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Rosh Hashana & Yom Kippur are about your seat. Contrary to popular belief, the High Holidays are not about a new year or introspection. The High Holidays are about a decent seat and where you are located in the shul. That’s more important than what book you’re written in.
Do not complain. You are part of a community. That means that you don't have a seat if you don't pay, or everybody will talk about you on Yom Kippur. Being that you have to buy a chair, here is what to expect, how to claim your spot, and tips on getting the best bang for your buck out of your High Holidays seats in shul.
Purchase a Seat
You do not want to be the outcast, sitting there for free, in the 'I didn't pay my dues' section. Especially if you are single, purchase a seat. Show people you can commit to something.
Purchase a Seat in Shul as Quickly as Possible
Synagogues are packed on the High Holidays. Something about judgment, life and death makes people feel religious. And that means purchasing seats in shul. Make sure you get your seat as soon as possible, so you can get an aisle, or something not next to a heavy guy. Think about it like a flight.
This isn't Shabbat. People show up. So make sure you purchase a seat real fast. A quality seat, preferably near the exit, so you can escape during the sermon.
If you are lucky enough to go to a shul that has been around for a while, get a cushioned seat. Those go fast.
For comfortable seating at a much lower cost, show up to shul on Shabbat. Due to the lack of regular confrontation with demise, many Jews skip these weekly services. For this reason, I have suggested to many rabbis to focus more on death in their sermons; in order to boost weekly attendance.
Tiny Seats in Shul
You may want to purchase two seats.
The new seats in shuls are tiny. They aren’t made for people. Tiny little bucket stools. If you're a half a person, you can fit in with your leg over the armrest.
The optimal discomfort would be to sit everybody on a plane for Shofar blowing. Being that it is forbidden to fly on the holidays, they are doing the best that they can with little children running around the synagogue and pews.
As the High Holidays are about penitence, they tried to create a formula for discomfort and space. They went to the boutique movie theaters and figured that you can make the seats more uncomfortable if you make them out of wood and cut them in half. If you take a pew and seperate it, you can frustrate the congregants and make the hard wood even more uncomfortable.
It's too late to take off the 80 necessary pounds to fit into one of the seats comfortably. If you can find a seat at the end of the row, you can lean at a 45-degree angle for the fifteen-hour service. This level of comfort is acceptable, as the leaning gives a look of penitence, and there is a chance that you will throw out your back.
Chasing People Out of Your Assigned Seat
Come ready to fight and claim your seat.
There are people who try to buy the cheap seats, off in the back of the shul. They're always trying to sneak down to the front to get a better view of the action. Sometimes they hang out at the Bima to get a good look at the Shofar blower. You purchased the seat, you deserve the right to catch a good glimpse of the cantor’s top hat. You deserve to be part of the excitement.
First start with a little Tallit smack. Put on your prayer shawl with a big swing, so the tassels smack the guy in the face. Let them know how it works when you paid top dollar for a seat and somebody is in it.
You can also tattle. This is no different than a baseball game. Find an usher and have him take care of the matter.
Make Sure You Do Not Sit in front of A Pew That Has Prayer Book Holders
Shtenders, prayer book holders, behind your seat is worse than any repeated word, with extended notes, by your cantor. That Shtender and the person behind you can truly make Yom Kippur an uncomfortable day.
They started making the Shtenders just small enough, so the guy’s Machzor (High Holiday prayer book) is smacking the back of my head the whole service.
Discomfort being the key, last Yom Kippur, as I was hitting my heart, I used my third hit to whack the guy in back of me. I then took the guy's Machzor which was in my neck, and smacked him with it. I always questioned why all holy books were hardcover. It all makes sense now. Thanks to this experience I feel closer to the holy words of our tradition. Then I kicked him.
He wasn't in my seat in shul, but somebody had to let him know that we are in the middle of the Day of Atonement for our sins. After throwing a couple of punches at him, I feel like I got out all of my hatred for other people. I felt extremely penitent.
Share the Armrest
Be prepared for having to share your armrest with selfish people. This is the season of repentance. Be decent person.
They make sure to provide one armrest for every two seats. My nephew thinks the whole row is his armrest. Leaning across the thing.
Work with your fellow human being. Enough of the passive aggressive fight that has been going on in synagogues since the beginning of time. Be kind. This is a little thing we all can do, to make for a more giving society. Working on our positive personal character, is a large part of repentance. Go frontsies-backsies with your neighbor. Maybe go for arm against arm support. Do repentance like the Rambam says, and say, 'I will never elbow fight again with my neighbor.' Make a resolution that makes a difference, and next time you fly say, ‘This is your armrest, just as much as mine.’
Nobody is going to share the armrest. Lets be honest. They're all selfish.
Good luck being comfortable this Yom Kippur. If you have to, spread yourself out and claim the area. Fight for your seat if you have to. Being kind can ruin the Yom Kippur experience.
Remember: Though it may be expensive, you are not allowed to take the seat home. There is a reason they bolt those things down.
Next year, we will focus on seats for poor people, who have been ostracized and banished to the plastic chair section.
May we all be written in the book of decent seats.
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The Falafel of Etan
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