Shaare Tefillah – Dallas shul reviews

I thought I was through with Dallas, I really did, one last shabbos and I would be out of here occasionally passing through to catch some food before hitting up the trails of western Texas and New Mexico, barely staying to catch a mincha. Its not that I don’t like Dallas or that I have anything against it. The people are very friendly and the community is quite nice, but as I said when I first moved here there were many problems to begin with. Mostly the sheer size of the city and its surroundings scare me, the fact that in order to get to anything resembling wilderness I have to drive at least 100 miles is quite daunting and even then I can hear cars whizzing by on the noisy roads paved with seal chip with 70 mile per hour speed limits. The lack of snow and skiing and the lack of mountains for a few hundred miles.

I swore I would be gone this past Monday, off to find a new life in Colorado; it has been my dream for some years to live in Boulder, Colorado amongst the crunchy granola outdoors nuts like myself. I love the fact that I can live in a community with an eruv yet still walk to the mountains on shabbos, yet here I am another week in Dallas and the plans have changed at least for a couple of weeks. (I did look at the prices to ski and was freaked out a little – and its too late to buy a season pass)

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I do things on a whim, people who try to get me married off are constantly yelling at me about not being able to this once I “settle” down which I don’t plan on doing any time soon – I know that I cant just pick up and leave when I am married, what you think I am some kind of idiot or something? So I was going to throw everything I own which consists of one skateboard, one pair of skis, one kayak and three bikes into my Subaru Outback with 316,000 miles on it and head on up to Colorado, but by simply davening at a new shul my plans changed- now that some would say is a little crazy, but in all honesty – it really isn’t, the life of a telecommuter is such that they are not bound by schedule, besides for updating my blog constantly I work when I want – which is when its cold and dark out – while in the daytime I play on my bike.

This past shabbos I had the opportunity to daven and stay within the Shaare Tefillah community of Dallas. Happens to be that Shaare Tefillah is located within the same area and community that I stayed at during my first weekend in Dallas, but this was a completely different experience. I would say that it was the first time I went to a normal shul in Dallas. Not that the other shuls in Dallas are not normal, I cant really explain my feeling without getting into politics – but it just felt right being there. The other shuls I always feel like I am there people watching or something.

Shaare Tefillah – Dallas’s only normal modern orthodox shul

I wonder if there is some sort of lecha dodi tune board of Dallas as the chazzan strikes up the same tune that I have heard in every other shul in this city for the last month. Do they go by month declaring that this is traditional song month or carelbach song month? Or is it completely random that this new shul I have never been to before is singing the same exact tunes for both the beginning and lo savoshy switchover? Its fine, I am enjoying it, they are great tunes, Ohr Hatorah even tries to bust out those forced ghetto Carlebach circles that they just cant get right at the end of the whole ordeal, but the singing is good, fast paced and on time, because nothing ruins lecha dodi more then a bunch untimely singers singing too many start of lecha dodi phrases or too little, two is the amount sanctioned by the national lecha dodi board, but I have seen one and I have seen three.

I wonder if there is some sort of shabbaton going on, I had no idea, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of women for Friday night. Don’t get me wrong the mechitza was classic modern orthodoxy, which allowed me a good view while at the same time giving some obstruction to keep things interesting. I find that modern orthodox mechitzas get such a bad wrap, but they do a good job keeping the women contained, making sure they don’t escape. I do wonder if there ever was a mutiny on the mechitza. Has there ever been a time when women of an orthodox shul boycotted and jumped the mechitza demanding to be a part of regular service? Have they ever gone on strike, demanding a voice in return for their part in the kugel and baby making duties?

I would later learn or realize that Shaare Tefillah in Dallas is one of the only shuls besides for Carlebach that women come en mass to all three shabbos davenings. In Albany there were a few women that came to Saturday afternoon mincha, but it was always the weird older single ones, the nebbs – as the shidduch crisis likes to call them. But lo and behold there were regular women and girls here on Friday night davening. The one problem with modern orthodox mechitzas is that they take the fun out of the lecha dodi lookback.

In college I always noted how the blacks, Asians and preppies all hung out with each other, are shuls the same way? There were three black hats in shul, which already tipped the scales more to the right. Every modern shul has to have the token black hat guy, usually a YU guy who became a little more right somewhere along the way. But in this case there were three real non-YU black hatters, 2 of them with beards and one with a very dark shadow that was like a beginning of the three weeks beard. I wondered why they were here, Dallas is very political it’s the type of place where you can lose you job from going to one shul over another.

In order to retain their modern orthodox status, shuls must meet certain criteria, a majority of knit yarmulkes must be present at all times or else they risk losing their charter. Ending after 12pm on shabbos is another must, although I have noticed shuls ending earlier and earlier these days. Having a few members while talesim that are rainbow, plaid or some other weird color is a must and being a registered democrat helps your fate as well as having a shul bulletin that spells all Hebrew words with a tuff rather than a suff is written in stone.

Shaare Tefillah I am told, is barely holding onto their status as a modern orthodox shul, mainly because of its yarmulke situation. You see not only are there three black hats present during shul, but many of the members wear suede, and dark suede for that matter – I am not going t report the shul, but it pains me that they might lose their charter and have to align itself with controversial strands of orthodoxy like “open orthodoxy” and YCT. I think this may be why the Rabbi of the shul opted for a solid white yarmulke rather than a white knitted yarmulke with a design on the outside like worn by most Israel supporters.

