| Voice in the Crowd |

A Letter to My Shtender

Many of us were surprised to discover the joy of home davening
Dear Shtender,

You’re a pretty ordinary shtender, a table-top model that I bought one day in Monsey when I drove by a sale outside the warehouse, all shtenders fifty dollars. It was an impulse buy, but one I never regretted.

You’re attractive enough, not a big mahogany-looking rosh yeshiva model, but also not an olive-wood foldable number with a name written in black marker. You hold my siddur, and inside, you reliably carry assorted tissues, the selichos I’ve been meaning to take home for a while now (but should probably leave there, it’s almost time), and a badly knotted-up gartel that would come in handy if there were no other gartels on earth.

Further down the table sits a small stack of Rav Meilech Biderman and Rav Avigdor Miller pamphlets spread out like a Chinese fan (now, with plenty of time, I’m visualizing a conversation between them -- the gravelly, laid-back, chatting on the front porch tones of Reb Meilech merging with Rabbi Miller’s deep, rumbling sing-song… If you have imagination and are on quarantine-clock, it’s not a bad activity. It works with other gedolim too, by the way).

Many of us, exiled from the wood-paneled embrace of shul, were surprised to discover the joy of home davening, the luxury of lingering. With no carpools or traffic or rush to work, there’s something meaningful about sitting wrapped in a tallis as your pajama-clad toddler davens from their little paper-back booklet right next to you. For some of us, it was an opportunity to encounter the aroma of ketores and the scent of korbanos. (I always thought, a friend remarked, that the shnei ksuvim hamakchishim zeh es zeh thing was only on the Yomim Noraim. Who knew? )

Those who often lead tefillos and song, our friends in the music industry, tried to help, offering Zoom Hallels and spirited online pre-Kabbalas Shabbos kumzitzes, something not normally offered in shul. (I’m waiting for the Zoom Beha”b — great opportunity the singer who wants to go niche and carve out his slot — but so far I haven’t seen it advertised.) We’ve seen shy young men daven for the amud in our living room minyanim, selecting the perfect tunes for Lecha Dodi, and I suspect that in many homes a child has discovered his inner gabbai by being first to bang for Yaaleh V’yavo.

It was a very special time: but nice as it’s been, like all vacations, there comes a point when you just want it to end, when you want to check out and get home again.

The thought of you, my shtender, sitting, in a dark room, no one too hot or too cold, none of the usual smells — not the floor-wax of Erev Shabbos, not the coffee of Erev Shabbos nor the kugel of Shabbos day; and none of the usual sounds — no rustling pages or soft sighs and full-throated song — makes me sad.

If you’ll have me back, then I’m ready.

Shtender, tei’ere shtender, I can’t wait.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 809)


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