Friday, October 10, 2008

Mea Culpa

An appropriate title for a post about Yom Kippur, I think...

I'll be honest- I don't have much patience for long tefillot. I once read that the maximum time a human being can sit still (so to speak; I often walk about during tefilla) is about two hours; even Shakespeare's plays lasted that long (as he writes in some of them), as do most movies today. Shacharit on Shabbat should be about that long if not less; I prefer a short drasha if there's one at all, no extra Mi Sheberachs, and so on.

Of course, my patience is most sorely tested at the worst time of the year- the Yamim Noraim season. The last few years (as this year) I've been in Israel, and among the many wonderful things you can say about Israel is that its view of tefillah meshes with mine. The typical Shabbat morning starts a lot earlier than the US and takes a lot less time. I still haven't found a Simchat Torah minyan of the type we used to have in Queens ("hakafah" means once around, only five aliyot, out in less than two hours), but when you're starting at 6:30 AM, what's the rush?

That last point, of course, is important for the actual Yamim Noraim itself. Where are you going, especially on Yom Kippur? I guess that's important to bear in mind, as I daven those days with my family in the Yeshurun Synagogue, which (unlike most places in the US, as the Jerusalem Post [impossible to find articles there] reminds us) has real cantors, who like to perform. (Hey, they get paid for it- why not? It's like why Dickens wrote the way he did.) I don't like ay-yay-yays. I'd like a chazzan who reads the words.

Or so I thought. Erev Yom Kippur I heard part of a shiur on YU Torah (which seems to be down as I write this) by the Chazzan of Yeshurun, Asher Heinowitz, in which he described how the chazzan can get people into the mood of tefilla. For Kol Nidrei, after a the usual terrific meal at my cousins' place, I went to the Inbal hotel, where there was a small minyan being set up (by, it seemed, some American tourists) in a room in the basement. (The same room where my brother-in-law had his "tisch." The main room, where my sister's wedding meal was, was occupied by a service for hundreds and hundreds of French people, olim I suppose.)

The email posting for the minyan looked interesting- "serious, YU style" (nothing quicker than usual) was how it was described. And it was nice- nice people, no mucking about, and so on. But it suddenly hit me that, yes, a grand looking shul does help. And a chazzan who knows his way around the nusach does help as well. A lot. God bless the Inbal people, but the next morning I was back at Yeshurun. (It started much earlier and I was up anyway.)

Like I said, where are you going on Yom Kippur anyway? They started at seven and were done with Musaf around 1:30. I couldn't really go anywhere, so I sat (and stood) and read and talked until three, when Mincha began. I even got kohen, because things are always a little sparse at the beginning of Mincha. And, thanks to Israel's daylight time policies, the fast was over before six, and we even got in another Birkat Kohanim during Neilah. All in all, a good Yom Kippur.

Of course, the important question was, did I accomplish what Yom Kippur is intended for? Well, that's the toughie. At least I can say I tried a bit- we all try a bit. Something struck me toward the end: The bracha for Yom Kippur in the Amida ends "Maavir ashmotenu b'chol shana v'shana"- he removes our sins every single year. It's sort of saying, "Yeah, we're not going to be perfect in the coming year either, and God is going to have to forgive us again. (And thanks for doing it last year and this, too.) But we're trying- thanks for the opportunity."

So a big "thanks" goes to God himself. But let's also include the whole crew at Yeshurun, including, of course, Chazzan Heinowitz, but also Chazzan Brilliant (the Shacharit and Mincha chazzan), the gabbaim, the officers, and the Chief Rabbi, who davens there. Chazzan Heinowitz is a kohen, by the way, and as the day went on, and as I saw him (and duchaned with him, and complimented him) during, in between, and after prayers- he's a wonderful person off the bimah too- I couldn't help but be struck how the piyut "Mareh Kohen" which he sings so beautifully is quite applicable to him as well.

A good and healthy year to everyone out there.

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