My Saturday Morning Minyan: A Quiet and Holy Current
Black tights. Black dress. Careful makeup, a touch of jewelry, and heels. A hooded raincoat, to stave off the gusty downpour.
I grab my kippah (tastefully black, like everything else) before I shut the car door. As I put the clips on, to keep it from slipping off my head, I knew Nate would be laughing at me. “What are you doing?” he would rasp. “Girls aren't supposed to wear yarmulkes!” Then he would throw up his arms – dismissively at first and then, later, in gentle resignation – while a "Bah!" slipped out under his breath. Or not-so-under. He wasn't shy about letting you know what he thought.
I had no illusions about what he thought of me. I met him in my mid-40s. I was a girl to him – not because he was 30-some years my senior, but because I was, well, a girl. My gender, the two X’s of my chromosomes, declared me to be a girl forever. Not a woman. Not an equal. A mere girl.
Yet there I was, every Saturday morning, talking Torah with the guys. Praying with them. I argued, too –in the best, most philosophical sense of the word – with them and even with the rabbi. Sometimes, I argued with myself. I was an uppity girl who had the temerity to talk Torah with the guys and stay to pray with them – every Saturday morning, for years. It was the best part of my week, just me and my guys.
They had been coming together for Shabbat morning services for as long as I'd been alive. These men were remnants of a different world and another time – captains of industry, craftsmen and doctors, scientists and industrialists, shop owners and salesmen. They were the symbol of the American landscape writ large, across the small backdrop of our synagogue: second-generation Americans who were taught that the rhythm of Jewish life was the undercurrent of everything else. It held them, sustained them, and was the bedrock upon which they lived.
They told me stories of what it used to be like – when the synagogue was in a different place, a grand old building across town, a growing and tightly-knit community. They talked of births and deaths and weddings and a steady stream of b'nai mitzvah, of boys who made their way to the bimah and stood stiffly in a suit and tie, waiting with a butterfly stomach before leaning over the Torah, with its yellowed parchment and hand-scribed letters, while their fathers kvelled. It was a life they made for themselves and their families, bordered on every side by this holy place.
I don't know that they would have defined it as holy back then, when they were young and ambitious and walking in the footprints of their fathers. Then, it was brick and mortar and salaries and schools. There were rabbis to hire and committees to fill and teachers to find. There were leaks to plug and money to be raised. They would let slip stories of the time when one of their group, nameless, made sure a kid with patched clothes or a rumbling stomach had tuition, or a bar mitzvah, or a book.
They were a community. They were a family, forged by shared ties and shared faith.
Time moved and landscapes shifted. While faith was constant, the synagogue – and the community – morphed. From Orthodox to Conservative to Reform, moving farther west into different, newer, more modern buildings, this once large and thriving community grew smaller and more diverse. Faces changed, traditions changed, custom was lost.
But this Saturday morning minyan of men still gathered every Shabbat morning to study and pray and connect – and slowly, they let me in.
Every week, we studied and prayed and ate. They taught me their rhythms, their quiet. If Friday night services were a joyous, raucous dance with God, Saturday was an inward journey, a solitary yet shared walk. It was no less joyous, but we seemed to find God in the stillness, in the gentle stream of light through the windows, and the dancing of dust motes as we moved in a slow and steady cadence through the service. They taught me to listen for God, that listening and quiet and service to others were their own kinds of prayer, and that every prayer was holy.
These men of quiet faith made a place for me next to them, and I am infinitely blessed to have stood with them. Every Saturday morning, for years, we stood together and prayed and learned. We celebrated and grieved, too. We were a family. A community.
They brought a depth and richness that had been missing into my life. I was changed because I knew them and loved them. My Saturday guys are fewer now, and I am shocked when confronted once more with the reality of their absence, just how much smaller the group is. We have had to say goodbye far too many times. But we come together, to grieve and remember, to tell stories of our lives and the lives of those for whom we gather. We are carried by the rhythms of faith and love, a quiet and holy current.
Zichronam liv'rachah, may their memories be for a blessing. I carry them with me and remember them in the quiet stillness of a Saturday morning, as I listen for the voice of God and find community and benediction there. I thank them for the gift of their lives, the song of their prayers and silence.
And let us say: Amen.