unusual day such as a Yom Tov, with Yizkor, megillah reading and Yahrtzeit. But that does mean you have to resort to derogatory language such as “make sure the mechitza was kosher, and listen to some painful prepubescent boys lengthen the davening by 30 minutes in the name of chinuch”

    So please let me know if I understand this. You are machmir on the Mechitzah (which you failed to note is one of the most unique mechitzahs in the US) but you have no problem going into pure loshon horah and rechilus in the next sentence.

    So assuming you are not really out there to offer CONSTRUCTIVE reviews, what are you doing?

    For reference please watch Mel Book’s “History of the World Part 1” where he discusses the birth of art and it’s inevitable afterbirth, the critic. Aside from being a very funny scene it is very true.

    Bottom line either offer constructive opinions within the scope of hilchus rechilus and loshon horah or don’t bother. Shaarey Zedek is probably one of the most unique communities and shuls in the country. Instead of labeling itself as Modern or Yeshivish, it chooses to cater to Yiddin. Period. Our shul is about achdus and our Rav is a rare Talmud Chacham who knows how to make a community work, not just the quality of the cholent or the Kiddush club.

    Please come again and see what is going on with open eyes. See ALLL the minyanim, the amount of learning that goes on outside of Shabbos. The quality of daving at the weekly minyanim. I think that is very important to understand before you write a review. All you need is the weekly bulletin to see.

    Have Great Shabbos.

    Ask the President of the Board of the OU. You had your opportunity when you were with us as he is a longstanding member of the shul.

    • Heshy Fried October 5, 2013, 10:46 PM

      I actually stole the picture from another site which claimed it was stolen from them by the OU. Also I care deeply about how kosher the mechitza is because the one’s that are too machmir don’t allow me to make sure that all the beautiful ladies are covered up enough so as not to rely on Rav Moshe’s heter to daven in front of untznius ladies. Unfortunately, your shul has a tznius crisis, I noticed way too many knees and elbows and it caused me to have such terrible hirhurim that I had to walk out during duchening as I don’t hold of hearing such brachos around such violations of halacha.

    • Whaaaaaaaa? October 5, 2013, 10:47 PM

      Sir, I have the distinct feeling that you’ve never read this blog before. Lighten up.

    • Stu October 6, 2013, 1:39 PM

      Why was there megilah reading if Shmin Atzeres was on Thursday this year? You could have added that in your review, had you arrived on time.

      • Alter Cocker October 9, 2013, 8:18 AM

        megillah reading? Where? When?

  • Shragi October 5, 2013, 11:23 AM

    Heshy, can you make a rule that former presidents of shuls that you review, when they’re not familiar with your style and think you’re being machmir on the mechitza, shouldn’t be allowed to comment?

    • Heshy Fried October 5, 2013, 10:53 PM

      First of all, I live for comments like that, he has literally made my melave malka of leftover cholent that much more simcha-dicke.

      In general, when I write something like this, someone who’s never read my stuff will venture here and get shocked. It’s exactly like the comments I received when I first started blogging. People cannot handle having their shit made fun of. Kind of like that time that all the gays got pissed off at me for poking fun at a single shabbaton, or the OTD community situation.

      • ToirehIzDiBestehSchoira October 5, 2013, 11:20 PM

        If you get the Rabbi to speak about this blog post in next weeks sermon, you win!

        • Shragi October 6, 2013, 9:06 AM

          Nah, the former shul president is going to fire off an email to the shul membership to come here and spam the comments with porn and frummie sounding soundbites. In fact, I bet he’s been up all night composing the email.

  • yankelyoffen October 5, 2013, 11:12 PM

    We need a review of the OTD matzav in these communities. What percentage of Valley Village kids.go off the derech? How recognizable is the name “Rachmuna Litzlon?” Does Valley Village have a bigger shidduch crisis or OTD crisis? Is there a support group for people with OTD spouses? We

    • ToirehIzDiBestehSchoira October 5, 2013, 11:18 PM

      Can you estimate how many people are orthoprax? How openly orthoprax is acceptable in Valley Village? I’m looking for a nice, accepting community to live out my days as an orthoprax yid, VV seems nice…

  • Anonymous October 5, 2013, 11:13 PM


  • IWonTheShulPresidentElection October 5, 2013, 11:24 PM

    Yeah so Heshy I don’t think you’re invited back to Valley Village anymore….

  • Current Board Member October 6, 2013, 8:13 AM

    Hah Ha! Love it. Sadly, I was in the city for Shmini Hatzeret, but would have loved to have met you. I think your review is a compliment to our sleepy hollow and is only enhanced by the fact that others in our community have no idea about your blog. Keep up the great work of taking ourselves just a little less seriously and next time your at SZ be sure stop by the frum/fast minyan which is where I daven.

    • Heshy Fried October 6, 2013, 8:39 AM

      I hope you’re not implying that the main minyan wasn’t frum, because it was very machmir by mainstream standards, I couldn’t even check out the ladies when we sat down.

      • Anonymous October 6, 2013, 9:09 AM

        Chas V’Shalom! The main minyan as frum as it gets as you pointed out – we adhere to the appropriate angle for shtenders and you won’t find a seat that is without an OU newsletter.

        • Shragi October 6, 2013, 9:11 AM

          What determines frumkeit for me is how many people kick you out of their seat.

  • David October 7, 2013, 11:49 AM

    American Jewry has no sense of humor when it comes to *itself.* They can laugh at others, but never when looking in the mirror. Irony, satire, and parody will automatically bring angry, defensive, often belligerent attacks from the American Jewish community. Just look at the viscous and mean-spirited response the Eretz Nehederet spoof of Birthright received. They were poking fun and got a dead-serious near nuclear response. People need to lighten up and take it in stride. The entire point of this blog is to give the frum world a much needed ribbing. And, Heshy is pretty self-deprecating about it in the process. Get over your pious selves.

    • Yosef October 8, 2013, 3:46 PM

      ‘viscous and mean-spirited response’

      i do not think that word means what you think it means

  • Mark from the Valley October 7, 2013, 12:40 PM

    I have a suggestion. If you want to protect your satire, and avoid speaking loshon hora, and not put a stumbling block before all the traffic that hits your site, there is a simple solution. Instead of listing a review of Shaarey Zedek in Valley Village, CA, you can relate your experience for the purpose of getting laughs by instead changing the name of the shul and the location. No one is supposed to take this “seriously” as a review anyway, right? Protect the frum yiddim you are gently poking fun at by concealing the identity of anyone who might be embarrassed or feel that the comments are unjustified. You are entitled to your opinions, and your humor, but I’m sure you don’t want to harm fellow Jews, or grow baseless hatred in out midst.
    As a resident is that area who attends another shul, I’d invite you to daven in my minyon next time you’re in town, but frankly, I’m afraid of what you might say. (We’re not perfect either, especially by blogger standards.) But I wish you a pleasant visit and a Good Shabbos.

  • Alter Cocker October 7, 2013, 6:05 PM

    This is good.

    I guess this “former shul president” was googling the name of his shul or something?

    How do people get here and not understand the point of the site?

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