When will non-Orthodox Jews meet again for daily prayer? – opinion

I live in one of the most concentrated Jewish communities in the United States, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and I no longer have a daily morning minian to attend in person.

It seems that in my neighborhood, as well as many others, COVID-19 turned off the live morning minyan, the daily prayer service that needs a quorum of 10 Jews, in non-Orthodox settings. Pre-pandemic I had a choice of several minian that I could attend in a variety of egalitarian Jewish settings – synagogues and schools – but none of them operate in person now.

I am concerned that the minyan muscle has atrophied in my community and the habit of getting up early in the morning, walking out the door in a prayer shawl and tefillin, has been lost and arriving at the beit midrash in time for prayer.

It’s not that the non-Orthodox Jews in my neighborhood aren’t praying every morning. Many are, both solo and online, where services moved for non-Orthodox Jews last March.. Zoom’s services were a necessary accommodation for a public health crisis and it’s certainly easier to tune in to services from home, but it hasn’t worked for me. Fifty disembodied faces on a screen seem less like a community to me than the 15 bodies wrapped in prayer shawls that huddle around the amud (leader’s table) in a typical minian in person. The solo voice in tune of the shaliach tzibur, the leader of the service, inspires me less than the many off-tune voices of those who gathered live to pray.

As Shabbat and holiday services resumed, cautiously, in person, I thought the morning minyan would, too. But they have stayed resolutely in line. I sympathize with the reasons and difficulties of reconstituting the morning minyan in person. It is hard work in many non-Orthodox synagogues to ensure that 10 people are present early in the morning six days a week. It’s so much easier and more convenient to get out of bed, press a button on the computer, and be instantly transported to the minian. And certainly Zoom has made it possible for those who cannot due to physical limitations and other reasons to attend a minian in person.

Rabbi Neil Kurshan. (credit: COURTESY / JTA)

However, there is so much that has been lost and that I miss. I miss my fellow “miniannaire” who every year before Rosh Hashana brings me honey from the hives on the roof of his apartment.

I miss the frail old Russian gentleman who stands up to say Kaddish for himself because he is convinced that none of his sons will say Kaddish for him after his death.

I miss the mother and her older son who start the day together sitting next to each other and kiss each other goodbye as they leave the minian and go their separate ways.

And I miss the easy jokes with my fellow miniannaires with whom I share vacation plans, feats on the pickleball court, and the latest accomplishments of my grandchildren. I miss how the morning minyan himself magically imbued the minute details of the mundane with the meaning of the sacred.

But most of all I miss what Abba Kovner, the late Jewish resistance fighter, called “the tug of the sleeve.” Kovner would tell the story of going to the Western Wall his first week in Israel after the end of World War II. He was about to leave when he felt a tug on his sleeve when asked to join a minian who was forming for prayer. He talks about being inspired not so much by prayers but more by a sense of belonging. More than anything else, I miss knowing that it takes my physical presence to make a minian.

For more than 40 years, I was responsible for making the minyan happen in my suburban Long Island synagogue. There were many nights where I did not sleep well worried that 10 people would not show up the next morning, and I took too personally the days when only nine people attended and one mourner was unable to say Kaddish. However, remembering all the worry and frustration, I feel like I was committed to decent work.

Many years after Abba Kovner was called in to be the 10th for a minian at the Western Wall, a museum known as Beit Hatefutzot, the Diaspora Museum, was built on the Tel Aviv University campus. (Now it has been renovated and renamed Anu – Museum of the Jewish People). Kovner designed a corner in the museum known as “The Minyan” represented by a variety of figures preparing to pray together. Just before the museum opened its doors for the first time, someone noticed that there were only nine figures in the model. The museum frantically approached Kovner, but he calmly replied that nine was the correct number – there was supposed to be a missing person. The missing person was a call to each person who visited the museum to become the tenth.

When I join the Zoom minyan of my synagogue community, I notice the faces and names of my fellow participants. When it is a day when I am observing a yahrzeit, the anniversary of the death of a loved one, I obediently press the “raise my hand” button to be asked to mention the name of the person for whom I am saying Kaddish. But I long to feel the tug on my sleeve again, and to be told to come in because there are nine people who need me like the tenth missing.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.


Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *