Thursday, July 14, 2011

A guest post from the Big Gong

I am pleased once again to present a guest post by the esteemed Big Gong Shlit"a.

(NF note:  The shul for which the NF is currently a gabbai and the Big Gong,  a member in good standing (an upstanding member?) is currently praying in a non-air-conditioned atrium in the local public religious  elementry school. In the winter months, the davening is quite pleasant but in the summer the heat/humidity in the room makes it ideal for steaming vegetables. Our kehilla has raised considerable funds and has commenced construction on our shul building ---due to be finished in 2012. Another kehilla, sometimes known in the neighborhood as KY/S&M, completed their shul building earlier this year. It is in that shul building that the Big Gong attended services this past week)

This past Shabbat I had the pleasure of davening in the “Gilded Landsmanschaft” across the street from the shul/school/sauna I normally frequent. It’s funny because I always thought a “Gilded Landsmanschaft” was a handheld, battery operated device, available for purchase in specialty stores, or via discrete mail order, but it turns out that, in this case, it is referring to a synagogue.

I do like praying in the Gilded Landsmanschaft. It’s bright, airy, roomy (usually), and you can daven like a mensch.

I often reflect, whilst davening in the shul/school/sauna, on how we underestimate the importance of the physical environment in which we pray. Some of us romanticise about Kabbalat Shabbat in the shtetl, where our foreskinsfathers  would run into the fields to greet the Shabbes Queen, although the reality was, I suspect, something closer to a group of people huddled in a wooden shack hoping there would be no pogrom that week.

 It is certainly true that a quality baal tefilla is a necessity, as well as a relatively decorous crowd of people, but being in a “real” shul, somehow brings out the best in (almost) everyone (I think).

Sure it’s nice to pray vatikin at the kotel from time to time, or to daven mincha on top of a mountain, but there’s nothing like a real shul.  If the environment is hot, stuffy and acoustically lacking, then many people understandably find it tough to focus. Cue much talking and inattention. And the weeks where there isn’t much talking is usually because a large contingent didn’t bother coming because it’s too hot in the shul/school/sauna, or because they crossed the street to enjoy the much vaunted pleasures of the Gilded Landsmanschaft. 

 Enough about that. You get the point. Build the bloody shul already.

Regular readers of this blog will by now be very familiar with the Freak’s gongs, the “Victory Kaddish” and the horribly ubiquitous “Avinu Avinu” (that is mercifully becoming less ubiquitous).

 I sat in (not “on”) the Gilded Landsmanschaft, enjoying the davening that day. A pleasant shacharit had passed, leining was uneventful (as it should be) – I even received a proper aliya. We were about 1.5hrs into things, a perfectly acceptable timeframe for musaf to begin, and up strolls a slightly-older-than-average-though-not-actually-old man to the bima. I had never seen him before, and no one, amazingly, knew his name. He was clearly a somewhat-trained chazzan, and did not have a particularly offensive voice by any definition. (NF note: There is good reason to suspect that this chazzan was the one who sang hallel to "Puff the Magic Dragon on  Yom Haatzmaut  as reported by Dr. D, Physician - Gong)

And the performance began. The thing that should really have set alarms bells ringing was in the middle of the first mi sheberach. When it got to the bit about “u’mi she’notnim ner lamaor v’yayin l’kiddush u’lehavdala”, he sang it to this classic tune (Ofra sings it best).

And then, in a sense of crushing irony, we were subjected to an avinu avinu. It’s like going to a steak house and ordering the vegetarian option. It just shouldn’t happen.

When it is performed butchered in our shul, I normally roll my eyes, catch a sympathetic gaze or two from a fellow congregant, and carry on reading my book. But here, in the Gilded Landsmanschaft, I had just been served the nut cutlet, and I was mortified. Mercifully, the baal tefilla must have sensed my displeasure, and after the first line, immediately switched into the standard incantation and rattled off the remainder. It still took several minutes for people to pick up their jaws from the floor.

Musaf continued with a few little funnies, but you know what, it was air conditioned, we were still well on time for a 2 hour finish, and my kids were at home tormenting Mrs Big Gong. I was fine.

 But the best was yet to come.  By way of reminder. I am writing about a standard Shabbat in July. Parshat Balak (which incidentally is where my favourite piece of translation, ever, is found in the JPS translation (1917) of this week’s parasha):

Numbers 22:30: “And the ass said unto Balaam: 'Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long unto this day? Was I ever wont to do so unto thee?' And he [yes, the ass!] said: 'Nay.'”. 

Brilliant. You couldn’t make it up.

This was no Shabbat Mevarachin, no Rosh Chodesh, and certainly no Yom Kippur Musaf. Why then did the baal tefilla find it appropriate to end musaf with the Victory Kaddish? Why. Did. He. Do. It?

This question, will I fear, remain unanswered for all time. There was no Gilded Gonging in the Gilded Landsmanschaft. There was only silence as the assembled looked on in disbelief, with only one word hanging from their lips. “Why?”

Fellow freaks, may all your prayers be answered (in whatever tune they are sung, and on whatever week of the year that particular tune is correctly, or incorrectly, sung).

The Big Gong.


ADDeRabbi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Gilded Gabbai said...

As the babbai (the Gilded Gabbai?) who asked said gentleman to daven for the amud, a few comments are in order.
1) First of all, it was the same guy from Yom Ha-atzma'ut.
2) Since said gentleman began davening with us, it has been clear that we would eventually have to ask him to daven. We knew full well that this might result in some schlepping, some kvetching, and some falsetto action. But it's also clear that the main issue would be overkill; he's a very good chazan.
3) There have been a spate of simchas recently at the Gilded Landsmanschaft. This inevitably made davening longer on many Shabbatot, including the week before, which was a bar mitzvah + shabbat rosh chodesh affair that lasted 3 hours and there was no kiddush afterward, which I think is a bit of a chutzpah).
4) Thus, in consultation with the other gabbaim, we decided that this past Shabbat was an excellent opportunity to get this fellow in: nothing else going on, short parsha, small crowd. We asked the ba'al shacharit to move quickly so that we could buy time.
5) To his credit, the fellow did an admirable job reading the crowd. In addition to the aborted "avinu, avinu" there was an aborted "retzeh".
6) Said chazan contends that Yossele Rosenblatt composed the "victory Kaddish" for use on regular Shabbatot. I still find it to be horribly misplaced on a random Shabbat in July, but there you go.
7) The bottom line is that we still got out on time. As one of the gabbaim officiating that Shabbat, I give myself a big pat on the back for solid work in doing what gabba'im often must - mediating between the good of the congregation and the egos of individual worshippers in a way that best addresses the interests of both.

the NF said...

Gilded Gabbai -
thanks for your comment.
Re: some of your points -
2. Someone who uses Puff the magic dragon for hallel on Yom Haatzmaut is not a "very good chazan" in my book. He is a very naughty boy.
5. "the fellow did an admirable job reading the crowd" --- sorry. Had he read the crowd he wouldn't have needed to abort ship...he simply wouldn't have started with the shtuyot -- sounds to me like we have a chazzan guilty of cantorial masterbation but due to his age he needed a little cantorial viagra.
6. sounds very unlikely --- I will try to see if his claim has any merit.