Like many shul-goers, I have not gone to shul in the last year.
The synagogue in my neighborhood that I usually attend, and in the neighborhoods I frequent as a Shabbos guest when away from Forest Hills, are closed, as a precaution against contracting COVID-19. Hence, no worshippers in Jewish houses of worship.
I see photos of empty Jewish sanctuaries, and it gives me agita. But I see other photos – of other normally crowded venues that are not so desolate – that give me hope.
Many collegiate and professional sports teams have taken to filling many of their arenas’ seats with full-sized color cardboard cutouts – typically from the waist up – of erstwhile fans, giving the venues the appearance, in selected parts of the facility, of an standing-room-only crowd.
These cutouts are placed strategically either near floor/field level, for the sake of the TV cameras panning the action and the sideline benches, or throughout the stadium.
While nice for morale, these cutouts and not necessarily good for concessions sales.
But, I thought, what a good idea for our baalei t’filah.
I humbly propose that our shuls adopt the practice. Imagine sanctuaries full of the likenesses of men and women propped up on seats – this assumes that some bona fide human beings, like the rabbi or chazan or the synagogue president, have assumed their accustomed place on the bimah and can gaze on the familiar faces instead of empty pews.
Doing this will not only please the shuls’ big machers, but be a boon to the daveners who are safely ensconced at home.
While cardboard cutouts are not necessarily recommended for use in backyard minyanim, particularly during a downpour or blizzard, consider these advantages of them inside the building:
* no one to noodge the gabbai for Sh’lishi or Maftir.
* no need to shush the talkers in the row behind you.
* or, if you are the talker, no one to shush you.
* no need to decide “Chai or two times Chai” during the weekly appeal for some worthy cause.
* no need to worry about showing up late for services, because you are already there.
* no need to worry about the rabbi seeing you nodding off during his drashah, because your eyes are always open.
* no one questions your piety, because you are clearly a masmid, in the beis k’neses 24/7.
* no pushing by kids clamoring for the candyman’s offerings.
* no need to worry about a quick shower or change of clothes before going to shul.
* no need to position yourself for a quick exit at the end of services to get a good position at the kiddush table.
This raises the question about mixed seating, but I am sure that our poskim can decide if it is asur for cardboard men to sit next to their cardboard spouses. This also raises the question about who gets hagbah, but I’m sure that our poskim can deal with this, too.
Cardboard cutouts are also recommended for rabbis’ weekday shiurim, particularly for those rabbis who do not encourage students’ questions.
If you have any complaints about my suggestions, you’re welcome to bring them to me in person. I’m in the back row: I’m the cardboard worshipper with the black kipah on my head.
By Steve Lipman