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Making a minyan in the least expected places

  • Lions head with torah
A group of 10 or more men shochelling in time to each other and mumbling prayers may be an odd sight to behold, especially if they are wearing tallis and tefillin.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Aug 30, 2018

And the unusual places – from a restaurant, a game reserve, on top of a mountain, to an airplane in flight – that people have gathered to daven beggars belief. But, it’s not so surprising, because it’s a mitzvah to daven three times a day – Shachrit in the morning, Mincha in the afternoon, and Maariv at nightfall, and this is preferably done in a minyan - a quorum of 10 men.

Halachically, it is only when there isn’t a shul close enough to daven in that you should gather a minyan in an alternative place.

Given that certain services must be recited within a particular time period, quite often a minyan must be formed in less than ideal situations, in places other than shuls.

Forming a minyan on an El Al plane is nothing new, especially if you’re on the New York flight. However, Sydenham Shul’s Rabbi Yossy Goldman recalls one minyan for Mincha which took place on one such flight where, in the middle of the repetition of the Amidah, the plane hit turbulence.

“The captain announced that everyone should be seated immediately, with seat belts fastened,” Goldman says. “But, as any practicing Jew knows, when you are in the middle of the Amidah, you must remain standing until you’ve finished that section. So, who should the worshippers listen to? Frankly, between the flight attendants and the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), it really was no contest.

“The crew was shouting for everyone to sit down, but the minyan just carried on as if nothing was happening. Eventually, one stewardess got so frustrated, she started shouting, ‘Hashem will listen to your prayers even if you sit down. It is dangerous!’”

“Can you imagine such an announcement on any other airline in the world?” Goldman asks. “Guess what? It worked!”

Today, of course, Jerusalem has no shortage of shuls. But, on one trip to the holy city, Goldman was unable to get to a shul one evening and still needed to gather together a minyan for Maariv. So, while out for supper, he found the men he needed, and they davened at the restaurant.

“It was a struggle to try and put together this minyan,” he says. “One yeshiva bochur looked like a good candidate, but he was on a date with a young lady. Nevertheless, he kindly agreed to join if we could find another nine men. Eventually, two chassidim appeared out of nowhere, and we hit the jackpot... at 11:30 pm!”

Others tell of services conducted out in the open against the backdrop of a mountain or other breathtaking vistas. Such is the case with Rabbi David Wineberg of Cape Town’s Marais Road Shul, who convenes a unique minyan and Torah reading every year on Table Mountain’s Lion’s Head in Cape Town.

“The climb itself is beautiful experience,” says Wineberg. “It marries the human endeavour to conquer with the spiritual endeavour to raise yourself higher.”

In December last year, together with more than 100 Jews – among them a woman of 80 – Weinberg trekked to the very top of the famed mountain to conduct a service. Taking a Sefer Torah, tefillin, siddurim, sunscreen, and good walking shoes, the group hiked to the summit. Though the climb wasn’t easy, the participants shared a determination to make the experience a meaningful one. “You really feel the beauty of G-d there, and feel like you’ve conquered something,” he says.

Last year’s climb was dedicated to the memory of the late philanthropist and businessman, Barney Hurwitz, who died a few months earlier. They carried with them the Torah he had donated to the shul in memory of his family who perished in the Holocaust.

Although Chabad of Strathavon’s Rabbi Ari Shishler’s story also involves a mountain, the minyan he convened davened not at the summit, but in a parking lot. In 2008, a group consisting of nine Englishmen, an Israeli, a Jamaican Jew, and Shishler, landed at Kilimanjaro airport in Moshi, Tanzania, on a sunny Monday morning with the intention of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro’s neighbour, Mount Meru.

Needing to daven and with an hour to spare, they set about finding a suitable spot for Moshi’s first minyan. Considering the diminutive size of Kilimanjaro airport, they chose to daven in a place which afforded more space and some fresh air – the airport parking lot. “No sooner had we donned tallis and tefillin, a crowd of curious locals circled us,” says Shishler. “I doubt they had ever seen Jews before. They certainly had not seen our prayer accessories. We swayed, they whispered. We covered our eyes for the Shema, they covered their gaping mouths.”

He continues: “We had brought a small Torah with us, and we needed a suitable spot for the bimah. A local agreed to allow us to drape a tallis over the boot of his car after we promised that he would be blessed. As bemused as the locals were, especially when we lifted the Torah for hagbah, they stood in silent deference throughout the service.”

Though these elevated and not so elevated locations may be weird and wonderful places to gather a minyan, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unusual spots for davening.

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