For the first time in three months, this past Shabbat, I prayed with a minyan. It wasn’t a reopened minyan in keeping with current guidelines. I happened upon it the previous Friday night, when I went for a walk for some much-needed movement and fresh air.
I turned right at the exit of my building and a first right again, up a steep narrow street. Pausing as I reached the top, I turned right into Rechov Alfasi a gorgeous long windy street. As I inhaled the cool clear air, I heard singing; it was Kabbalat Shabbat. It sounded much the way the Arizal used to go out into the mountains and welcome the Sabbath Queen. To my right, a man sat on his balcony. In another building, I noticed a man on the highest balcony of his apartment building.
A few steps further, my gaze followed the sound to the left where a driveway housed a small group of men, each 6 feet apart, singing “Lecha Dodi.” My body veered left to the naturally situated ‘Ezras Nashim.’ Overlooking the driveway was a short flight of stairs to an apartment entrance. Ascending to my perch, I too partook in the joy of welcoming shabbat, sensing a renewed energy invigorating my soul.
Elated, I returned home. This past shabbat morning, armed with a mask, siddur and chumash, I visited the minyan on Alfasi street. Out of nowhere a young man appeared with two chairs. The weather was perfect. A clear turquoise sky, the sun bright yet gentle. I noticed a woman on one balcony and a young boy or two on another. The birds were absolutely delighted and seemed to give their approval to this minyan by their constant melodious chirping. I imagined them to be like the Cherubs encircling us.
This shul was lined with a few good pillars. Tall exquisite pine trees. They were not marble or paneled wood but aged, mellowed bark each one with its unique thumbprint of lines. These are the pillars of Torah, Chesed and Tefillah. The one I stood behind provided me with shade and obscurity shielding me from the men. The magenta fluorescent Bougainvillea provided a backdrop to the inner courtyard of this minyan. One bold swathe of happiness held upright via its support network – familiar aged Jerusalem stone – walls that I call home.
As the minyan progressed, the same young man who had provided chairs requested I pass a siddur resting on the wall between us. He motioned to the Artscroll, adjacent to the Koren siddur. He then recited tefillot for the Jewish people, lay leaders and our soldiers standing guard at Israel’s borders. The bimah was your typical plastic table, unadorned aside for one regal accessory that elevated it to a very different level. The Torah disappeared into its special place within. I can’t tell you where it went or where it was housed but it was given a beautiful escort.
When I rose upwards on my tiptoes reaching for the heavens during the Kedusha, there were no boundaries. Hisbodedut at its best. I was entranced.
At the end of the davening, it was announced that there was going to be a kiddush as this was the last shabbat that this ‘Corona Minyan’ was meeting. The Baal Koreh was moving out the building the following day. At the kiddish I discovered from Esther that her husband began saying Kaddish in September for his father and two days after the restrictions were enforced, this minyan came about, through many small miracles, allowing him to continue saying kaddish three times per day almost uninterrupted.
I learnt that Kalman, the young man who provided the chairs, moved at the height of the Corona pandemic into the next door building with his kallah right after their wedding. Another man shared a few words about his mother. A widow for many years, she shared her yahrzeit with David HaMelech and the Baal Shem Tov and now her son could honor her accordingly. I learnt that it is possible to make a Kiddush in accordance with Covid guidelines. Individually wrapped candy and small packets of chips for the few children present and tall kebab sticks holding delicious herring at a safe distance from the crackers. Pre-cut individual servings of cake and kugel. Gloves for men to pour schnapps from a generous but not overtly stocked liquor supply. Trash cans were also provided. Understated, proportional simplicity.
More importantly, Esther’s husband spoke and said that even though everyone had lived in close proximity for a long time, until Covid, they had all run to their own daily minyanim, practiced their own minhagim, their own nusach and most certainly to pray with their own kind. I saw the casual clad sabra in his blue shirt and khaki dockers. I saw the Chabadnik from Ashdod. I saw the guy with his white silk kippa. I saw the men in their dark suits still wrapped in talleisim. I saw Kalman – the chatan with his kippa sruga and I saw the Yemenite with his thick woolen knitted kippa in varying shades of blue. I saw adorable children with masks and I saw respect and a closeness for each and every person.
This wasn’t just an ‘outdoor’ minyan for the sake of a minyan. This was a quorum of handpicked men and their supportive wives coming together to pray to our G-d. A Covid minyan – perhaps. A Kavod minyan – definitely.
Honor to our fellow men irrespective of their nusach. Honor to our neighbors because they count, not just the ‘ignorant guy’ who lives next door. “What does he know?”
This minyan was orchestrated entirely by Hashem. It was the Sheva Brachos for Kalman, a celebration of Gila, Rina, Ditza V’Chedva – song, delight, love and brotherhood. It was the Sheva Brachot for our Jewish people the day after Shavuot and I was honored to be a part of it.