I don’t like visiting other shuls. Once a person is used to a place, they can daven better. I understand how things work at my synagogue. That familiarity means I don’t spend my time looking blankly around, being distracted by unfamiliar movements, the pattern of the light, smells, sounds. At my shul I know when things will happen and the tunes that they’ll happen to. I have my own spot that I like to sit in and it’s near to familiar faces.
Most of all, in my shul people are respectful. You can hear the layening. Mobile phones go off only occasionally. There’s hardly any chatter. These are the little details that mean so much when, as last shabbat, I was forced to attend another shul to witness some useless pre-pubescent kid recite maf and haf with about as much feeling as a patch of lichen. Yes, I was at a Barmitzvah.
It’s the mensch in me that drags me along to these things. I figure that an invite to the simcha requires me to attend the service, just so I can lie about how marvelously the boy performed. Of course the boy, the parents, the rabbi and the guests all know that that he was rubbish and the only reason he did it was for the loot. Still, like all good Jews, we conveniently pretend otherwise, just as the Rabbi, in his sermon, pretends that the family are fine, upstanding members of the community, and great role models for their son. I wonder if that role modeling includes the classy way in which his father had an affair and dumped the family a couple of years back? Ah, but I can’t really blame the rabbi for that. After all, he’d never met the family until the rehearsal about three days previously and they probably didn’t get as far as those minor points.
Yet if that nonsense is not infuriating enough, this was without doubt the noisiest service I have ever attended. I should have taken to heart the warning about decorum in the shul when I saw the posters that decorated every wall and pillar alternately reminding woman how to dress modestly for shul and everyone to turn of their mobile phones, the idea that they shouldn’t be carrying a phone on Shabbat in the first place long since abandoned.
But I digress. The noise was so overwhelming that I honestly couldn’t hear a thing from the bimah and I was only three rows back. Nobody was following the layening, preferring instead to generate several hundred decibels of noise by chatting to their neighbour, and, in a few cases, someone several seats away.
It was only when the tuneless barmitzvah himself ascended that everyone quietened down. After 10 seconds I was wishing they’d all start up their chatter again, so painful was his voice. At least at my shul I have plenty of people around me to talk to under such circumstances.