Mourning my morning minyan

I would like to share an important aspect of my Jewish life with you, which is primarily (but not exclusively) representative of traditionally religious N. American Ashkenazi Jewish communities. This slice of my Jewish culture is known as the Shabbat morning kiddush.

Essentially, the Shabbat morning kiddush is a social phenomenon, which takes place at synagogues (usually) after morning prayer services on Saturdays (the Sabbath). Somebody at the kiddush sanctifies the Sabbath by reciting a blessing over a beverage (usually: wine, grape juice, whiskey) on behalf of those attending and then recites a second blessing over a baked good (usually: a cracker), which is representative of a Sabbath meal. Then everybody eats food together (usually: crackers, herring, fruits, cheeses, nuts, and various desserts) and socializes with friends and new acquaintances.

Incidentally, the Hebrew root of the word ‘kiddush’ is Q-D-Š, meaning “holy” or “separate”. In the summer of 2019, when I sponsored (i.e. provided the food for) my community’s kiddush in my Papa’s memory, I had the following thought:

In theory, the purpose of the kiddush is to sanctify Shabbat, by reciting a blessing over a cup of wine, but on that early morning of Papa’s yahrzeit I saw this communal ritual in a different light.

While the words of kiddush are of lofty, holy intent, perhaps it is the gathering together in community and the sharing of simple, human pleasures that truly sanctifies the Sabbath and sanctifies our loved ones’ yahrzeits. For me, on that morning, and perhaps on every single day that I had recited kaddish throughout the year, it was my community that warmly embraced me.

– Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #50, Aug. 5, 2019

My early morning Sabbath minyan (prayer quorum)

During the year that I was reciting the mourner’s kaddish for my deceased father, I attended morning services every single day at shul (synagogue), as is traditional, but it was the Shabbat (Saturday) morning services that I most loved – because of the kiddush that followed.

I must emphasize that I am not a morning person. If I had my druthers, I would go to bed some time after midnight (after reading the news, writing some poetry, drinking an Irish coffee, etc.) and wake up after 9:00 AM, at the earliest. This is significant to know because my beloved Saturday morning prayer quorum, which I am about to describe to you, meets at 6:45 AM on Saturday mornings; and I would usually be there by no later than 7:00 AM every week. (The kiddush following services would generally begin at 8:30 AM.)

Precisely because morning people are uncommon, my 6:45 AM Shabbat morning minyan (prayer quorum) was an intimate affair. There were, according to my estimate, some thirty regulars, and we had twenty to forty people in attendance weekly at shacharit (morning prayer services). More than half of us would remain for the kiddush after services, but not all of us.

Those of us who regularly partook of the kiddush were of all ages and social classes, and most of us would sponsor the kiddush at least once annually in memory of a departed parent or to celebrate a happy lifecycle event with the community. It was cozy and comforting to see the same small group of familiar faces every week and very socially egalitarian. Men and women of all ages would have friendly, meaningful conversations over whiskey, and while many of us only saw one another for several hours once weekly, we felt ourselves friends. There was a lovely atmosphere of warm camaraderie and community. It was our space.

My Shabbat morning kiddush at shul (synagogue) was a major part of my life.


Kiddush vis-à-vis my religiosity

In many Jewish communities, there is a phenomenon known as ‘JFK’, which stands for ‘Just For Kiddush’. There are a good number of community members who are don’t attend prayer services on Saturday mornings; instead they show up ‘Just For Kiddush’. Some people look down upon this; others don’t mind it; and some embrace any form of community participation.

I have never been a ‘JFK’ Jew; I always felt it incumbent upon myself to attend services before kiddush, largely because the Orthodox Jewish prayer quorum requires ten adult males to be considered a full quorum for the purposes of prayers and rituals. Without ten Jewish adult males, a prayer group cannot, for example, read from the Torah Scroll, which is so very central to Jewish communal life. I have always been the community-oriented sort to take communal responsibility seriously, and I would have felt very self-conscious partaking of the kiddush without having participated in minyan beforehand.

In fact, looking back at it, I was motivated to attend morning services even during weekdays largely because I wanted to help my community form a daily minyan; the community provided me with something very important and special in my life, and I wanted to give back. In all honestly, this feeling of responsibility has always far outweighed my personal desire to pray, but it’s having this sense of community in my life that has been so very, very important to me.

