For years I have attended High Holy day services in an attempt to actually worship. The reality of it is that I was always too distracted by those around me to get in more then a few minutes of what I consider to be authentic worship and reflection. This year I found the solution, I ushered.
Our congregation is HUGE. Over a thousand families, most who come out during the High Holy days and try to squeeze into the limited space that is our synagogue. The building is not small by any means but there are just that many members.
Years ago, well before I hooked up with Mike and started going there, our congregation had to start holding two sets of High Holy day services -- early and late. For the first many years of our relationship we went to the late services (11:45 for morning, 8:30 for evening). This allowed us to eat dinner at a reasonable hour and to sleep in if we desired. The only drawback was that we still rushed dinner because Mike's mom had to get on line early to "get a good seat." She needed to sit in the sanctuary, preferably close up so she "could see." Personally, I never got that. I don't need to see the action on the beemah to know what I need to know. Listening does just fine for me.
Eventually we persuaded her that by leaving a little early, but not hours early, we could get decent (by her) seats in the balcony. The auditorium was never an option. This worked for a few years and then we switched to early services to accommodate the kids. K-6 student programs ran only during the early service which solved the childcare issues (we'd switch off which parent went to services to take care of the kids). That was about the point that Mike stopped attending services all together. I was happy to go to keep his mom company and he could contemplate in his own way, outside of the chaos that is our synagogue.
Mom and I were free to leave as early as we wanted, which was not a big deal because people do not line up obsessively early for early services. We quickly discovered that we could get one of the two-fer pews in the back of the sanctuary which worked well for my getting out and up to the kids quickly and thrilled mom. Fast forward a couple of years.
Mom is gone and I am now attending services on my own. I will not make Mike come just to keep me company, after all, worship is a personal thing.
The first year, I sat alone in the sanctuary and quickly realized why Mom always wanted company. I missed the little exchanges we would have before services started and during a "break" in the action. We were always respectful but one can communicate a lot with a look and jab at a particular passage in the prayer book. After mentioning this to friends, they suggested I join them in the auditorium.
This is where I discovered the most social of congregants to be gathering. There was almost non-stop movement and whispering here. Still, it did not really bother me, I had friends to make my silly asides to and to laugh or groan with during the Rabbi's sermon (he sometimes makes bad jokes). When I asked Mike why Mom would never let us sit there, as I could see just fine, even from the very back, he said she hated the more social aspect of it. Fair enough.
This year I was asked to usher. Ushers, it turns out, are vital in our huge congregation. Not so much at the start of the service when those who are on time show up, but rather when the vast numbers of latecomers arrive. And I mean vast. All wanting seats together. Even when they are over an hour late. No kidding.
Squidette joined me, as the youngest usher ever, in the balcony. We handed out prayer books and found seats for people. We collected the Annual Appeal (formerly known as the Yom Kippor appeal) envelopes and were generally busy for the entire service.
Did I actually get any personal worship in? Nope. But I got much more out of "working" the service then I ever got sitting in it. I spent quality time with my daughter and provided a necessary service. Yup, it was a good New Year. We think we'll volunteer for Yom Kippor ushering.
A Happy and Healthy New Year for those celebrating this week. L'shana Tova