Short shul services should outlast the pandemic
In my defense, I had recently lost my mother when I was asked by a fellow kaddish sayer to please slow down as he was finding it hard to keep up with me. I momentarily contemplated the next 11 months ahead, and said, ”Nope. Not going to happen.”
After a few seconds of him staring blankly at me, I realised he was hoping for more than that. And so, I added, “Instead of me slowing down, why don’t you go home and practice.”
My wife and family weren’t proud of my behaviour, but when he finally returned to shul some weeks later, it was clear that he had followed my suggestion and kept up the pace very nicely indeed.
Continuing the theme, “Things that should outstay the pandemic”, I have yet another suggestion. Shuls. I recommend that we keep the services short, our rabbis concise, and the after-service kiddush chopped-herring free.
No one has missed long services, long speeches, and it’s unlikely that anyone aside from a hungry few who wouldn’t remove their masks long enough to fit both the kichel and the herring in their mouths in any event will have missed either of those Eastern European “delicacies”.
We need to be kind to ourselves and accept that we have also lost shul fitness. The fitness required to sit in a service for hours is no different to that of running or kickboxing – one being good for the soul, and the other for the heart. They are similar in that without practice on an ongoing basis, ability is lost, and it becomes more and more difficult to get back to prior levels.
It’s also worth considering how we managed to drag the services on for so long. What we actually did for a three-hour Shabbat morning service when 1.5 to two hours does fine is a mystery, and it seems a massive stretch in a post-pandemic world.
From this side of the pandemic, the wasted hour in shul seems a little sad. It’s time we will never get back, and before we allow the shul-time-creep, we might want to add up the hours lost over say 10 years and think about what we could have done with that in the alternative.
Vigilance is required, and just like we need to erect fences to stop us from building rafts and from mixed dancing (G-d forbid), we should ensure that after two hours on a Shabbat morning, both the aircon and the lights switch off.
It’s rare to find a Jew who likes a long shul service. Practically, the longer it goes on, the higher the level of talking, the less people stay in their seats, and the less chance the poor rabbi has of getting a word in elsewhere.
And whereas in the past I might well have carried an extra Concerta in my pockets for those “you never know when you might need it” moments, it seems that a shorter, more focused service is a better alternative.
The days of a four-hour Shabbat service are past. And unlike bell bottoms, but much like Black Label, is unlikely to return anytime soon. Understanding that this is what the congregant is looking for and what they are able to manage is an important part of getting non-herring eaters back to shul.