I noticed that the supposed mens section side of the tri-chitza (triple section mechitza) was kind of mixed so I sat in the back next to some ragged looking fellow with a scraggly beard, puffy winter coat and a knitted ski cap. He was a rough looking fellow for this crowd of yuppies and I wondered about him as I scanned the room for familiar faces. During kabalas shabbos I immediately noticed that he had a frum nusach, he wasn’t like the rest of the group. He would daven ahead as the crowd sang and then hum along yeshivish style, he also had a very pronounced oy instead of oh and he said suf instead of tuf. I began to pay attention to this ragged individual who had obviously infiltrated the Mission Minyan and didn’t belong.
I’m sure he was thinking the same thing about me, wonder why I was saying my oy’s and suf’s, but probably not delving as deep as the way I shuckeled, what I said by heart and how I bowed at the end of lecha dodi. Yes, I pay attention to such nuances, especially when they happen to be taking place at an egalitarian minyan in San Francisco that has seats with little placards that say “reserved for self identified women” – I actually began to wonder what would happen if I pretended to self identify as a woman. There was one dude I noticed that happened to be a girl dressed and looking like a little pre-pubescent boy. My friend told me enough people knew who I was and that I wasn’t self identifying as a woman, so I’d probably be asked to leave.
All throughout dinner I wanted to know who this ragged man in the ski cap was, but he was engaged in a lot of different conversations on another table and by the time I gained enough courage to ask him his story he had left.
When I walked into shachris the next day, my secret frummy infiltrations were confirmed as my friend with the ski cap had changed in his cap for a lubavitch style crushed black hat and he now wore fairly long tzitzis. It was then that I recognized him as the son of one of the Bay Area Chabad shlichim, but I still wondered what he was doing here and how he had played it so cool. I remember my first time at Mission Minyan, I was a bit shocked when I got an aliyah and a woman was called to lain, I went through great halachic debates in my head about whether or not to give my shkoyach’s to the ladies around the bimah during my aliyah. Of course I kept my cool and didn’t wonder aloud – as did this chabad kid when he took his place at the bimah for an aliyah during the time when woman were laining the middle aliyos. He kept his cool and I wondered how often one got to see a fellow in a black hat getting an aliyah while a woman was laining. I felt like I was witnessing something historic.
It is likely that this dude is a rebel and trying to see what’s out there or maybe he was scouting for his father only to report back that the folks here were ripe for some “in your face” chabad kiruv – which they are not – since these people don’t even have shabbos devar torah’s during shul because they don’t want people to be forced to listen to anything not included in the davening. Maybe chabad was going to attempt a hostile takeover? Who knows, but I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering why a chabadnick had come to a minyan that would be considered treife by most mainstream frum folks.