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Little Minyans Everywhere

So we moved!  And one of the greatest unsung features of our building is a very regular minyan.

This is temporary, due to corona. Building minyans are nothing new in Israel, but usually they're "lobby minyans" held only for "quickie" davening, like maariv after Shabbos, not on a regular basis, with a Torah, for longer davening. And definitely not Shabbos morning, when everybody tends to go off in their own direction.

Until now.
And one of the joys of life in a Jewish country, I've decided, is waking up Shabbos morning surrounded by prayer.
Not just mumbling, but all-out singing, with gusto.

(This picture has been making the rounds of social media... best guesses seem to suggest it's somewhere in England.  It’s definitely not Israel, so I guess this phenomenon has spread out a little.)


Last Shabbos, our last in our old apartment, I went out for a walk with the kids after we lit candles (with masks on!).  We passed at least a dozen little minyanim, so we started

giving them grades, with a possible 10 points in each category. We also started adding categories as we went along, so by the time we finished, we had a complete scorecard:
  • 10 points for tunefulness
    10 points for distancing
    10 points for chairs
    10 points for including women (only one did this!)
    10 points for diversity (just being honest here -- this includes racial minorities and people with visible disabilities)

Of course, being hit with the sounds of tefillah really isn't anything new here at this apartment.

If I'm being fair and not (retroactively) hating on our accursed old apartment, I will admit that we were right across the street from not one but two shuls.  Where the davening was often noisy and enthusiastic. Where I could stay in bed and hear the shofar dozens of times over on any given day leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

And in fact, even in our first, teeny tiny apartment here in KShmu, I remember lighting candles on Friday evening, then lying with the kids on my bed (no sofa!) under the open window (no screens!) with the heavenly sounds of Lecha Dodi blowing in along with the mosquitos.

Which is all completely fitting, as far as I'm concerned. This is a Land where walking four paces IS a prayer, or at least, a spiritual devotion equivalent, we're told, to all the mitzvos in the Torah.  Where planting a tree is a prayer. Where building a house is a prayer.

But I feel like never before this corona time have the prayers been so literal.  Where every building, courtyard, park, and street become a holy place, for a few minutes at least.

I want to pause for a second to tell you about the painting I've featured a tiny snippet from up above, because it is so extraordinary. When I first saw it, it broke my heart and mended it again in the exact same instant, because it's so... true.

It's called "Open Air Minyan," and it's by Ukrainian-born Israeli artist Zoya Cherkassky, who lives in Tel Aviv. 

During corona isolation, when most of us were feeling our creativity stifled by uncertainty, she created a series of extraordinary paintings that evoke both ghetto Europe and its destruction and the modern period, in a deceptively simple "cartoonish" style. 

She's gotten a ton of good press for this new collection, a departure from earlier work that depicts former Soviet immigrants, and I invite you to click through, see the full painting, and read more about her incredible new collection:

So where was I?

Oh, yes.  Minyans.

Having all these minyans around has its down side, for sure.  Or at least, its puzzling side.  Walking home that Shabbos evening with the kids, we stumbled upon a minyan right in the middle of a street and all of a sudden there we were, two women (gasp!) and a young boy, right in the centre of the action.

Ditto when I ran out of our building to meet a friend (distanced! with masks!) and accidentally ran right into the middle of mincha.  It baffles me why they can't move away from the door so people can come and go.  But seeing as they haven't, they'll just have to put up with my womanly presence, barring the establishment of a proper mechitza.

Maybe someone needs to publish a guide to open-air minyan etiquette.  Maybe they already have, I don't know.

And okay, even though "including women" became one of my criteria for evaluating these impromptu minyanim, the truth is, we only saw one woman. And in the absence of a mechitza, she was kind of huddled beside a tree.  Without a chair, in a minyan that had otherwise ranked ten out of ten for chairs.

So that minyan got a 2 for including women, because there WAS a woman.  Most got a zero.
And frankly, most of these minyanim were lousy for diversity as well.  We saw a couple of older men in wheelchairs. 

No women in wheelchairs, who from what I've seen are fairly neglected anyway when it comes to religious services, given that most shuls' ladies' sections are up steep flights of stairs.
Very few racial minorities, which in this neighbourhood means people of Ethiopian origin.  Which is odd, because in most shuls -- including our Ashkenazi shul -- you see a few, at least.  Were they elsewhere, davening outside their own buildings?  Or did someone forget to invite them to their nice impromptu minyan? 

Either way, I feel I can't rapture in this day and age about how lovely it is to be surrounded by minyanim without thinking about who isn't included.

But the truth is, it IS lovely.  I feel included in the sense that I'm surrounded by prayer.  Kabbalas Shabbos last week was like a competition for intensity and tunefulness between the two buildings we live in and the two buildings beside us... and the big winner was ME, sitting outside on my 2nd-floor balcony, soaking up the spirit of it all.

Many people are hoping and literally praying to be back with their regular minyanim soon.  Many people, I'm sure, have already gone back to their regular minyanim.  Soon, maybe, eretz Yisrael will go back to being like everywhere else: men scurrying off around sunset on Shabbos to various buildings, where they'll seal themselves up inside the air-conditioned halls, locking in their tefillos instead of setting them free into the open air of a palm-embroidered sunset.

I'm sure there are lots of perks of going back to shul: padded seats, little cubbies to store your personal possessions (or, for GZ: your candy), the companionship of sitting near your friends.

For me, too. I deeply treasure the deep, gorgeous sleep I usually fall into while waiting for Akiva to come home from shul.  And now that we've moved, our regular shul is even farther away, meaning MORE SLEEP FOR ME.  This is very important, and right now, his "commute" home from the downstairs minyan is about twenty seconds.

But right now, there are minyans everywhere. There are prayers in the air.
And I feel like Hashem really must hear them more clearly that way.

Or at least I do.

image(p.s. I was liberally inspired in the title of this post from Rebecca Wells’s, Little Altars Everywhere. A book I must have read, and a title I’ve always loved. Click through, read the book. This is an affiliate link, meaning if you buy the book, I get something like a billionth of a cent, and I thank you for it.)

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה



  1. This post is featured in Shiloh Musings: Corona, COVID-19 Safe "Visits," Check Out Some Blogs.

    Take a look, and see/read the company you're with.

  2. By the way, no mechitza is required for a temporary minyan (such as a quick aravit after a chupa). A mechitza is only required by halacha in an established shul (doubt whether outdoor minyans would qualify even if they've been going for a few months now.)

    That's not to say that men and women daven side by side. At my open air minyan they are together as a group on one side.


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