If your communal standards are non-standard, do us all a favor and have some signs made. Please?
On Yom Kipur this year, a gabai told me to stop writing in the margin of my machzor at Hadar. When all is said and done, it was frustrating, but not out of line. Hadar uses no amplification or anything on yom tov. It’s a community that defines its communal spaces as shomer shabbat. So I stopped writing.
But BJ is a whole other story. I have a whole list of regular complaints about BJ (it’s a meat market, etc), but Simchat Torah had me more miffed than usual. I’m often told that on the evening of Simchat Torah, BJ is the place to be. So I went.
Far beyond my usual complaints, it was a night club, complete with Israeli bouncers at all entrances and exits. The only thing to distinguish the gyrating mass of Jews from night club was the sprinkling of people dancing with sifrei Torah.
For me, events like this are a spectator sport. I felt most comfortable when the dancing was over and the Torah reading began. During the dancing hakafot, I stood off to the side, sporadically annotating my siddur and chatting with the many friends I was running into. It all reminded me a lot of summer camp. I was always that kid standing off to the side during Israeli dancing, grotesquely fascinated, but utterly unwilling to join in.
Amid all of this, there’s a piano playing, rabbis are singing loudly into microphones. Everything sounds beautiful.
Except for one thing. Four of five times during each half-hour dance hakafah, one rabbi or another would shout over the music into the microphone, “No pictures, please!” People were indeed taking pictures–with flash!–of the rotating clod of Jews. To me, far more distracting than the odd flash here and there were the announcements admonishing us all to stop taking pictures.
But I can understand it. The flashes distract. One person I chatted with said the flashes were more distracting to her than the announcements. Fine. The microphones enhanced the dancing worship, while the flashes detract. I get it.
But more than anything else, I was amused by the notion of shouting into a microphone to tell people not to take pictures. There’s something halachically hilarious about it.
And then some rather officious woman in fanny pack decided that my note-taking was a problem and told me to stop.
So now we come back to my original point: If your communal standards are non-standard, do us all a favor and have some signs made.
If there will be amplification, mixed dancing, totally nonreligious Jewish high school students, at least two well-known Orthodox rabbis (that I spotted), admonishments over the mics not to take pictures, My Number One Fan, a handful of Jewschoolers (hey guys!), etc., there’s no way to know what’s appropriate.
In a Conservative shul, in a Reform shul, in and Orthodox shul it is, with the occasional exception, pretty easy for someone as ritually literate as I am to know what it’s acceptable to do and not do.
So, fanny pack lady, despite the look of disgust on your face, it was perfectly non-obvious that what I was doing was wrong in any way.
If I can’t write in your shul, please have a sign made to go along with your no cell phones sign. How else is anyone to know what is appropriate? (Or, dare I say, allowed?)