Why I Whisper in Shul

We need to show up at synagogue in order for there to be enough of us to hold a service. But we might also think of it this way: we need to show up in order for there to be enough of us to hold each other.

by Jodi S. Rosenfeld

people whispering

This morning, an hour before services were to begin for the final day of Pesach, I met a CBJ friend at the Phoenixville Y. Recognizing that it was far too beautiful a morning to exercise indoors, we went for a walk in the neighborhoods nearby. We passed the house of one of B’nai Jacob’s Trustees. Around the corner, we passed the house of a Religious School teacher. In a half-mile, we passed the house of our community’s only living Holocaust survivor. As we rounded the next bend, we passed the house of our congregation’s unofficial Bubbe, whose 85th birthday we commemorated last year. There was something connecting about our passing these houses of a smattering of our B’nai Jacob friends – as if we were tying yarn to each of their doorknobs, creating a web as we circled back to our cars. And then we drove to services.

There was something extraordinary going on in the synagogue this morning too. We were chatty. It wasn’t that there was more whispering than usual – it was the content of what we were sharing in those leaning-over-whispery moments, those brief encounters en route to the restrooms. Have you heard? One of us was missing because his wife was ill – do you know how she is feeling? Do they need our help? One of us was struggling with the loss of her father and found it too difficult to be in the sanctuary for Yiskor. Did she need to be alone or with a friend right now? One of the eldest among us fell asleep and, knowing she would want to kiss the Torah, was gently woken by the Rabbi with a hand on her shoulder so that she wouldn’t miss the opportunity. Oh, she was dozing we whispered, smiling because we love her. One of us, suffering from dementia, was having an especially good day and we told her she looked radiant. One of us whispered that his son had just decided on which college to attend. Mazel Tov! we said. We were taking care of one another, offering little hugs and handshakes between blessings. Yasher Koach.

At the end of the service the Rabbi told this story: There was a village where exactly 10 Jews lived and every single day there was a minyan. Each Jew knew to be there and so each day he or she showed up. Then one day, an 11th Jew moved into the village. Can you guess what happened at minyan the next day? There wasn’t one. Everyone assumed the 11th Jew would show up for minyan in his or her place. The point of the story was clear – we need to be accountable, to show up in order for there to be enough of us to hold a service. But we might also think of it this way: we need to show up in order for there to be enough of us to hold each other. This, to me, is what community is about. Whether we are passing by one another’s homes as we go about our days, or sitting among one another in the sanctuary, we are part of a web of connectedness and care-taking.

If you were in the sanctuary this morning, you would have heard the words of spoken prayer through which we were honoring God. If you had listened closer still, you would have heard the whispers of concern and comfort through which we were honoring each other. Perhaps, you might have thought, these are one and the same.

Jodi Rosenfeld is a psychologist, writer and member of Congregation B’nai Jacob in Phoenixville, PA.