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May 23, 2024
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We now present Part 2 of an article about pesicha in shul. Last week I came to the conclusion that if there’s anything my years as a gabbai pesicha at a Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur vasikin minyan have taught me, it’s that my years as a gabbai pesicha at a Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur vasikin minyan have taught me nothing.

Well, they did teach me some things, most of which I learned the hard way:

1. If you attempt to give people pesicha, they spend five minutes trying not to take it, while you try to convince them that you’re giving it to everyone. This is a hard argument to have when neither of you can talk.

2. A surprising amount of people have no idea what you mean when you point to them and then to the words in your machzor that say, “The Ark is opened.” Not everyone knows what an ark is. It sounds like a boat.

3. If you give someone pesicha too late, he won’t make it up there in time. But if you give it out any earlier, he’ll forget to come up.

So what do I do?

So at some point, I started keeping a little slip of paper in my machzor. On one side I wrote, in bold red marker, “This means you!” That way, people would know I mean them. And on the other side I wrote, “It’s sooner than you think!” so they’d know to start moving.

I had this slip of paper for a few years, and then I got married. And on my wedding day, I brought my Yom Kippur machzor to Mincha, so I could say viddui, and I opened it up, and staring at me, in red, were the words, “It’s sooner than you think!”

I don’t remember what happened to the slip at that point. But it definitely helped my kavana.

But the slip didn’t solve all my problems anyway.

For example, one issue I have is that some pesichos are more complicated than others. For instance, there are some where you’re supposed to keep the Aron open for a while, close it for two paragraphs, then open it again for another paragraph, and then close it. So what people do is they close it that first time, and then they walk away. And by the time I realize they’ve done this, I have 1 ½ paragraphs to lunge through the crowd and pull them back, or find someone else to do half a pesicha last minute—all without talking. And the slip of paper wasn’t covering that. I need to get a bigger slip of paper.

And then there’s one pesicha that I’ve learned from experience that I should only give to people whoI know can handle it: the one for Aleinu. I think some machzorim might be different, but according to Artscroll, who we go by because they’ve taken the time to write it in English and for goodness’ sake I can’t talk, you’re supposed to open the Aron, keep it open for one passuk, then close it for two, and then simultaneously open it and drop to the floor and land on a paper towel. How do I mime all that?

So at some point I started printing out cards. I know I wasn’t the first person to think of pesicha cards, but this is definitely the first set of cards that has all the instructions in clear, tiny English. It lets people know what I want from them, it gives them clear instructions, and they can use the card as a bookmark so they can see when the page is getting closer.

For example, if it’s the kind of pesicha that’s sooner than the person thinks, I say so on the card. I also say if he’s supposed to close it and then open it again. I’m a writer. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out that I should write things out.

I also put cute lines on the cards to wake people up. For example, some of them have divrei chizuk, such as, “FUN FACT: In the old days, they used to go into the fields on Yom Kippur afternoons and dance around and make shidduchim. What did YOU do during the break?” Or: “There’s only one Avinu Malkeinu. If you think there are 45, you’re saying it wrong.”

The only downside of these lines is that not everyone gives the cards back. Especially since one of my lines is, “Collect them all!”

And I can’t just print out the ones that are missing the following year. I have to print all of them, because they come in sheets. (I’ve been using business card stock, which is something they sell in case you want your business card to feel bumpy around the edges. Like if you want to get your name out to people, but you don’t want to impress them.)

So maybe I should print out a card that says on it, “I need it back!” Or write that in red on a slip of paper. But there’s no way I’m going to do that, because I just know that someday, years and years from now, I’m going to open my Yom Kippur machzor to say viddui, and I’m going to see, in big red letters, “I need it back!”

That’ll do it.

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press, and, among others. He also has 4 books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected]

By Mordechai Schmutter

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