June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Putting the CAN’T in CANTOR: An Introvert at the Amud

No one second-guesses the chazan like the chazan himself.

I don’t daven for the amud very often, but when I do, there are a lot of thoughts going through my head. Mostly questions. And I can’t just turn around and ask the crowd. Am I the only chazan who wonders these things? Everyone else seems so sure of themselves.

And I’m not even talking about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the chazan gets to prepare the davening beforehand. He’s not blindsided by the gabbai 30 seconds before davening. But most days, people all over the world get dropped in front of the amud with no advance warning. Sure, maybe we should all prep everything, just in case. But the problem is that you never know what shul you’re going to be asked in. In fact, when you go to a shul that you rarely go to, that’s when they specifically ambush you and ask if you can daven. They’re already tired of asking everyone else.

“Guess at our nuschaos and minhagim,” they say. “It’ll be fun!”

Point is, there are all these questions that chazanim have—at least infrequent chazanim—and we can’t even ask anybody. The best we can hope for, for some of these questions, is a nod from a random person in the crowd.—I wonder if anyone can tell that I’m not good at singing.—Did anyone notice that mistake, or should I keep going? Maybe they’re quietly giving me a chance to correct it.—Has everyone finished saying this paragraph, or is everyone just saying it quietly?

—Who’s that guy yelling out random parts of davening, and why is he davening slower than the rav?—If this guy is going to daven louder than me, why did he refuse to be the chazan?—How come I cannot think of a single tune that I have ever heard for L’cha Dodi in my life, or at least how it starts, besides for the Young Israel one that I learned when I was five?—Is this one of the tefillos that I’m supposed to say Birchas Kohanim?—How far back in the shul do I have to go to find a seat for Tachanun? There are no open seats in the first few rows.—I wonder where my kids are right now.

—I don’t know if people know this, but if you’re ever not sure of what to say next, and you make your choice, and someone behind you happens to clear their throat at that exact second, it will throw your entire world into question.—Am I going too fast? Am I going too slow? Am I going too fast? Am I going too slow? At any given point, I feel like I’m making half the shul happy and half the shul very upset.—I guess if half the shul wishes that I was going faster and half the shul wishes I was going slower, then I’m doing great. No? No one told them to daven in the same shul as each other. This isn’t on me.

—Let’s see how many people are finished Shemoneh—Wow, when did the room get this full?—Are 10 people finished Shemoneh Esrei? I’ve lost count. I thought that guy was done, but then after about two minutes after I counted him, he suddenly backed up three steps. And I thought that guy was on his phone, but it’s very possible he’s using it to daven. And that guy is standing still like he’s davening Shemoneh Esrei, but it’s very possible he’s done. Is there anyone sitting down behind other people who are davening? Can everyone who’s done just stand sideways or pace around a little so I can tell? … No, forget the pacing. I think I counted that guy twice.

—OK, someone just gave me the nod. How does some random person always know when it’s OK to proceed? Is he willing to take halachic responsibility for me? Because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have made eye contact with me, right? I know I don’t. And the rav isn’t finished either. Is he going to take the blame for this?—Don’t forget Yaaleh V’yavo. Don’t forget Yaaleh V’yavo. Don’t forget Yaaleh V’yavo. I already forgot it in the quiet Shemoneh Esrei.—Was that enough korbanos?

—Why does this shul tallis keep sliding off?—How come this tallis only goes halfway down my back? Is this a kids’ tallis?—This is the yellowest tallis I have ever worn in my life.—Is Modim supposed to be a race? Because I am not winning.—Is there Tachanun today? I’m going to pause before Kaddish and see if everyone pulls out their chairs.

—I have to blow my nose. I have to blow my nose. I have to blow my nose.—I could grab some of the rav’s tissues. —But at what point of Chazaras HaShatz can I stop to blow? Modim?

—Where does the chazan stand during leining? I have no idea. I never pay attention to him then. Should I go back to the amud? Should I find a seat? Should I stand at the amud but turn the amud a little? Should I give them this tallis to use for aliyos? I think it’s a kids’ tallis.—I just said, “Morid Hatal” in an Ashkenaz shul. How do I take that back? With a moment of uncomfortable silence? —Why isn’t anyone opening the aron? Should I open the aron?—How am I supposed to take out my etrog and lulav between Chazaras HaShatz and Hallel? I AM the Shatz!

—Is the rabbi going to speak? Is he not going to speak? Should I start Kaddish? “Yisgadal”—Oh, he’s speaking. Where do I sit? Should I just stand at the amud? And turn it a little?—OK, a kid just ran out for the speech. I could sit in his seat. Between his father and his grandfather.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published seven books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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