Also, largely because our Saturday morning minyan was so early, and because our intimate little kiddush was privately sponsored by individuals every week (rather than by the entire community), almost nobody came to our early morning kiddush without having first attended the prayer services (even if some people would arrive later than others). In this context, I was not the only one who took communal responsibility seriously – almost everyone did.


COVID-19 maimed my minyan

If you were to ask me what I miss most from before the COVID-19 era, it would undoubtedly be my Shabbat early morning community.

When the pandemic first hit, the prayer services were moved outside, and attendance was limited to a small number of people. Also, one had to sign up in advance in order to attend. In Israel, the summers are hot, and there are plenty of flies buzzing around outside; sitting in the heat with a face mask on was hardly comfortable, but this was something I could have lived with.

What did the most damage to the minyan was the dissolution of our kiddush. At first, there was no kiddush at all. Eventually, a small group of attendees did start holding small kiddushes in the park outside, next to the synagogue, but this was hardly the same. Many of the regulars had stopped coming for services entirely, and even among those who signed up and attended, many were fearful of socializing and sharing food and drink with others. The sense of community I’d had and loved so dearly was gone.

The second anniversary of my Papa’s death was in July 2020, and I decided to send out personal emails to members of my Shabbat kiddush community with an invitation to join me after services at the park for a nice kiddush in memory of my father. I deliberately purchased disposable plastic containers and prepackaged all of the crackers, herring, cheese, etc. in individual servings so that nobody would be worried about COVID. I even made alcoholic hand sanitizer available.

On the whole, the event was successful, and I felt fulfilled. Back then, I naively assumed that COVID-19 would blow over and that my Shabbat community would regroup. For me, last year, hosting my guerrilla kiddush in the park was merely a temporary measure because I never expected the restrictions imposed upon Israeli society to become so protracted.

Even now, with so many Israelis having been vaccinated and ‘green passes’ being made available to those who have received the vaccine or tested negative for COVID-19, and even with infection rates in Israel decreasing, our little early morning Sabbath community has not been allowed back within the walls of our synagogue.

Now, I’m not upset at anyone for this because I get it – the pandemic has killed more than six thousand Israelis, and people are still dying… but the absence of my Shabbat community has left a major hole in my life, and I mourn its absence weekly.

This year, if minyan and kiddush aren’t reconstituted at my shul (synagogue) before Papa’s third yahrzeit (anniversary of death) in July… well… I don’t think I’ll bother with a kiddush.

My community doesn’t actually exist any more. 😞

65 thoughts on “Mourning my morning minyan”

  1. Living in the era of Covid 19 is slowly taking it’s toll on my mental health. I have my beautiful family and they make me happy, so gentle and kind are my sweet ones. Yet I feel so extremely lonely. The impact of covid can be devastating. You so right, it leaves a hole in your life. In some cases a deep hole.
    Thank you for sharing, I pray that your Kiddish and loving community return
    Thank you for sharing your Covid 19 lockdown stories.
    I’m just glad people are speaking out.

    1. Abi,

      I know 😦 it’s awful. My mother, following my father’s death, is alone most of the time. She has friends and some extended family so she does see other people, but not day-to-day. And even though I have my wife and daughter, and I’m not alone, I still feel lonely and cut off from everyone else…. especially during lockdowns. Those are the worst!


      David

      1. We are finally allowed back into the church, weekly for the senior Bible Study, once a month for services, many have not returned. I miss the sharing, both of food and kindnesses. We are without a Preacher and it might be quite a while until we get one. We have a leadership Team trying to provide that one service per month. Non of us are registered with Presbytery, we plod on.

  2. Thank you for sharing this.
    I am agnostic but wish that I were part of a faith community. I moved to a new country as an adult and Covid has really only made me realize how isolated I am and have been.
    Hold your community close, no matter how small it is, eh?

    1. Ren – absolutely!

      You know, a very secular co-worker of mine here in Israel once said that she wished she was religious so that she would have a community to be a part of as she got older. In many religious communities, older people are full and valued participants and are perceived as having something important to contribute. At least, I can say that is the case in Jewish communities, for sure. ❤

      Yours,
      David

  3. Thank you David for sharing this with us all. I love being educated in different religions and cultures. Two years ago I attended my first Seder. I may have mentioned my husband is Jewish. It was the loveliest event I have ever experienced. I enjoyed the tradition and fellowship of the occasion, particularly learning about the ritualistic taking of foods etc. which signify so much of the past. It was really rather special. COVID took care of last year and we didn’t get to do it then so hopefully I can attend another in the future. ☺️💕

    1. Christine,

      Yeah, the seder is very ritualistic and everything on the table is symbolic of something. It’s probably one of the most universally unifying Jewish traditions that exists – lots of people hold seders in one form another all over the world.


