Three days in a row is a lot of shul. Multiply that by the three times that we (in the diaspora) have done this over the last few weeks, work out the hours and it’s little wonder that from time to time tempers flare, a scuffle or two breaks out, window and doors are slammed and marriages as well as longstanding friendships dissolve.
I refer not to arguments caused by the miserable older guy (probably in a neck collar) who rasps at us like a schoolteacher when we are caught talking at the back of the synagogue (and we hang our 46-year-old heads in shame), or the arguments about who the Honours go to (especially when we all know it goes to the guy who promises the most but does the least), but rather to the most basic of all needs. It is the one argument that has divided Jews for generations and that affects us to the core. Is it too hot or too cold in shul? Because we all know, unlike The Three Bears’ Porridge, it can never be just right.
There are two types of Jews. The hot ones and the cold ones. Those who want air, and those who don’t.
I have no doubt that this argument has been going for as long as we have been a people. I can imagine our ancestors in the times of the Temple (1st and 2nd) on their way to the holy city debating if they should have brought an extra sheepskin, given the fact that it is always drafty in Jerusalem (but the fire from the sacrifices makes it so hot, would be the counter argument). Could this be why only God Himself could regulate the temperature with the aid of some very sophisticated clouds (and stuff) as we walked in the desert from Egypt to Israel? As He in His infinite wisdom knew that as a stiff-necked people, we could withstand tremendous adversity – years of oppression and torture, an arduous journey and even the decree that sanctioned the killing of our sons. But the one challenge that He needed to sort out for us was how high or low to turn the thermostat. Because He knew that temperature could rip us apart.
True story. I nearly left my last shul because the Rabbi was a cold Jew. He was the thin type who wore his coat in shul. Never took it off. Kept all the doors and windows closed until the steam on glass slowly obscured the outside world making us lose sight of life beyond the tomb that he had created for us. His hands were clammy and icy and after shaking, I would always shiver, knowing that I had just had a near death experience. It turns out that he left for warmer pastures and I didn’t need to.
I come from a long line of hot Jews. We need air. We are well covered and feel comforted by the cool breeze that allows us to breath. We don’t take extra coats to shul and we are the ones finding Henry (the non Jewish caretaker) to turn up the air as we slowly asphyxiate (or fear we might). My mother, on many occasions has almost come to blows over the window, which she would dramatically fling open, gasping for air as she does so (she has been known to be a little histrionic).
I realized that in our obsessively medical age, we now also have thyroid issues and medication to contend with. Over and active, those on meds and those who need to be, add to the upheaval, given the aggression that might also accompany this condition, and we really stand very little hope of remaining united in prayer when faced with these issues. So yesterday, when after my 54th hour (give or take 15 minutes) of being in shul, as the gorgeous spring air drifted across the pews, and a friend asked if I could please “close the fridge door!” I realized that this problem might be bigger than we think.
As Jews we are living in a time of real turbulence and threat. We are hyper vigilant regarding security and ant-Semitism. Thankfully our enemies have not figured out the simplicity of an act of aggression so ghastly that it could bring us all to our shivering or sweating knees. Simply by manipulating the thermostats in shuls across the globe, they would have us turn on each other in an unprecedented manner (but that has been simmering for generations) and we would implode from within. No need to blow themselves up in the act or create martyrs. No need for fancy flight schools and injecting themselves with Ebola (it has to be so unpleasant). Simply get hold of that remote control, turn the temperature up and down at random and watch what happens.
I know I might be the first to go, and I know many (who consider it a bit drafty), who might not even miss me.