Sitting in shull

I shifted my weight uncomfortably in my blue fabric seat, I switched the leg I had crossed to the other one and casually stared around the cramped basement shull. The sea of black hats fluttered in and I noticed their stares toward my direction, the lone non-hat wearing guy. I tried not to stare into anyone’s eyes directly and instead did the casual glance around the room and see who was staring at me. The tables had white tablecloths on them and were piled high with random seforim that were all in Hebrew or Aramaic. I picked up a gemara and wondered as the boy setaed in front of me looked at me if I should try and learn it without the English to try and show off that us suede yarmulke wearers could shteig with the big boys. Shmona Esreh began and with that the shuckeling and swaying and the side to side shuckel seemed to be a hit in this shull. The stand still and look at the ceiling while clenching your fists and squinting your eyes was also a popular shmona esreh stance. I didn’t notice many back and forth type stances but then again I had to concentrate on my own stance, which for tonight I had chosen the moderate shuckel, not too slow not too fast. I chose to hold my siddur rather than leave it on the table, and I did the moderate clop during silach lanu rather then the soft or loud clop.

The rabbi had the scraggly graying beard and slight messy peyos look, he had a gartel and glasses as well. I guess he chose the neutral look for tonight. I could imagine him going to his closet of suites and bekishes and trying to think what mood his congregants were in for that night. I guess it was a dark night for he chose the traditional black suite look, nothing too progressive for tonight, I guess the whole crowd was in the same somber mood because everyone including myself had gone for the gothic look, all replete with the hats and all- kind of like gangs of New York or something. Many of the children had the small behind the ears peyos that usually get cut off sometime in high school during their rebellious years.

A quick kaballas shabbos followed by an actual full sung licha-lodi, not one of those yeshivish ones where they sing one verse say it themselves and then sing again. The licha-dodi look back was uneventful since the ladies section was upstairs thus not allowing even a glimpse of some tushi, nope the only tushi I got was of the black suited men bowing to boi kallah, and that wasn’t even too good. To my chagrin the Rabbi decided to give a shiur before maariv. My stomach screamed out for food and I wanted to tell the rabbi that most of the people in the room felt the same way I did judging by everyone utilizing their hat brims to cover up their drooping eyes. Hat brims were dropped as eyes dropped as well, and finally I figured our the reason why people wear their hat brims down in shull but when outside they usually don’t care if they stick up. I used to think it was a way to beat to make the hats more streamlined for getting up to kiss the torah before they put it on the bima. You know the running of the torah kissers, that happens in every shull the second the orchestra of dying men strikes up the classic vayehee binsoaron. All of the sudden the hat brims are turned down and everyone is pushing like mad, it can almost be compared to the second Kiddush is made and everyone runs to be the first to pick all the meat out of the cholent. But my theories were proven wrong by the fact that hat brims are much more useful for being able to sleep while seated ten feet from the rabbi while he speaks on the legislative processes of oxen falling into pits.

I was resigned to thinking about the upcoming food that I would feast on in just a few moments. I shifter my weight and adjusted my pubal regions, since the sweat of the confined quarters were getting a little too unbearable for Mr. Johnson down below. I felt like a strictly kosher suited sardine awaiting my release as the little pull tab was popped open and I could barely see through the oil or tomato sauce oozing out from the vacuum seal that had just been broken. I could see the end in sight but the rabbi droned on about the minutest details of irrelevant issues to anyone in the room. I slowly told my brain to wiggle my toes and try to rid them of the slowly accumulating sweat droplets that begin to creep from my skin and absorb themselves into my socks. I wanted to remove my shoes, yet the circumstances of little or no leg room prevented me from doing so. The leg room in this shull was a huge problem, not only was there nowhere to walk around in the back of the shull and stare at peoples business cards in the small glass display case, or read the emailed bulletins of divrei torah that always had some sort of interesting announcements, but the leg room was not present what so ever. My joints screamed for mercy and the inevitable boruch-hu, which I feel has been placed with the ever present kadesh to merely give the painful sitting folks a break and a chance to stretch. Kadesh is like the 7th inning stretch, conveniently placed by the Rabbis of yesteryear because they foresaw that many folks would be killing for an excuse to get up and bend their knees.

The rabbis were very smart inserting special prayers that for some have deep meaning but for others they were mere excuses to provide the congregants with a badly needed stretch and maybe an excuse to take a look at the women’s section. You know without the women’s section shull would just be a bore. But that thin sometimes thick layer of wood, glass, asbestos, lead, sheetrock, cinderblock or whatever else you may build the mechitza out of brings so much joy to many folks. A ladies section full of hotties may bring extra or less kavana depending on the establishment. Maybe the davener wants the ladies to think he can do a rocking shuckel or maybe he is one who contemplates the L-rd as he shakes his fists and does the flat palmed “why me G-d” as he recites the amidah. The ladies are always looking, because they really don’t have much to do while stuck behind the barrier. They can’t even kiss the torah in many shulls, and in some places they can see out but we can’t see in.

I am back gladly looking forward to boruch-hu while looking around to see if anyone is actually saying bimay-madlikin – which I think nobody actually says. I have never said it, I just look at the English, while peripherally I look around at my fellow shull goers and sure enough not many people actually say it, they mumble but I know they aren’t saying the complicated Aramaic tat fast, kind of like the people who say vayitane-licha at the end of maariv on motzoi shabbos- who the heck can say that before they bust out havdalah it just doesn’t work if you ask me. Ah I guess they call me one of the lazy daveners. I actually never really said the full shmona esreh until I was 18 years old. Yeh I was one of those mumbling guys that looked around to make sure I wasn’t the first one finished and then would take my three steps back. Now since I never really started davening the full shebang until I was in my college years, I take extra long for certain prayers. While saying tachnun some folks may think I was sleeping, or uva litzion, oh man I take forever. So there I was trying to check out my fellow bimay-madlikin fakers and I almost missed my stretching at boruch-hu. I took an extra long bowing and bent my knees extra low, from the balcony it may have looked like I was joking around with such a holy prayer. I was taking advantage of being able to praise the Lord and stretch at the same time, brilliance, thank you rabbis for instituting this prayer into davening. Laining is the same, you sit there intently hunched over following along trying to be the first one to catch the mistakes that are made by the baal koreh and then boom boruch-hu allows you stretch your back and body to recuperate from the mistake correcting hunchback that has engulfed you.

My coat was beige and easily found as I waited for my relatives to emerge from the coat finding frenzy. How could one find their coat when they all look alike I thought as I watched hangars fall to the floor and coats being pushed aside. The coat racks creaked at the sound of coats being shoved aside by folks trying to discern their black coat from the frenzy taking place and the rush to fill their stomachs with gefilte fish and homemade sushi.