      David

    1. Thanks, Dr. Deb 🙂

      I’m always happy to shed some light on my culture – and I love learning about other bloggers’ lives and cultures too. I think that’s one of the most wonderful things about our blogosphere!

      Yours,
      David

        1. Dr. Deb,

          I don’t live in the USA now, but I spent nearly 3 of my 4 decades living there – I’m well familiar with “being American” 🙂

          Yours,
          David

        1. the pandemic makes that impossible. People don’t attend large gatherings because they’re afraid and also because the government forbids it.

        2. Lokesh, this blog post is about SOCIAL INTERACTION. It’s not about personal faith. It’s about seeing and interacting with the people who are part of your community.

        3. Then definitely you should participate in various activities, share each other’s life events, stories, issues. Enjoy together.

          Or maybe what you are trying to do it is not the right place. You have arouse your voice at the right place with your people.

          Sorry…if you dislike my words. Do your best, I have no other words.

        4. Lokesh,

          Many things are out of many people’s control right now because of COVID-19. I’m not sure how things are where you are from, but in Israel, the effect of the pandemic has been devastating, and not only in terms of the death toll.

          People’s livelihoods have been destroyed, and people’s social lives have been destroyed. Many people are feeling very lonely and isolated – and that’s not something that they can change because of serious health concerns and government restrictions.

          Wishing this away (and I do, believe me), does not make it easier. The reality is that my community – the one that was a major part of my life for years – no longer convenes as it once did… and I’m not even sure that it ever will again, frankly.

          I appreciate your positive thinking, but that won’t undo what COVID-19 has wrought.


          David

        5. See the positive side of the coin David.
          I agree, I’m sitting here just typing whatever comes into my mind. But “what are the possibilities?”
          You cannot win a war alone. But you can support the needy people. Okay, you cannot provide them with desert and other beautiful dishes but you can provide them (a cheaper )food to stay alive.

          Unemployment and lack of resources is a big issue. If people use their skills and abilities to produce something they can earn a dissent income to survive. Here, Woman can play an important role because they are a better manager than we, males .

        6. Lokesh, thank you for your kind thoughts.

          Personally, I find that identifying and being able to articulate the problems we face is necessary for healing, but it doesn’t not necessarily lead to finding a solution.

          There are positive aspects of almost every situation – I agree with that. But I think it’s also important to be honest with ourselves and with others about the negative sides. Pretending that all is well doesn’t make me feel better or make the feelings of loss that I’m experiencing any less real to me.

          Thanks again,
          David

        7. These are my last words today:
          Believe in God.

          My best wishes to goodness and humanity on earth. I believe that we are humans first. I would be happy to work for the people and their welfare. Yes.👍👍

        8. Lokesh,

          I do not believe that there is any supernatural being (God or otherwise) who is concerned with us or intervenes in our lives in any capacity, but I’m happy for you (and many others) that you are able to hold such articles of faith… those are very heartening beliefs to have.

          All best,
          David

    1. I’m not quite sure what you mean.

      In Israel, the majority of Jews are not worried about hate crimes being committed against them.

      The fear that I was referring to in this blog post is a fear of death by pandemic. Does that make sense?


      David

        1. interesting – you published it first you say? That in itself to me speaks of – exile makes for a new type community. Mmh —

        2. Actually, not so long ago, I met up with a friend from my minyan one evening to chat over coffee, and this blog post reflects our conversation and mutual perceptions.

        3. in a way, with what you said about your way of being orthodox – isn’t there also a theme already of being exiled (if returned)?

        4. oh, yes, very much so. it’s a religious theme – most Orthodox Jews would say that Jews (even in Israel) are still in exile, as evidenced by God’s third Temple in Jerusalem having not yet been constructed.

        5. oh – now I dare say it: All along I have been reminded of Sharon Salzberg’s book about her journey to becoming what is described a Buddhist meditation teacher, titled: A Heart As Wide As the World. (A lot of exile in her story, don’t know about Orthodoxy though). I would love to hear what you make of my friend Yedidah’s way of reading/practisingteaching Kabbalah, up in Safed (see Nehora Press). I am not sure how I read that btw. But I am wondering whether exile perhaps leads from religious certainty to the Mysticism of Unknowing. Whatever we do?

