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An old fashioned tzedakah box

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I forgot how much I love going to morning minyan. It’s light years away from “regular” synagogue (i.e. Friday night and Saturday morning services) which I also love, but it’s got a certain something going for it that makes it special, albeit a little strange.

First of all, it’s entirely casual. I mean REALLY casual. Which you might find in church (my Catholic friends tell me that they usually wear jeans to church) but in my world, women only started wearing slacks in the last couple of years, and they’re always dress pants.

This being Florida, casual often means shorts, which can be unfortunate at times. You know that feeling when you’re driving along and see a shirtless jogger, and wish you hadn’t looked? Because really, that guy should keep his shirt on when he’s in public? Well, it’s the same with some of the old guys at minyan. I’m not at all interested in seeing their knees, or, in fact, anything above the ankle, which preferably should be tastefully clad in socks. Thick ones.

Forget a formal clergy-led service. The regulars are in charge. Even if the clergy is there, the volunteers run the show. These guys are masters at davenning (Yiddish for praying with feeling). No English; everything’s in Hebrew. They take turns leading, and most of them speed-daven. Plus, since they tend to be old school and from a more Orthodox background, they use old fashioned pronunciation — and some have accents to begin with — so it’s hard to keep up. I know my way around a service pretty well and unless I drift away and reread a particular psalm a couple of times, I can keep up. But I do think someone ought to be calling out page numbers.

At about the mid-point, someone starts walking around with a tzedakah box. (A tzedakah box is used to collect charitable donations; most Jewish homes have them, and it’s traditional to put coins in it on Friday afternoon before the Sabbath arrives. But I digress.)

Everybody digs down and pulls out a dollar bill or a few coins. Today I saw a five dollar bill. We used to have a guy who put in a $10 bill in every day; Joel was a nice guy with a lovely smile who died of cancer. I still miss his smile, and I know the community misses his generosity.

Collecting money at the service is a big deal, because Jews aren’t supposed to carry money on the Sabbath, so unlike our Christian neighbors, we can’t pass a collection plate at weekly services. The minyan group collects a tidy sum over the course of the year and then gives it away. I’ve never been in on the deliberations, but I do know that one year the JCC asked for some scholarship money for kids to go to summer camp, and they made a nice donation.

After the service everyone wraps up their tefillin and tallit and goes home. Except on Wednesdays, when they have breakfast together. Usually it’s light fare, but sometimes a member sponsors a more elaborate breakfast. Today, it was a terrific spread — lots of thick slices of lox, herring, fresh bagels, coffee cake, orange juice, coffee and more.

And of course, the booze. I’ve heard it called the schnapps table, but today the choices were whiskeys — Chivas, Seagrams, Canadian Club, Scoresby, and a couple more. I don’t know where the custom for having a shot after services comes from, but it’s practiced with zest. Not a bad way to start the day, as long as it’s only once a week.

Me? I had to go to work. No nine a.m. shots of whiskey for me!

P.S. Here is the promised photo of me wearing tefillin. (thank you, Ellie)