Yeshiva Memories: waking up for davnening

Getting a little extra sleep in yeshiva wasn’t always easy. Besides for folks hanging out in your room, you had to contend with the wakeup crew, unruly Rabbis who would burst into your room and pour cold water on you, pull your bed into the hall, rip off your covers and all sorts of other crazy things just to prevent you from sleeping through shachris. Even when you tried to escape the wrath of the wakeup crew and Rabbis there were many strategies one had to use in order to escape to ones bed and only then could you enjoy a few moments of extra sleep, of course it wasn’t peaceful rem-sleep, but rather a nervous twitching that awoke with every sound that echoed through the dank hallways, every sound made you pull the covers a little more closely around you in an effort to hide, from the person screaming “Your gonna miss the zman” at your weary face.

I can remember my first few days in yeshiva high school, it was the first time I was exposed to Jewish music, other then the stuff they played at weddings, which I later found out was the same thing. The reason why I dislike Jewish music, more specifically yeshivish music may stem from how I was first exposed, because it angers me till this day.

The wakeup guy would place a boom box at the confluence of both hallways in my yeshiva dorm and proceed to crank it all the way up, with only treble I am convinced, and play the most obscene music you have ever heard, it literally hurt anyone’s ears it came in contact with. It was also problematic because since this was the initial wakeup call, before any of the actual face to face torture began, you had to piss like a racehorse as they say, and it didn’t help that the boom box was placed at the entrance to the bathroom. While I know that this was the most strategic spot for placement, I thought otherwise at the time. I could see the joy in the wakeup crews eyes, as they went from door to door, ripping off covers, yelling about the zmanim and threatening you with kenasim (fines) for coming late to shachris. They delighted in dragging our asses out of bed.

So after the music came the door slamming, most of the doors were old and heavy and if you were caught in the way, your head would have been taken off by the fury of the door slamming. The door would crush all in its path including any stuff that was left over the night before, drinks and food would go flying, forcing some out of their beds just to clean the mess up. The routine went as follows, the door slammed open and you had to sit erect in your bed, convince the waker upper that you were up and getting a move on and then convinced he would leave for a few minutes allowing you to sleep again. They all knew what would happen, yet during their second door slamming crusade they would start screaming about how you were just up and how could you sleep through shachris, this routine went on every day.

It really depended who you were, since the waker uppers were usually the same people who checked attendance when you came into the beis medrish for shachris. If you were really connected you could get a check and still come late, but that required major kiss ass, such as snitching and no one wanted to snitch, unless they really wanted a free pass. Rarely would the initial wakeup crew do much more then pull your blankets off, yet there are many stories of extreme cases, I never had to deal with such horrors.

Then all the sudden the dorms were quiet, the hoprrible ear piercing music- which by the way was changed to blasting mussar shmuzem during times that you couldn’t listen to music- was turned off, the door slams ceased, the yelling stopped and all you could hear were the showers and toilets flushing. But this was the calm before the storm, you could choose to either get up or risk a face to face encounter with the Rosh Yeshiva calmly telling you that you would pay a kenas of 5 bucks, be suspended or just the shame of the holy Rabbis looking at you with disgust.

Suddenly you could hear the black leather shoes on the cold hard floors of the dorm, they echoed through your mind and all the sudden you felt the dread, no matter who you were, you knew what was about to happen and you braced yourself for a great acting career at that moment. “Do you know how late it is?” a thunderous perturbed voice would ask. You of course would act totally spaced out as if you had just stepped off the moon. Now many things could happen at this point, usually a tug of war between you and the Rabbi who was trying to yank your sheets or blankets off. Sometimes he lost and you gained 5 minutes of precious sleep. The worst was when they came by wielding a full washing cup threatening to dump it on you, in the summer it would not have been too bad. In the winter it may have froze on contact.

So lets say you were a nerd like me and actually got to shachris on time every day. I had very good attendance, and actually put on my tefilin instead of just arriving and plopping my head down for a quick sleep until the Rabbis looked up from their shachris preparations. Well after I put on tefilin and said some brachos, I would plop myself down with one lazy eye half awake scanning the threshold for enemy craft that were coming to disturb my sleep. I sat in the section where everyone in high school slept, especially between barch hu and shmona esray.

Our beis medrish was set up in way that had every one facing the aron and the Rabbis sitting on the sides of the aron facing everyone. If you wanted to leave the beis medrish and return to bed which was probably still warm, you had to be strategic, you couldn’t just up and leave like a redneck who would rather go fishing then stay together with his wife and kids. Nope, this situation required knowledge, and I never really started leaving shachris until after 10th grade or so, and I spent two years in 9th grade so I was chicken basically. It may not sound worth it, what 20 minutes of sleep? Well happens to be that after shachris we had mishna brura seder for half hour and then 40 minutes for breakfast prior to first seder. So technically speaking you could skip mishna brura seder, as long as you did it only several times per week and make it from 8am to 9:40am without being woken up, but this took a lot of effort.

Like I said you couldn’t just up and leave shull. You had Rabbis, beis medrish guys and snitches all waithing to pounce on the guy wearing his tefilin and carrying his tefilin bag out of shull during davening, it was obvious what you were doing. You could always take off your tefilin and go to the bathroom, but that was always realized right when the rabbi saw your tefilin laying by your empty seat for 30 minutes, come on yeshiva wasn’t that bad.
So the best and most obvious strategy was to wait for shmona esray to leave, and this was what most people including myself did. The problems started when one of the rabbis got smart to this, it took them several years by the way, and I attribute this to the lack of snitches who looked up during shmona esray at the exodus of weary eyed daveners running to their beds. One day evefryone was gathering their shachris gear to bust out and to our chagrin one of the Rabbis had taken his shtender and put it by the exit to the beis medrish. All the sudden the beis medrish was full when it came time for laining and people who hadn’t been called up for years were called up, wonderful but what’s a bochur to do.

So like any desperate bochrim we all came up with our own plans, nothing was as good as before but everyone swore by their own strategy. Some would just run in get their check and leave. Others would sleep in their closets, so even though the rabbis knew they were upstairs sleeping, it would be some time before they found them. Some folks would try and hide under their covers, one kid would shove himself between the bed and the wall. So while the rabbis could tell who left shull, but of course couldn’t disrupt shmona esray to grab us, they could easily lose us amidst the confusion, that we crated by sleeping in places besides our beds. The best thing you could do was to get a beis medrish guy to grant you permission to sleep in their bed. This was what I did on several occasions, of course I would end up sleeping through shuir and that wasn’t too great, but how comfortable it is to know that no matter what, you will have a sound sleep. The folks who chose to hide out on the high school floor always had this inkling in the back of their mind that they would be caught, and thus preventing good sleep.

I am sure many of you have stories, of your yeshivas or dorm wakeup calls. Ladies and Gents I give you the forum to express your stories and adventures.