        6. Kabbalists and other Jewish mystics are inclined to believe such things, for sure. It’s a school of thought among Orthodox Jews, but it doesn’t represent all Orthodox Jews – many do not consider Kabbala to be of Divine origin. It’s rather a disputed matter.

        7. oh, sure, yes.

          but – many Orthodox Jews are disinclined towards mystical traditions.

          there is plenty of criticism of the kabbalah within traditional Jewish circles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabbalah#Criticism

          From that link:

          In contemporary Orthodox Judaism there is dispute as to the status of the Zohar’s and Isaac Luria’s (the Arizal) Kabbalistic teachings… Their disagreement concerns whether the Kabbalistic teachings promulgated today are accurate representations of those esoteric teachings to which the Talmud refers.

  4. I’m glad to read this post. I liked the concept of kiddush, that gives a feeling of togetherness. I agree the life has turned topsy -turvy due to covid. India is also now under second wave, and we are keeping our fingers crossed what happens next.

    1. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed! And the worst thing is that we can’t predict further mutations of the virus that may prove resilient and resistant to our vaccines 😦

      It’s incredibly frustrating.


      David

  5. I feel this. I am all for individual prayer, but it is definitely not the same as communal prayer. Zoom is not a major improvement with respect to the logistics of communal prayer (there are a lot of drawbacks of virtual services), but it does allow for some elements of community like d’vrei Torah and saying Kaddish. But there really isn’t a substitute for the community building and camaraderie of sharing kiddush together. There isn’t a similar way to mark milestones.

    “Even now, with so many Israelis having been vaccinated and ‘green passes’ being made available to those who have received the vaccine or tested negative for COVID-19, and even with infection rates in Israel decreasing, our little early morning Sabbath community has not been allowed back within the walls of our synagogue.” – Really? Even with the vaccine roll-out being so widespread as it is in Israel? I find this really depressing.

    1. Really? Even with the vaccine roll-out being so widespread as it is in Israel? I find this really depressing.

      That’s actually what drove me to write this post – I was really hoping that things would change, now that we’ve been vaccinated and now that these green passes are available… why not less us show our passes at the door and have our minyan?

      I don’t know what the answer to that question is…

      😦
      David

      1. I haven’t really been following the reopening up in Israel, but if there hasn’t been much in the way of reopening after such a tremendous vaccine effort, it does make one wonder about the purpose.

        1. malls are open, and I saw people eat pizza at a pizzeria today… most cafes and restaurants are open, I think, if they haven’t gone out of business yet…

          the shul is just being extra careful, it seems.

  6. Any ritual that forms a community is a good one I think. It’s what’s missing most from all our lives, believers and non-believers alike. I understand the need for restrictions (a relative’s church decided to hold indoor services and lost a number of congregants to covid as a result) but I mourn the intangible connections that have also been lost. (K)

  7. I love your writing and the views we get into your experiences from it. It’s beautiful. The kiddush sounds wonderful and the description of the foods typically served actually made my mouth water! :)))

  8. I see your point, David, and it’s a shame, but this, too, shall pass. In our shul, located in a tourist area and also attended by quite a few Baalei Tshuvot, Shabbat Kiddush is a full meal, with challah rolls and chaulent, and Divrei Torah, and lively singing. As my father’s Yuhrzeit is tomorrow, we are sponsoring it this coming Shabbat, but sadly, I cannot attend as it is not safe. My husband, who is also saying Kaddish for both of my parents of their respective Yuhrzeits, will represent me with a Dvar Torah and a L’chaim.
    Back to the kitchen pre-Pesach craziness…
    D

  9. That’s so sad and I empathize with your feelings. Unfortunately, it’s like that in our shul too. For our son’s yahrzeit, we had a small meal in our neighbor’s garage because we couldn’t have a meal in the shul. People did show up, but I wish there could have been more. I think people are still scared of the covid and I don’t know when, or if, things will get back to some sort of ‘normal’.

    1. I feel disappointed because I’d really hoped, after Israel’s successful vaccination drive, that we could return to our minyan and kiddush… but that hasn’t happened yet, and I haven’t heard any hints of it 😦

      Thanks, Rhonda.


      David

  10. It’s one thing to read how the virus is wreaking havoc on the world in terms of death and unemployment and it’s another to read how it’s affecting a community’s social health. This is rather sad and with the vaccine being distributed so generously, I hope you get to regain that safe community soon. It’s important to keep practices like this alive and I appreciate you sharing this on here! Here’s to normalcy (hopefully soon) ✨

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