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Many people are scared to go to shul. They say they feel out of place. I am here to tell you 'don't feel out of place.' Everybody feels out of place when Bernie starts telling his jokes again. Here are a few tips for finding your way around shul and understanding the services, looking like you know what is going on, and most importantly, looking good.
Take the knowledge and some of these tips, and you too will look like a regular congregant.
Say 'Yasher Koyach' to Everybody
It sounds like you know what is going on. This is generally said after somebody gets an honor, kind of like saying ‘Good job.’ We do not say ‘good job,’ as the person probably messed up. Instead, you say ‘Yasher Koyach,’ and you have fulfilled a religious obligation of acknowledging the fact that the beadle (gabbai) didn’t give you the honor.
Some say 'Yashkoyach.' Some say 'Yashkoych.' Some have no idea what they're saying. They just yawn with a strong 'Y' sound in front of it. Better yet. Instead of messing up the pronunciation, don’t say anything. Just shake everybody’s hand. People will appreciate this, as most of them have run for office.
Be sure to say it to everybody. I'm usually sleeping when they call up the people to the Torah. I have no idea who I'm saying Yasher Koyach to. I can't tell you how many people I've given a Yasher Koyach to for going to the bathroom during Torah reading. In Sefardic Jewish tradition, they say ‘Chazak uBrachuch' when somebody comes back from the bathroom.
Tell Somebody Looking for a Seat ‘That is My Seat’
By telling people where they can’t sit, you solidify your shul membership. Gangs sometimes force somebody to commit a crime in order to gain full gang affiliation. In shul, you just have to make another person feel very uncomfortable. Some synagogues have the hazing ritual, where you are forced to go over to somebody else during the Kiddish (post service snack time) and start an uncomfortable conversation that goes nowhere for 10 minutes. Listening to Bernie's jokes is a prerequisite for shul affiliation.
To note, the best practice is to say, 'You're in my seat.' This way they know you are not friendly, and they are in an unwelcoming atmosphere. Once you get it down you will be part of the inner-circle, and you'll be getting high fives at Kiddish.
And don't worry. If the shul is empty and they sit somewhere else, tell them it's Sid's seat. During the year, you're allowed to kick them out of chairs that people reserve for High Holidays, even if Sid only shows up for Yom Kippur. The goal is discomfort.
If Somebody Hits a Table, Do Not Get Scared
The Gabbai is generally the one that hits the table. It is the sign that a special prayer should be added into the silent prayer. What it is? Nobody knows. Maybe you have a birthday coming up. Most of the time it is used to let people know to add the prayer for the new month (Rosh Chodesh). The bang ensures that they will all add the prayer, due to fear.
If you jump out of fear, or a shocked that a ninety year old is going to get violent, you've never been to shul and seen a Gabai mess up the order of the Aliyahs.
You can also bang a table to scare somebody into leaving a seat they feel comfortable in.
Watch Out for the Tallis
The prayer shawl (Tallis) has tassels on all corners. Be careful. Safety comes first with Rabbi David.
When people are putting on their Tallis, duck. Duck as fast as you can. These people will not take your safety into account when they're swinging the tassels. They swing them fast and hard and wide. They're going for your face, and they will extend their arms wide if they have to.
This is why everybody bows during Aleiynu, at the end of the service. It is at that moment that people are taking off their Tallis, yet again, swinging it, already knowing that they hit you earlier when putting it on. This is also why so many Frum Jews wear glasses.
If you get wounded by a Tallis, everybody will know you're a rookie who doesn't know how to slip a tassel, and you're going to look pathetic. Also, if you can, try to injure somebody with your Tallis. The less you have control of your Tallis the more it shows your seasoned understanding of the synagogue.
Smile When People Say 'Hi' To You
They are part of the welcoming committee. They don't want to, but they have been appointed to the position of having to be nice to you. Take the meal when they invite you. As a beginner you probably haven’t learned to cook a decent choolante yet. You might as well get something out of their position on the committee.
You might end up in a congregation where people say ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ smile, offer you a seat, announce pages, have one person correcting the Torah reader very politely, while they all sing together in unison and don’t try to hit you with their Tallis. If that is the case, you are on your own. I cannot teach you how to navigate around that kind of service. I don't even know if that's Jewish.
Next time we will talk about proper Davening Techniques to look good and penitent. In time, we will also be dealing with Kiddish, proper dress, how to go up to the Torah with a long list of people you want to bless in order to get the congregation mad, and how to fall asleep while the rabbi is talking.
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The Falafel of Etan
Israelis are very possessive of their falafel. Even when they have a shop, they don't like to share it… That's Etan. Standing over them while they eat. Making sure they don't run away with his falafel.