June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Communal davening flows more mellifluously when daveners are figuratively and literally on the same page. In many cases, however, getting everyone on the same page is more difficult than confirming whether every inch of the Eruv is up or down. (As an aside, an Eruv is like the stock market, a rocket launch or the human spirit because, in each case, it is better to be up than down.) For synagogues that have a sufficient amount of the same siddurim for the entire congregation, keeping the masses on the same page is less difficult. In other words, davening will stay on a roll when everyone is using the same Artscroll.

That said, even when the same siddurim are used, some folks inevitably get lost along the way. Some shuls fix this problem by placing a manually-operated page number display at the front of the room. Such a device usually is a wood or metal stand approximately six-feet tall with three to four slots at the top where small cards are placed. The cards in each slot are numbered zero through nine and allow the operator to display the pertinent page number. The manual operation of such page number displays is not unlike the manual operation of a scoreboard at an old-fashioned baseball stadium. It also is not unlike the turning of the letters on the old version of the classic game show “Wheel of Fortune.” In other words, to operate a page number display, every shul needs a Vanna White.

The page number displays employed by shuls could be used for other purposes. If they also displayed the letters of the alphabet, they probably could be used to transmit helpful information to the congregation. For example, in using only four letters, they could send a message to stop talking and be quiet: “Sha!” as in “Sheket Bevakasha.” They also could hint at items to be featured at the shul kiddush such as “Ritz,” as in Ritz crackers, or the duration of the rabbi’s sermon, e.g., “Long.” Such displays also could be used to provide weather reports such as “Warm,” “Cold” or “Feh!”

For those shuls with a potpourri of prayer books and a myriad of machzors, keeping the crew on the same page can be more challenging than finding a clean plastic cup at the end of a highly-trafficked kiddush. Some shuls solve the page number problem by periodically announcing the pertinent page number during davening. These announcements can be rather lengthy and obtrusive depending on the variety of siddurim in use. Here is an example: “If you’re using the brown Artscroll, we are on page 285. If you’re using the blue Artscroll, we are on page 346. If you’re using the Koren Sacks siddur, we are on page 401. And if you’re using an on-line siddur on your iPhone, you might be in the wrong shul.”

The official page announcer usually is the rabbi or gabbai and such announcements work well when the announcer is blessed with a bellowing baritone that reverberates throughout the room. If the rabbi and gabbai are soft-spoken low-talkers who can barely project their voices to the bimah, let alone to the back row, then page announcements will be of limited value. For this reason, when a congregation hires a new rabbi or elects a gabbai, the voice should affect the choice. Obviously, voice is a factor when choosing a chazzan but a chazzan does not announce page numbers while leading the davening for the same reason that baseball pitchers do not announce the ball/strike count while pitching.

Another way of solving the page number issue is to hire ushers to patrol the pews and manually turn the pages for each needy congregant. This would be like the page-turners used by some musicians, especially soloists, who need a helping hand and thus hire a third-party to turn the sheet music pages during a performance. In the same vein, a synagogue could hire a platoon of page-turners to monitor each siddur. This certainly would be expensive, disruptive and overindulgent to the extreme, but it would ensure that the entire congregation remained on the same page.

Yet another possible solution would be to ask every congregant to meticulously pay attention throughout davening. In some shuls, however, this may be a big ask, even bigger than asking congregants to return their siddurim to the bookshelves from whence they came.

Final thought: There once was a rabbi who became hoarse, so he asked a congregant to announce the page numbers. The congregant, eager to mimic the rabbi’s announcements perfectly, peeked at the rabbi’s siddur before making each announcement. You could say that he took a page out of the rabbi’s book.

By Jonathan Kranz

 

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