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Davening Experience

The lockdown has created many unprecedented challenges for the world and the Orthodox Jewish community, one of those is davening without a minyan, especially on Shabbos. We cannot hear laining, listen to the drasha, answer amen to brachos and kaddish, sign kedusha together, or do any of the d'varim she'b'k'dusha which require a minyan. On the other hand, we can now each daven at our own pace, actually learn the parsha--instead of half-listening to it as it is read aloud--and not have to worry about the noise the children create while davening with their parents or playing in the social hall. That said, it is still quite challenging to have a meaningful Tefillah while isolated in one's home. Therefore, we bring you this new feature in our weekly newsletter. Each week a different member family of the congregation will share what they do at home that is enhancing their davening experience. Hopefully this will help inspire others as they embrace some of the ideas shared here, and it will at least be interesting and deepen our connections even as we are apart.

                If you would like to submit a write-up of your family's "shul" for inclusion in the newsletter
                   please email,, or

This week's featured family: Sandy Alter

Greetings and Happy “Jerusalem Day” on this 53rd Anniversary of the greatest miracle of my lifetime. I’ve been asked to describe the perspective of my older, “at risk” generation on our current situation. But given this unprecedented predicament –a peacetimeprohibition from davening with a minyan virtually anywhere in the world –I have little useful advice other than to communicate my own practice. Age may gain experience, experience may breed wisdom and wisdom may inspire counsel. But since none of us has experienced a comparable situation, counselling others is limited to outlining one’s personal Shabbat protocol. I emphasize that this is not intended as an halachic discussion, merely my own personal perspective and practice which might prove useful.

First, regardless of circumstances, Shabbat remains, by divine announcement, blessed, sanctified, separate and therefore different than the quotidian time of the workweek. But while we are all aware of what we can’t do on Shabbat, we also must allow this holy day its own predictable positive rhythms and honors. Long ago, my father (z”l) insisted that “we don’t dress for shul, we dress for Shabbos”. And so, with nowhere to go and no one to see, I continue to wear a suit and tie all day on every Shabbat. This visible, tactile distinction 

Second, in addition to its own rhythm, Shabbat must continue to unfold within its own unique schedule. We have a quest in the house that requires our company and attention! Thus, we don’t’ arise, dress, daven or eat in willy-nilly fashion. Instead, we consult the shul schedule or “” so as to observe the proper “hours of engagement” with our Creator. This week for example, we make sure to recite Shema before 9:14am, begin the morning Amidah before 10:27am, eat Seudat Shabbat at a time approximate to when we would ordinarily have returned from shul, daven mincha before sunset at 8:15pm-and so on. Designate a place in your home as “the shul”, daven there every time and treat it as a shul during devotional hours.

Third, we remember that while the public reading of Torah is currently impossible, the es- sence of that reading –an ancient echo dating from times when there were neither “books” nor general literacy-isn’t really “reading” at all. We have always considered this reading of the Torah as learning Torah. Thus, instead of lamenting not hearing a public layning, we should re-double the time available to learn the weekly parasha in a depth ap- propriate to one’s abilities. At the very least, one should read the parasha, word by word on Shabbat morning, utilizing later translation if necessary. Indeed, the entire Shabbat pro- tocol should mirror the shul experience (davening “bizman” Torah, Haftarah, Musaf) and the remainder of the day should continue unchanged (Kiddush, benching, zmirot, encoun- tering friends at a distance by taking walks, scheduled sleep, interacting with family). Don’t stay in bed until noon, mutter prayers in sweatpants and call it “Shabbat” because you did- n’t watch TV.

Fourth, irrespective of Shabbat, it seems of paramount importance to govern our lives in accord with the very first instruction taught to us as a covenantal community – our own unique calendar. There is simply no alternative than to consult it and to live in consonance with its harmonies. We must keep aware of the Sefira count. We must know that the month of Sivan enters as this Shabbat departs, that we bench Rosh Chodesh this Shabbat morning after the “Moled” had already occurred in Jerusalem on Friday at 11:42am (and 13 Chalakim) and that the Haftarah – which we should also read word-by-word-is “Machar Chodesh” and not the one usually designated for Bamidbar. None of this information is ob- scure and all of it is important. It is also, in my view, critical in order to keep personal faith with tradition, maintain communal cohesion and remain sane and hopeful while facing an uncertain future with optimism.

Lastly, I would recall the words of Isaiah: “Seek Hashem where He can be found”. Hashem doesn’t live in shul. He lives in our open hearts and discerning minds. He inaugurated our past, animates our present and guarantees our destiny. I would use that heart to intensify prayer, check on the aged, ill and lonely and connect with the community through charity, zoom, facetime or a simple phone call or text. I would use that mind to learn more Torah and take every rational action required to keep yourself and family safe.

Judaism and optimism are synonymous.
Think only of the positive: It’s mid-May, the Mets haven’t lost a game this year and I have- n’t spoken in shul during davening in more than 3 months.

Shabbat Shalom, Sandy

Tue, May 26 2020 3 Sivan 5780