(Written Wednesday, November 19, 2014 following the attacks in Har Nof)
I went to minyan today. I don’t usually daven with a minyan. Either I’m at home getting children off to school, or I’m already at my office working. Recently, my office moved into the Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am synagogue. It’s a different feeling coming to work in a synagogue each week. The office is separate from the synagogue offices. Each day, I walk into the lobby and up the stairs towards the sanctuary. My office is past there, up another flight. Each afternoon I walk back. I cannot walk past without noticing the sanctuary and the social hall. I see if there are signs of a recent bar or bat mitzvah. I notice if the staff is setting up for an event. Our mail comes to the synagogue office. At our previous office, the mail carrier pushed the mail through the mail slot whether we were there or not.
It can be solitary still. While MERCAZ-Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism are nation-wide organizations, we run a small operation. There are just two of us, both part-time. I am often in the office alone. But, in a synagogue there is always movement. There are always people. I stop in the office to pick up the mail. We kibitz, even if only for a moment. There’s a person to greet and at whom to smile. There’s always a smile back. People drop in. They come to see the sanctuary, to plan for life-cycle events, and for lessons and lectures. There’s a school in the synagogue, and I see and hear the kids outside.
Today, I was at my desk early. My husband dropped me off before work. As a congregational rabbi, going to work means starting with minyan at Pride of Israel. When this happens, I arrive at my office about 7:15 AM. There are two morning minyanim here. I arrive between them. Too late to attend the 7:00 minyan, I am usually so immersed in work and phone calls that I lose track of the time and miss the 8:00 minyan. Last week I was all set to go, tallit and t’fillin in hand, when the phone rang. It was a call from Israel that I needed to take. By the time I was done, minyan was over. This morning I was determined not to let that happen again. After what happened at Kehillat B’nei Torah in Har Nof, I needed to go to minyan. Minyan represents community. Minyan represents unity. Minyan represents solidarity. Today I needed to stand with my community.
And so I went. I walked in, albeit a couple of minutes late. Taking a spot near the door, I put on my tallit and t’fillin, and began to daven. The minyan is mostly men with a few older women. My voice clearly stood out against the mumble of the t’fillot. The gabbai came over to ask me if I had yahrtzeit, when I said no, he asked if I was in shiva. “No,” I replied, “Thank you for asking.” I think he was surprised to see someone my age in the morning minyan just to pray.
And pray I did. A weekday Shacharit minyan is much more focused than the Shabbat service. People have places to be. They come. They pray. They head off to day-to-day life. I stayed through the service and was back at my desk within 40 minutes, but so much the better for having been there.
I wrote the above piece the day after the attacks in Har Nof. The Jewish world was rocked by the pictures of blood covered tallitot and arms wrapped in t’fillin. Jewish prayer is a unique experience. It is structured to be personal and solitary within community. With the exceptions of Kaddish and Keddusha, we go at our own pace. We read privately, yet aloud – loud enough to hear ourselves, quietly enough not to disturb others. For those of us who daven with a tallit, that tallit may be used to create an additional private space by placing the tallit over our heads. The concept that danger may lurk outside that holy space would never cross our minds.
Most days I pray in my own personal sphere, connecting with God on some days, connecting with myself on most days. But now the moment is a bit tainted. Most of the time it’s fine but, sometimes, rarely, as I look down at my own arm wrapped in t’fillin, I think of that arm covered in blood, and I say my prayers for the both of us.