May 16, 2024
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It is inarguable that davening in a synagogue has elements of a Broadway show. The singing component is the most obvious but there are other aspects of synagogue davening that certainly lend themselves to the theatricality of it all. The only major Broadway item that is missing from the synagogue experience is a catchy show name. Some possible Broadway show names for davening in shul might include Phantom of the Mechitza, Les Meshugas, Kvetchy Boots, Hello Chally, Rock of Sages and Katz.

Tickets

Like Broadway shows, synagogues sell tickets for seating, at least on High Holidays. The main difference is that on Broadway, tickets for partially-obstructed views are normally cheaper whereas High Holiday tickets are not similarly discounted. In other words, if your seat is behind a Shtreimel-wearing congregant or a bearskin-wearing congregant who works for the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace, then it is tough luck for you.

Opening Night

On Broadway, a show officially begins its run with an opening night and then ends its run, however long or short, with a grand finale. On the High Holidays, the first day of Rosh Hashanah is like opening night and Yom Kippur’s Neilah is arguably the grand finale, though it is the break-fast that normally gets the rave reviews.

Playbill/Program

Like Broadway shows, some shuls provide programs or playbills for those entering the building. These little pamphlets typically offer useful information such as the zmanim for all Shabbos-related events, a listing of the week’s condolences/mazel tovs and reports on other shul-related news. At the end of a Broadway show, however, the director does not read the entire playbill/program out loud whereas at the end of davening the shul president often regales (or tortures) the congregation with such a public reading.

Seating

Like Broadway shows, orthodox shuls have different seating sections. The orchestra section is designated for the men, the mezzanine is often divided between men and women and the balcony is exclusively for the women. Of course, Broadway shows do not feature a mechitza just like synagogue davening does not feature dress rehearsals.

Lighting

Like Broadway shows, most synagogues feature special lighting, i.e, the Ner Tamid. The difference is that the lights on Broadway sometimes go out but the Ner Tamid, by definition, does not.

Understudy

Like Broadway shows, many synagogues have lead performers, i.e, the rabbi, and an understudy, i.e, the assistant rabbi, who stays ready just in case the lead cannot perform. Having an official understudy for a bar mitzvah boy probably would not make a lot of sense but most bar mitzvah boys would gladly welcome an understudy to stand in during the customary candy-throwing assault.

Blocking

Like Broadway shows, most synagogues use blocking to set the positions and paths of movement for the performers, i.e., rabbi, chazzan and shul president. Blocking also is used for bar mitzvahs, especially when the child must go up on stage to stand next to the rabbi to receive a blessing and gift from the sisterhood. When the child is shorter than average, another form of “blocking” is used: the child literally stands on a block so that he can be seen by the viewing audience. If, however, the child is taller than the rabbi, then the rabbi will use “blocking” so that he is not physically dwarfed by the bar mitzvah boy.

Intermission

Like Broadway shows, some synagogues feature an intermission, i.e, the mid-davening kiddush club, though it often is officially frowned upon by the establishment.

After Party

Like Broadway shows, most synagogues feature an after party, i.e, the post-davening kiddush. On Broadway, the after party historically took place at Sardi’s, a restaurant on 44th Street that has been around since the 1920’s and was the birthplace of the Tony Awards. The greatest stars on Broadway, including legends like Lauren Bacall, Liza Minnelli, and Fred Astaire have partied at Sardi’s until the wee hours of the morning. At a synagogue kiddush, you also will find many legends, especially those who gobble up all of the kiddush offerings and then still somehow have plenty of room for Shabbos lunch, Shaleh-shudes and Melaveh Malkah.

Final thought: On Broadway, it is customary to wish a performer luck by exclaiming: “Break a leg!” In the Jewish world, most overly-protective Jewish mothers probably could not bring themselves to utter such a wish. Instead, they would exclaim something like “Don’t break a leg… but, if you must, try to break someone else’s leg and then, either way, call your cousin Moshe, the one who is pre-med.”


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