“It looks like we’re the only ones not wearing white shirts.” My dad said a bi too loudly during during Friday night mincha last shabbos. Indeed we were the only ones not wearing white shirts, but any old bloke could have predicted that from the onset. I had my MO radar fully engaged to the point that anyone over bar mitzvah not wearing a hat would have been engaged, and given a nod. I searched the crowd for something to go with, maybe a suede or black knitted yarmulke, possibly a colored shirt, but no luck. All I could see was a sea of black a white yeshiva folks shukeling and staring intently ahead or into a sefer.
I felt alone, I felt like I was being watched and judged, when in fact no one really cared, save for the little kids in front of me who had lost concentration on their fizzer lollipops and have been staring at me for 5 minutes, or the fellow with the mustache who had let his wandering gaze fall on me and my father, wondering if we were in the shull for a family simcha, which is usually the case when two token suede yarmulke, blue shirt guys happen to come to this shull.
Upon entering the shull I felt amazingly awkward since no one offered to show me, an obvious guest, to the siddurim- that would have never happened in a real out of town place I caught myself thinking. Even when I got to the siddurim I had hard time finding one that would not fall apart during the licha dodi look back. I handed my father one and I proceeded to the back of the shull and picked a less than satisfactory seat, since the gazes of the shull were upon me, I chose the first one that didnt seem to crowded in.
Just as in a real modern shull, the black hat wearer feels out of place, I felt out of place with my over the ear scruffy hair and non-black velvet yarmulke. Suddenly someone with a yellow shirt entered and my radar immediately locked on target, he didn’t see me though and soon he was gone. Whenever I daven in a strictly black hat-yeshiva kind of shull I always feel a sense of camaraderie when a fellow non-velvet yarmulke wearer or colored shirt guy walks in- I usually look at them and they at me- a couple of nods of reassurance follow and then we go back to the prayers with a sense of pride that we are both not the extreme minority in the shull. Then another MO looking dude walked in with one of those huge kipa srugas, but he had a beard and peyos- so he was more like one of “them” then one of me.
I picked up the shull bulletin with the dvar torah on the front. I scanned the document for Kiddush announcements, finding none, I memorized which parsha it was for the week so that in case I were asked I could nonchalantly act like I knew, it always is embarrassing when the little kids know and you don’t, especially at your frummy cousins in Monsey. I noticed a small print at the top of the page that kindly asked the people who were reading the document, if they could refrain from reading it during kriyas hatorah and chazaras hashas. Interesting since those are really the only times to read it.
I thought about this for a moment and then it came to me as one of the many subtle differences between modern orthodox and black hat shulls. Another difference which bothers me immensely occurred several minutes later at licha dodi. As many of you know, the yeshivish folks like to sing responsively, by humming along with the chazzan and then stopping to let everyone say it to themselves. Not only do I hate this practice, I think it is completely ridiculous. Doesn’t that create numerous hefsiks and cause people to let their minds wander, rather then focusing on welcoming the shabbos queen? If you have been through this painful way of saying licha dodi- you may have no idea what I am talking about.
Licha dodi was the only thing that was sung, even V’shumru and Mogen Avos were not sung, I have no idea what the frummies have against singing, but a little singing would make their shulls much more attractive, as well as a lower mechitza, though it worked for my concentration, besides during one of the longest most painful lainings of my life. You see the shull we davened at which is the main shull in the Park Ave area of Monsey, did not have any place for those of us with Shull Attention Deficit Disorder to wander around. The places that you could wander around consisted of the coat room covered with black coats and the bulletin board announcing shiurim with Paysach Krohn and Zushe Blech- pretty cool to have big Rabbis speaking at your shull. The biggest problem was that outside of the shull they have no insulation or heat in an effort to drive people like me crazy and herd us back into shull before we freeze our asses off in a vain to keep busy rereading the bulletin board until we could tell you the location of every simcha for the next 3 months- well in Monsey its easy because Ateres Charna and the Atrium are it, but you get my drift.
There are frummies and then there are frummies, my cousins are of the latter, I love them because they are so nice and full of chesed, but at the same time I have absolutely nothing to talk to them about. Their only exposure to secular culture is through the carefully selected “news” stories in the daily Hamodia paper and the requisite Readers Digests piled high in the bathroom. Other then that and an occasional trip to New Jersey for gas, I can’t say that much secular influence permeates my cousin’s household.
My brother and I were sitting with two of my cousins on shabbos day, these girls ages 9 and 12 were talking about Chanukah, when mid sentence the younger one turns to us and asks us each to say the word Chanukah. We both say it to astonished eyes, the younger girl turns to her sister and says, “see they know how to say the ch’-sound.” Yes we were shocked since we are religious, but I guess they thought weren’t. Then they argued with each other about how only the goyim cant say Chanukah and only say Hanukah.
On Shabbos morning both my brother and I really didn’t want to be on time to shull. We knew it would be painful sitting somewhere with nothing to read or do, now I know what you are thinking, shull is a place to daven isn’t it? Well just the mere thought of knowing you are trapped for the entire shachris works wonders on your body, and I would rather not go through with that, even knowing that I can walk out and wander around some hall for a few minutes to recuperate is enough for me, even if I do not go out at all. I was m munching on some delicious cinnamon roll my aunt Shaindy had made when she appeared, she spoke very harshly to my brother and I, saying that there were many nice girls in the community, but if their fathers saw us come late for shull, they would surely not want to set us up. We both refrained from laughter, thinking that surely no one in shull would even think of the possibility of setting us up with one of their precious daughters, besides we were at an age were we should have 3 kids already. Unless they were desperate to unload their daughters to a couple of shlumpy modern guys rather then have them face the looming shidduch crisis, coming late to shull, by 20 minutes mind you was not going to change anything, save for a couple stares as we walked in. We did get the best seats though, right in back leaning up against the barbed wire fenced in mechitza.
The worst thing about frummy neighborhoods is waking up real late for shull and doing what I refer to as the Jewish Walk of Shame– this is when you are walking to shull at a time when the only reason could be that you are late, all the hashkama minyans have ended and he women are staring at you as you walk to shull. A lone soldier in a sea of scrutinizing women wondering how you will ever get married when you come to shull at the same time as the women.
My brother did know a couple people in shull, from various places. Being the MTA guy hat he is, and attending various camps like Mesorah and Hillel, he’s been around and knows loads of folks from Monsey and Tenack. His buddy Mordy whom he rock climbs with occasionally was seated next to us in shull and we had the opportunity to visit one of the first Park Avenue families, who are very modern compared to the rest of the neighborhood. When our cousins asked where we went, we could tell they refrained from using the word modern when describing to our aunt where we went- ah the niceties people go through. Mordy happens to be a fellow blogger having written a bit for Serandez– so that was quite interesting.
Here is another shabbos in Monsey post.