Frequent readers of my column will know that I don’t really follow politics. And the same goes for shul politics. But just this week, I happened to accidentally get caught up in a discussion between three or four gabbaim as to how to maximize the seating space of our shul.
It’s not one of those big, official shuls. We rent out an area that used to be a storefront, so we have a rectangular shul that is significantly wider side-to-side than it is front to back. Front to back, we have an aron, an amud, a bimah, a hagbah chair and a wall. The rabbi has to keep looking left to right when he talks, or he can just speak directly to the wall. But the question is how to maximize the space.
Our first issue is that our shul keeps getting new members. No offense.
Usually, this is a good thing, because new members mean new money, except that we get the kind of new members that, like the old members, don’t really have money. It’s great that people who have no money like hanging out with other people who have no money, but how on earth are we going to build a bigger shul with no money?
But seating is just one issue. The most obvious solution is to add another row of tables, and the most obvious place to put it is the aisle. Which brings us to the other problem: We need aisles for people to walk through so they can:
A. Go to the bathroom, which they seem to do way more during shul hours than they probably do at home.
B. Go look for a sefer if they finish Shemoneh Esrei early, so that by the time they find it and get back to their seats (which isn’t easy, because you have to time your steps around everyone’s shuckling, like you’re playing Frogger), the chazzan will have already started.
So the most recent thing they did was stick in an extra row. This added some seats, but not enough. And now the guys in the back row are complaining that people bump into them when they’re coming to get seforim, although seeing as there is now an extra row, you’d think these guys would just move forward one row and pretend the new row is the back one. Meanwhile, the guys in the front row are complaining that people heading to the bathroom are bumping into them, although you’d think they would just move one row back and pretend that the new row is the front row. And the people who pass by are complaining, because it’s easier to complain than to cut through the basement.
So the gabbaim spent a lot of time arguing about ideas. Should we get rid of the tables? Then everyone will complain. Guys want their tables, because otherwise they’d have to juggle their siddur, their chumash, their tallis bag, their hat and whatever sefer they got during shemoneh esrei, and figure out how to show each of their kids the place.
A lot of the discussion revolved around the seforim shranks. This was a big sticking point. The thought was that if we moved the row of seforim from behind the back row, we get an extra… well, 12 inches, probably, in the back of the room, which is not large enough for another row of people, but might be large enough to get the guys in the back to stop complaining about having no room, and instead start complaining about how they now have to walk somewhere else to get their seforim.
But what do we do with the seforim?
One gabbai suggested that we move the bookcases all over the room—wherever there’s a small space—instead of all in one row. Like for instance, we can move the big plush Kisey Shel Eliyahu, seeing as how often do we have a bris in shul? Can’t we just bring it in when we do? Or do we have to have it sitting there all the time, in case there’s an emergency bris? Yes, I know that whoever sponsored the chair will complain. But maybe he’ll stop if we let him have it for his makom kavua.
But then the second gabbai pointed out that do we really want seforim all over the place, so people have to go from bookcase to bookcase looking for what they want, and bothering everyone in the room? Then we’d need aisles all over the place.
So his suggestion was, how about we make the bookcases taller? That way we need fewer of them.
OK, so we don’t have infinite ceilings, but for every two bookcases we make taller, we get to lose one. Unless someone donates more seforim, Heaven forbid.
But then the first gabbai said, “Then how do people reach the seforim?” Do they stand on the chairs of the guys in the back row? Do we get one of those ladders that slide along the wall?
Maybe we should forget about seats, and just have a rotation of people that have to go away for Shabbos certain weeks, or at least try out other shuls.
But why am I writing this article? Half the shul is going to complain that everyone’s going to come to our shul now, because I just said we’re looking to make more room. And half the people are going to complain that no one’s going to join our shul now, because I just said we’re a crowded shul of complainers. And the third half will say that what goes on in the shul is not for public discussion—it’s between the 87 of us and our families and friends.
But anyway, if everyone in my shul is going to complain to me, it might take some of the brunt off the gabbaim. A little thank you for involving me in politics.
By Mordechai Schmutter