We needed a break. Close to 20 years ago, when there was a lot going on, my husband and I decided that we needed to get away just a bit. It was a last-minute thing, but we managed to locate a tzimmer (bungalow) to rent up north in a moshav in the Galil region. We farmed out our kids, packed up some food, and were off to spend a relaxing Shabbos “away from it all.” Just the two of us.
After I lit candles and everything was set, I decided to take advantage of my opportunity to go to shul. It is very common for women in Israel to go to shul Friday night, and the davening is especially beautiful. I looked forward to a soulful Y’did Nefesh and a spirited L’cha Dodi. When I walked into shul, the men were davening. I mean they looked like they were davening, but it was more like they were chanting something out loud together. I wasn’t sure what. I was cognizant of the fact that I hadn’t been to shul on a Friday night for quite some time, but I believed that I still remembered the davening. But this was not familiar. So much for a melodious Kabbalas Shabbos.
I headed back to the tzimmer, opened up a magazine, and waited for my husband to return. I finished the magazine and continued to wait. And as I tried to ignore the loud volume of my rumbling stomach, I waited some more. It definitely felt like much later when my husband finally walked in the door. “What on earth took so long?” I asked. He explained that our tzimmer was located on a Moroccan moshav. In accordance with Moroccan tradition, the chazan says every word out loud. They say extra things, like Shir HaShirim, for example, which is what they were saying when I had arrived at shul. There is no “talking in shul” problem, even though davening takes a long time. Nobody is in a rush to leave. And that’s why my husband was gone for so long. Wow! What my husband had described actually sounded quite beautiful. Maybe I shouldn’t have given up and left so quickly. But while this way of davening is obviously quite admirable, part of me was disappointed, as I watched my plan to spend mostly uninterrupted quality time with my husband vanish into thin air. I realized that my husband would be spending most of the Shabbos in shul!
The Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv (now called “ANU – Museum of the Jewish People”) has an exhibit of shuls from different communities around the world. To demonstrate the fact that Sefardi minyanim spend more time davening than Ashkenazi minyanim, the museum plays two videos side by side and simultaneously, each one presenting the davening in shul on a typical Shabbos morning. One shows an Ashkenazi shul and the other shows a Sefardi shul. The Ashkenazi shul finishes davening while the Sefardi shul continues its services. As the videos continue, the Ashkenazim enjoy a lavish kiddush after davening, while the Sefardim continue to daven. If I recall correctly, the Ashkenazim even go home while the Sefardim still daven, but I can’t remember that for sure. But the point they make in an entertaining way is that the Sefardi shul finishes davening significantly later than the Ashkenazi shul. Davening is not something to be hurried through in the Sefardi shul.
Last week, a call came in asking us to host boys on a kiruv program run by one of the major baal t’shuvah yeshivos in Jerusalem. To be honest, the past few weekends were quite busy, and I was kind of looking forward to a Shabbos of “just us” with no extra cooking, cleaning, or linens. But I find myself unable to say “no” to these requests. Exposing the less affiliated to the beauty of Shabbos is extremely important. I feel a sense of obligation to do my part. So, we hosted two sweet boys who are currently in their last week of the program. We try to feed and shmooze. Educate and inspire. Mainly give them a good feeling about Shabbos. We try. We had a lovely meal, and it was time to bentch. One of them went down to his room to get his special siddur. The other used a bentcher we provided. And then we all bentched. I believe I was the one to finish first. Everyone else kept going. Then, one by one, my family members finished, but our guests continued to bentch. My family cleared the table and put everything away, but these guys weren’t done yet. Eventually, they finished and thanked us for the meal.
This episode got me thinking. I don’t believe these guys took longer to bentch because they were saying extra t’filos. They also weren’t chanting anything out loud together. But they did something else that maybe I’m not so good at. They actually looked at the bentcher and said the words. Like they pronounced each word in its entirety. Like the chazan in the Moroccan shul. Just like we’re supposed to. After eating a festive meal, maybe it’s not necessary to swallow our words, as well. So, go figure. We hosted these guys over Shabbos so that we could inspire them; and in the end, they inspired me.