Stuck in a bad shull between two men with cholent breath

This post corresponds to last shabbos- this was the first chance I had to post it.

I was in Queens for shabbos and I wanted to go to this shull that my buddy Dave absolutely hates. Every time he tells me about his bad experiences there I just go on and on about how it need not matter when they have a great Kiddush- he once told me they have great Kiddush’s and ever since that announcement of good free food with the opportunity to see what they are hiding behind the mechitza I have wanted to go to this mysterious shull.

Well after a late rise, I decided to go by myself and refuse to heed my friend’s warnings. Let us just say that not only was my friend correct, it was ten times worse then I could have predicted. He basically told me that the shull only exists so cool guy hocker types can look at you when you walk in and then talk about you the whole time. He also added that due to the high decibel level of the shull talkers davening was out of the question.

So I walked in during laining and it sounded more like a crowded restaurant on Sunday night, everyone talking over each other and no one paying any attention to the lianing that was going on by the bima. Upon entering the sanctuary I found myself in the middle of the room, I scanned the room looking for a place to sit and a siddur at the same time. Of course no one made a move to help me out or offer me a seat, this is typical of New York shulls- New Yorkers tend to shy away from tending to the needs of a late shull comer.

It is understandable in normal shull setups where one who enters usually comes in through the back and therefore no one could really tell that they were sweating profusely from the panic of having to do the Jewish walk of shame across unfamiliar territory to claim a seat and be embarrassed after the person who owns the seat kicks you out after his aliyah. Seats are the least of my worries at this moment as I scan the edges of the room from my central point. There is no book case in sight, panic is setting in, I cannot give up and just walk out. Finally I look down at the tables behind the bima which appears to be the cool guys wearing dark suites, bright pink or orange ties, talises with those silver clasp things and talking up a storm. I gaze at a lone siddur on the edge of the table and ask one of the cool hocker guys if I can use it. “Its ashkenzic he says”, ah the Lord has sent me a miracle I think to myself as I pick it up and lean against a wall to daven birchos hashachar.

I immediately search for the next most important thing besides a seat, the women’s section. I look high above the bime and I can see a few siddurim and hands pointing out from behind the white curtain, I imagine what beauties lie behind that curtain, laden with makeup and adjusting their sheitels waiting to meet their men who are enjoying the guys club downstairs where they are free of moaning wives and crying children.

I focus my attention back to my davening and suddenly I need a seat, the haftorah is no time to stand, besides there is no room to stand and everyone is giving me the stare. Not the Boro-Park Stare- but the “get out of my stand up for kadesh spot”, so I hustle into a bench, at least its those shull stadium seats. Of course as any shull seat expert knows, the shull stadium seats are for folks who are bulimic and can fit exactly ¾ of butt cheek and the other ¼ cheek must fight against blood clots and falling asleep as it is pushed up against the wide of the seat and tries not to overflow into the next seat. The leg room is also lacking and crossing your legs is out of the questions. Its funny because the stadium seating is fooling at first glance, you think – you hit the jackpot and davening will be comfortable- but its all an illusion- anyone who has ever davened at the infamous Lincoln Square Synagogue can tell you that they have the worst seating arrangement of all time and I don’t care how much winking and staring goes on.

So I luckily got a seat with one empty seat on the right side. On my left was a man with his talis over his face and he was snoring. I noticed his hands and it looked as if he were black- but then I noticed his palms and fingers were white. I looked to the right and saw a man who looked as if he wanted to run out at any moment but was too lazy to get up. The folks in front of me spoke Hebrew to one another and the chazzan droned on with the yikum porkun section of davening.

Then all my room was lost as a very smelly sfardi man with small curly peyos sat right next to me blocking me up against the black and white man. The man with peyos looked at me and said good shabbos revealing the worst breath I have ever had to be within 3 feet of. He had cholent breath, you know the folks who eat cholent in the morning and don’t wash it down with Listerine say? Well this man had the worst cholent breath of all time and the more he spoke the worse it got. All the while the talking in the back was getting louder and louder, while my section was the hushed talking section. Every few minutes the perturbed Rabbi would yell RABOSY as if he actually wanted to say Shut the F— Up but didn’t know how. At least he didn’t pull the real modern orthodox way of trying to hush the shull by stopping davening. That I have seen done in many shulls on the upper west side.

So I sat wedged in between the character from the book Black Like Me and Sfardi cholent breath guy who speaks Hebrew and began to wonder if there even was a Kiddush, this overtook my thoughts as I tried to search around the shull for clues. I took a glanc`e and tried to find the “token cousin of the kid getting bar mitzvah” you know the guy who wears his talis like a scarf and has a pink or orange yarmulke. You can pick these guys out like Black folks at a ski mountain. No such luck, it was unfortunate I couldn’t see into the ladies section or I may have noticed some women wearing doilies- which I am sure are just cut up from the lacey stuff on bottom of wedding cakes.

I turned to cholent breath, trying to hold my hand over my nose, and asked him if there was a Kiddush today. Suddenly an argument broke out between him and the two Hebrew speakers in front of me, as to whether there was in fact a Kiddush today. One of the men thought it was someone’s yertzeit, while one of the men insisted that there must be some wedding anniversary or uf-ruf. This created problems, because I was ready to leave, the loud conversations didn’t allow for any concentration and Black Like Me was hacking into his handkerchief and looking at what he coughed up before folding it and placing it in his jacket pocket. Cholent breath wasn’t any better with his stench lingering right above my head and worst of all the Rabbi was about to speak. My mind screamed “make a run for it, leave while you can”, I hesitated and suddenly the Rabbi got up and began his drasha. Damn I was this close, I thought as I fumbled with my wedgy and tried to adjust everything that was sweating down below due to the tight cheek hugging seating arrangement.

The Rabbi spoke as if he were coming in on a drive through dunkin donuts. I couldn’t understand what he said; it was all about nothing at all. It was one of those yeshivish speeches that you think they are speaking English but really it is Yiddish, Hebrew, Gemara speak and a few misguided English words thrown in the mix. I did learn that the Shulchan Orech says you can shave the Friday before Lag Baomer for kavod shabbos. The guy next to me asked me where I was from and when I answered he said “oh yes, Albany is near Baltimore isn’t it?” It actually wasn’t bad considering some of the other geocentric style questions and answers I have gotten from New Yorkers who think the world ends after Rockland County. In fact one girl I talked to on the phone and afterward refused to date her, had thought that Albany was part of Washington and that the Capitol of New York was Brooklyn. Funny because in high school I used to make fun of yeshiva guys for not knowing any cities in NY besides Brooklyn.

The second the Rabbi finished his speech I busted out of my row over someone’s legs and out to the freedom of the aisle. The aisle is always so welcoming after having to suffer through tight seats and smelly frummies. Kind of like when you get stuck on an Elal flight next to a big smelly chassid- except here I was free in a minute. I went downstairs to daven mussaf and see for myself the Kiddush deal. As I expected there was no sign of the forthcoming free food fress fest that would have taken place undoubtedly had there been any hint of kichel.

I would have liked to see the shull Kiddush, considering that my buddy told me that the only thing they do well at this shull is food. Well bring it on I say, I guess I will have to wait for a shabbos mevarchim Kiddush, I also didn’t even get a glimpse of any of the ladies that occupied the encapsulated chamber upstairs, so this is reason enough to go back.