May 29, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

We’ll Daven for You

Welcome back to our tutorial on how to start your own shul, which we began last week. It takes more than a week to start your own shul, so if you’re losing patience with this topic, starting your own shul is probably not for you.

Today we’re going to continue with:

Getting Started

The first thing you want to do when you start a shul is let people know you exist. The question is how to do that. You never see brand-new shuls advertising in the newspaper like new supermarkets: “Grand opening!” And then you get to have balloons and a clown and samples of what the cholent is going to taste like. You can also write, “Buy one aliyah, get one aliyah free, of equal or lesser value!” That way, people will show up if only to find out what you mean by “equal or lesser value.”

People You Need

Every shul needs the following people. If you don’t have all these people, get them, because they’re necessary for the function of a shul.

Rav—Every shul needs a rav, so the mispallelim have someone to blame when davening goes long, for shalom bayis reasons. Ideally, the rav should live on the exact opposite side of town from the shul. The rav should also know a non-Jew that he can sell his chametz to, or he should have a secret deal going on with the rav of another shul who does know a non-Jew.

Gabbai—This must be an active go-getter who did not know how much responsibility this was when he took the job, and is one bad day away from quitting. Other skills a gabbai needs are the ability to: a) Run an auction. b) Recite the beginnings of all the gabbai tefillos by heart so everyone doesn’t have to wait for him to find the page. c) Realize when the person he wants to give an aliyah to is in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei.

President—No one really knows what a shul president does, aside from giving a presidential address at the meetings, and talking about how they’re going to build a mechitza to replace the curtain, and the women are going to pay for it.

Candyman—This is a man who gives out some kind of candy that is ostensibly to keep the kids quiet in shul, but generally causes the noisy kids who would otherwise just be playing outside to traipse through the shul to get their lollies. Girls, too, because for some reason there’s no candy woman. Though I bet there’s a carrot sticks woman. It’s unclear if any other religions have candy people in their houses of worship. I think it’s just Jews. This might be why religion is dying out in our country.

Guy who can’t stop pacing—He should move at a slow, leisurely pace that is totally oblivious to how many people are behind him trying to get to their seat or come up for an aliyah. And right before he gets up to an area that the people behind him could maybe slide past, he should turn right around and walk back toward them. Should also have a shtender on wheels.

Guy who clears his throat every 10 seconds—It’s not his fault; it’s probably bothering him more than it’s bothering anyone else; and he definitely doesn’t realize that he keeps confusing the chazzan. Someone should direct him to the candyman.

Someone who’s willing to daven for the amud when everyone else says no—This should be a guy who doesn’t get confused when people clear their throats, and knows how to read all the little squiggles that the gabbai added to the shul’s official Chazzan Siddur. (“Why couldn’t they just buy the right siddur?”) And whose mind doesn’t suddenly go blank on every song he’s ever heard in his entire life when he gets to “Lecha Dodi.” In fact, a whole bunch of tunes should spring to mind, and he should select the one that no one else knows.

Guy who davens at the bimah so he can klop before Shemoneh Esrei—Most shuls have several of these guys, in competition, and they klop one right after the other, in case the previous guys’ klops didn’t help. If anything, they should all coordinate and klop in Morse code so we know what they’re telling us to stick in.

Guy in charge of the coffee station—This guy is in charge of filling the urn 75 times a day, making sure that there are always both sugar cubes and sugar that is not cubed, and that the spoon in the sugar is dry, smelling the milks a couple of times a day so that none of the other mispallelim have to, and making sure the kids don’t run off with all the stirrers. These duties will be his entire Shavuot night.

And there’s your minyan. You also might want to have:—The guy who helps the kids do gelilah.—Someone who can do hagbah when the sefer is heavier on the left.—Someone who’s in charge of giving an open Chumash to the guy who just did hagbah.—Someone who’s willing to leave davening early to set up the kiddush.—Someone who likes to daven in the women’s section until the first woman shows up, to keep all the seats warm.—A guy whose chair squeaks, but he won’t stop shukkeling.

Davening Times

The next question you have to figure out is when exactly you’re davening. Most shuls start with Shabbat and then move on to other days of the week if there’s an interest. There’s no reason you have to do that. You can be the shul that starts with Tuesdays, and then everyone’s going to show up to try to figure out “Why Tuesdays?” and you can say something like, “We don’t have a sefer Torah yet.”


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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