Monday, April 10, 2006

Minyan (Wo)Man

I spent Shabbat in Pekiin this week, a lovely town up north with is distinct for the fact that it has Muslim, Christian, Druse and Jewish residents all living peacefully together. I was there with work and in charge of the religious aspect of Shabbat. I was a bit tentative, as Shabbat is incredibly important to me, and I need to be able to pray and hear the Torah being read and feel like I'm in an atmosphere condusive to a spiritually fulfilling Shabbat. Aside from having a somewhat frantic drive up, as I had never driven in that area before and encountered over an hour of traffic due to terrorism warnings and a car accident, I arrived at the youth hostel 45 minutes before candle lighting to a lovely youth hostel. The majority of the students on the weekend were not what you would call religious, comprised of various streams of Judaism, with perhaps 15-20 shomer shabbat (Sabbath observant) students and the rest Conservative, Reformed or unaffiliated (out of 140 students).

I came to Friday night services and was pleasantly suprised to see both the men and womens' sides were packed (and the women's size was larger than the mens!). The student leading Mincha had a strong clear, voice but then we got to Kabbalat Shabbat (the part of services for welcoming in the Sabbath). Here a religious student took over, but sang very softly and not particularly well and kept looking over his shoulder at me for reassurance. For those of you who don't know me, I act and sing, and have been performing since I was a child. One of the things I'm known for is my strong voice and ability to project. So project I did, to the point where I was congratulated after services by a number of the female students for leading a lovely service. It had not been my intention to do so, but in a place where there are no men...It's up to us women to pick up the pieces. I should be clear - I'm modern orthodox, and while I'm lenient in certain areas, I attend an orthodox shul and services, and do not take part in services where women lead prayers or read from the Torah. However, I have no problem singing in public and while my intentions had not been to hijack prayers, I was happy that I had been able to add to the ruach and make it a little more upbeat.

At the end of davening, I announced that prayers would begin at 8:30 the next morning and more than enough male students said they would be there. I organized Torah reading and Haftorah reading, which is a responsibility which normally falls to men, as they are the ones obligated, but since I was a staffer, it became my responsibility.

Shabbat morning - 8:45 AM, I run into shul embarrased that I'm late to discove 2 women and 3 men. I then spent the next 75 minutes working my tush off to get a minyan (quorum) together. That meant running around, cajoling those lingering over breakfast to join us, putting my ear to doors to see if I could hear any male voices, convincing the atheist that he just had to sit in the room, he didn't have to participate, etc. This was something very new for me. As mentioned before, men are the ones meant to organize prayers with a minyan, as it is a mitzvah which is incumbent upon them, not women. I felt a sense of pride that I was the one enabling not only the male, but the female students as well, to benefit from a proper Shabbat davening. It was Shabbat HaGadol, which meant there was a special Haftorah, and I did what I needed to do to ensure that I got the shabbat I wanted, as well as making sure the students were able to have one as well.

It was the same shtick for Mincha and Ma'ariv, with a suprisingly popular havdalah. It was a great shabbat, lots of fun and suprisingly Shabbat-ish. I won't mind returning back to my place on the women's side, but was pleasantly suprised to see how well I did when push came to shove.


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