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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Only in Israel have we run into the practice of 'reserved seating' in the shuls. Maybe there are assigned seats in other places we haven't been to, but in California and New York and on visits to other states, we have been welcomed and allowed to sit where we please....

In Jerusalem, we have been to a number of synagogues, doing what some describe as 'shul-hopping.' I thought for a while we might have a 'mixed marriage' because I was happier at the local Carlbach/Chabad-style minyan up the street in Talpiot, but my husband and son liked another shul down on Asher. My son knows a couple of kids from his high school who go there, so despite my misgivings, we continued to go to that synagogue more than others.

What were my misgivings? Well, as nice and big as the synagogue is, it is about as friendly and welcoming as an office building. Folks file in, take their seats, talk to the people they know and ignore everyone else (including newcomers who don't know anyone). I thought this was a failing of the women's side, but my husband informed me today that that has been the case in the men's section as well.

So today, my husband and son are going to the Asher street synagogue again in large part because Josh is looking forward to seeing his two friends from school. Now, we have enough 'shul etiquette' to not push our way forward into the seats closest to the bima--after all, we ARE newcomers. The guys get there, as usual, around 8:30 am and sit in the same seats they've sat in for weeks (with a couple of absences to humor my desire to visit other minyans). These seats are in the 'back' of the synagogue and as far as we know, not particularly desireable seats. Josh actually gets his tallit on, and Mike is starting to take his out, when a man comes up and tells yet another man to go 'over there' gesturing across the aisle. The man giving the directions asks Josh if this other man can walk through the aisle and my son and husband are happy to oblige, moving aside to let him pass. The man giving directions then tells MY guys to move also, gesturing dismissively to the side aisles. Mike isn't offended--he's aware that there is a Bar Mitzvah this morning and assumes this is a family member trying to secure seats for other family members. So he and Josh start to get their tallit bags and siddurs together to move when the man adds, "These are OUR seats, y'know."

That stopped my husband dead. He suddenly realized that he wasn't being asked to move to accomodate a bar mitzvah family (and who of the family wanted to sit in the rear of the synagogue anyway? I asked him later) but that this man was telling him to move because the seats my guys had sat in for the last several months were really "his seats." Mike and Josh were informed that they were, in effect, trespassing.

My husband, who is usually pretty genial, funny and easy going, saw red. Not only was this synagogue cold, unwelcoming and not one person had ever said "Welcome," or "Are you new in the area?" or even "Shabbat shalom," but now he was being told there was "reserved seating" of some kind and that he and Josh had inadvertantly trespassed on this man's seats.

"Reeeeeeaaaallly?" Mike drawled. He bent over, examining the seat. "And can you show me exactly where your name is on this seat? I must have missed it! I just didn't see it engraved on the chair!"

Did I tell you my husband has a black belt in sarcasm?

"Well, you know, I mean, about people's seats...." the other Jew stumbled, then sort of winked and nodded. "I mean, everybody knows....," he trailed off when Mike didn't appear terribly understanding. "Well, you can sit over there," he added, again gesturing dismissively towards the side seats.

"I don't think so," my husband replied coldly. "I don't daven in shuls where newcomers aren't welcome and the community uses a seating chart." He turned towards Josh and said, "C'mon, Josh, we're not welcome here. Let's go." They grabbed their stuff and walked out, the other Jew following behind protesting that he was sorry, he didn't mean it 'that way' and asking them to please come back.....

Too late. This is a well-to-do Baka synagogue with a critical mass of Jews who show up every Shabbat, for the Chaggim and for daily minyan.....yet it lacks a soul. We won't be going back there. We've never been made to feel welcome and today were made to feel unwelcome. We'll continue to search for a shul with soul, full of people who know what "Ahavat Yisrael" means and who truly welcome their brethren to the house of assembly for prayer.

Just proves a fancy building doesn't make a synagogue....


Blogger westbankmama said...

Good for you - I am sure you taught them a lesson too...

Sunday, November 19, 2006 at 8:01:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger Yehuda Berlinger said...

The concept of reserved seating stems from an idea of making a "makom kavuah" to daven. It is supposed to help increase your kavannah in davening.

It should be blinding obvious to anyone that makom kavuah does not take precedence over embarrassing others, rudeness, unfriendlyness, and so on and so forth. Makom kavuah does not allow you to kick someone out of your regular seat.

The most egregious one I saw was when I was kicked out by someone who then spent the entire davening reading the parsh handout sheets and not even davening at all. Wait a minute ... what is the point of makom kavuah again???


Sunday, November 19, 2006 at 10:36:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

WBM--my hope is that he never does it to another family...that will mean lesson learned...

yehuda--and the humorous part of this is that all he had to do to get 'his' seat was get there on time at 8:30 instead of apparently arriving 9:15-ish and seething about the loss of 'his' seat for weeks....

Sunday, November 19, 2006 at 2:01:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must be davening in the same shul. Have you found a more welcoming one yet?

Saturday, December 30, 2006 at 9:34:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who do you think paid for the Shul???
The guy whose chair you are sitting in.
Maybe be a little less critical and little more practical and go over to the Gabay and offer to pay for a seat like all the other paying members whom without you wouldnt have a Shul to bicker about.
Most people are nice and warm and friendly but sick of anglos who think because they made Aliya they are entitled to the whole of Israel, well no, you arent.
Get real.
Get a seat.
You know what lets see if you would pay for two seats so that the next time a visitor comes into shul you can tell him that the chair next to you is free and maybe invite him for a meal.
The way to improve things in Israel is to be a personal example not to run away at every confrontation and call it "Israel"
If you are really loaded you build your own Shul and then give all the seats away for free.
Let me know what the Gabay said.
I am sure he smiled.
He may tell you there are no seats available, and if thats the case maybe put up a sign outside asking if anyone wants to sell their seat.
Once you have your seat you can be "Or LaYehudim" and show them how a mench should behave in Shul!

Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 7:30:00 AM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There used to be an old joke about a man who walked into a shul for the first time and asked" Is this place for Jews or can anyone daven here?"
I also recall a pasuk early in the Shacharit t'filot from Masechet Pe'ah Chap 1 Mishna 1 " Eilu d'varim she'en lahem shi'ur" and continuing about Hachnasat Orchim.
I don't see the elegantly but wisely named 'Anonymous' becoming a 'Or Lay'hudim' in the near future if this is his racist attitude

400 years ago an 'Anglo' wrote "If you prick us, do we not bleed?"
He put the words into the mouth of a Jew.
If I could afford it, I would do as suggested and offer the second seat and even my 'own' to a stranger. However seats appear to be at a premium and frankly I'm surprised if that's the welcome you are extending

Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 12:59:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Operastanco You are far too polite in dealing with such bigotry from mr anomymous. I would be fascinated to hear what his hang up about anglos is really about. Did he get uppety when he tried to rip them off in business, was he offended that they didn't invite him to their own Shabbat table, is he afraid of insufficient lebensraum? What is the real problem anonymous?


Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 6:05:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The objest of satire is 'to strike your opponent's head with so sharp a rapier that even he doesn't notice he's lost his head'
[Written by yet another anglo,;noch a goy,John Dryden in the 18th C.]
Why descend to his level of uncouthness?
It's sufficiently painful to know such people are allowed to breed.

Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 6:29:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would appear that our loud-mouthed materialistic misanthrope has slunk back to his seat

Monday, January 1, 2007 at 3:43:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel an attack of remorse coming on for Mr.Anonymous.
Like the group of psychiatrists standing around the unconscious body of a mugging victim and declaring " The man who did this needs help"

Monday, January 1, 2007 at 4:06:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

topusDespite anonymous' assertion no one owns their seat in Shul. It belongs to the Shul.

Apart from Yomim Noraim where seats need to be allocated; in welcoming Shuls people who come to Shul are free to sit as they will. After all who is deserving of respect- the person who comes on time or someone who comes late and then expects others to make room for him to pass and then tries to eject someone who has been davening in what he regards as his seat?

Guests should always be made to feel welcome.

Monday, January 1, 2007 at 7:38:00 PM GMT+2  

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