The leg room was ample, although the little slots where you place you siddur in were not too roomy. The shabbos bulletin provided a good read, unlike most shuls, it was a few pages long complete with devar torahs and announcements, shul bulletins are often overlooked, but I have always wanted a shul bulletin Pulitzer type prize for the best written and most entertaining. For those of you who suffer from shul attention deficit disorder Shaare Tefillah is the most accommodating shul in Dallas. Shaare not only has an extensive hallway system to walk around and mechitzas that allow you stare at the girls, they have the most devar torah sheets to read out of any shul I have been to.

Shaare Tefillah is kind of the printout, I noticed a very interesting devar torah from the head of the Bat Ayin girls yeshiva that was all about Serach, the harp playing chick who never died.

I had been trying to spend a shabbos with a family from Shaare Tefillah for some time, but due to the personal politics and agendas of Dallas, instead of being cohesive the community is one of those that are full of people waiting to form breakaway schools and shuls instead of working together on issues (not necessarily a bad thing due to the goodness in having diversity in Judaism – just bad in the way its done). So whenever I would ask someone about staying down at Shaare Tefillah I would get blank stares from people who lived down the block from the shul who had never been inside. I heard stories about all the evil feminists who went there and quite frankly that intrigued me even more.

I couldn’t find the feminist and to tell the truth, it wasn’t as friendly as certain other shuls in Dallas, but then again Kiruv shuls have an agenda and one of those ways to lure you in is to be incredibly friendly, it is a very regular normal shul, that reeks of out of town due mostly because people say good shabbos to you – ask you if you need a place and all that jazz. It’s hard to explain, but it was the first shul I actually felt I belonged in during my entire two months in Dallas. Not to say that the other shuls weren’t normal or nice, without getting into my keen observations I can tell you that every shul is nice, that’s just how Dallas is, but Shaare was much more normal, cant say it any other way, than the other shuls.

I especially liked the fact that the Rabbi went around saying good shabbos to everyone on Friday night, I am really into welcoming Rabbis, part of the Rabbis job is such, and although we didn’t really get to chat the rabbi was a smiley warm fellow and he had a good hand shake – such a rarity in the frum world. I also liked the fact you could tell there were women in shul, Dallas is the type of place that if you don’t go to shul on shabbos morning you would never think that women existed here – you never see them besides for shabbos morning.

I should also add that I really enjoyed the people I ate by, it was a change from all the super conservative conversations I was used to, the people ate Shaare were much more intellectual and worldly then the other folks I have hung around, I just felt more open with these people because around some of the kiruv crowd you feel that you have to keep your mouth shut a lot of the time because you don’t want to scare away potential “clients” with anything they may not understand – like charedim banning the color red or stuff like that.

The Cholent Nazi post from the beginning of the week refers to this shul, but I checked with some sources and they said the Cholent Nazi is not a weekly occurrence and this was one of the first times they had witnessed cholent portion control.

Besides for the cholent Nazi, the Kiddush was quite nice, they had some really good cookies of the jelly in the middle kind, artichoke dip with crudités, two kinds of noodle kugel and brand name sodas – which is such a rarity at shul kiddushim. I would also like to mention that Shaare is a real community shul, people love to go there and mingle. It was so interesting to attend a shalosh suedos with real live women, not just the nebbs, I have never seen more then 5 women attend a regular shalosh suedos – it just doesn’t happen – and the women stayed for maariv, which women come to shul at night?

The dress code for the shul, I feel like I am giving instructions for a business conference at some airport Marriott, is anything you want, I wore a purple striped shirt and pants, would have worn a suit but it was 75 degrees outside. It’s a mixed bag some wear suits and some wear shirts and pants. There were several people who even wore scarves into shul – no wait they were talesim. For the life of me I cant figure out why people wear their talesim like scarves – I mean don’t people look around to see what others are doing? People stand and sit at the appropriate times but they can never get the talis thing right.

If this were a year ago – I may have even written about some of the interesting things that went on at the meals. Since it is not, I will merely say that both meals were eaten with incredibly funny and interesting folks – it was a little bit of an ego boost when this one guy told me that my blog would be his and his wife’s Saturday night entertainment – but I was kind of worries because you never know what they will read as first timers and how they will react – I guess I will know this week.

Stay tuned for reviews of the other shuls in Dallas. Oh and maybe my second time wont be as fun, because that is what usually happens. For instance Ohr Hatorah was still shocking the second time, it just wasn’t as friendly, I actually had to invite myself somewhere, when my first time there I got no less then 10 invites for meals – but my second time it was almost as if they all had found out I was frum already and therefore didn’t have to “market” to me, at least that is how I felt. I did invite myself over to someone’s house and that turned out to be a lot of fun – but still the friendliness had worn away on just my second time there.

I should commend the Dallas community for having official shabbos hospitality people in every shul that are assigned to have guests needing a place to eat. You can go to any shul and always be assured a meal no matter how socially awkward it is. In New York they just announce it, but in Dallas they have an official host every week – saving you from the embarrassment that entails going up to the rabbi and asking for a meal(I love it) but most people would rather do it discreetly.

Link to Shaare Tefillahs home page

Other Dallas posts

My first shabbos in Dallas

Dallas first impressions

Interesting shabbos in Dallas