By Mordechai Schmutter
We now present Part 2 of an article about pesichah in shul that I started last week for Rosh Hashanah, because, as we all know, everything that’s not finished on Rosh Hashanah is finished on Yom Kippur.
As you might remember, last week I came to the conclusion that if there’s anything my years as a gabbai pesichah at a Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur vasikin minyan have taught me, it’s that my years as a gabbai pesichah at a Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur vasikin minyan have taught me nothing.
Well, they did teach me some things, most of which I learned the hard way:
1. If you attempt to give pesichah to new people as a way of saying “Welcome to the minyan,” they spend five minutes trying not to take it, while you try to convince them that you’re giving it to everyone. This is a hard argument to have when neither of you can talk.
2. It’s not easy to give out pesichos during Mussaf on Rosh Hashanah, because you’re not really supposed to tell people what you’re trying to tell them until after the last shofar-blowing at the end.
3. A surprising number of people have no idea what you mean when you point to them and then to the words in your Machzor that say, “The ark is opened.” Not everyone knows what an ark is. It sounds like a boat.
4. It’s hard to tell who’s finished Shemoneh Esrei and who isn’t, especially when the people who are finished are shukkeling along with the chazzan.
5. If you give someone pesichah too late, he won’t make it up there in time. But if you give it out any earlier, he’ll forget to come up.
6. People can’t be blamed for all of this. They woke up for vasikin. And you, as the gabbai who’s been doing this for 15 years, should really have this figured out by now. Except that you also wake up for vasikin.
So what do I do?
At some point, around the second or third year, I started keeping a little slip of paper in my Machzor. On one side I wrote, in bold red marker, “This means you!” That way, people would know I mean them. And on the other side I wrote, “It’s sooner than you think!” so they’d know to start moving.
I had this slip of paper for a few years, and then I got married. And on my wedding day, I brought my Yom Kippur Machzor to Minchah so I could say vidui. I opened it up, and there, staring at me, in red, were the words “It’s sooner than you think!”
I don’t remember what happened to the slip at that point. But it definitely helped my kavanah.
But the slip didn’t solve all my problems anyway.
For example, one issue I have is that some pesichos are more complicated than others, especially for people who’ve never been asked to do a pesichah before. For instance, there are some where you’re supposed to keep the aron open for a while, close it for two paragraphs, then open it again for another paragraph, and then close it. So what people do is they close it that first time, and then they walk away. And by the time I realize they’ve done this, I have the span of one-and-a-half paragraphs to lunge through the crowd and pull them back, or find someone else to do half a pesichah at the last minute—all without talking. And the slip of paper wasn’t covering that. I need to get another slip of paper.
And then there’s one pesichah that I’ve learned from experience I should give only to people I know can handle it: the one for Aleinu. I think some Machzorim might be different, but according to ArtScroll (who we go by because they’ve taken the time to write it in English and, for goodness’ sake, I can’t talk), you’re supposed to open the aron, keep it open for one pasuk, then close it for two, and then simultaneously open it and drop to the floor and land on a paper towel. How do I mime all that? And if the guy up there misses a single step, there’s no way I can get up there in time to correct him. Though it is considerably easier to leap over people when they’re down on the floor.
At some point I started printing out cards. You know how when you walk into a Yekkishe shul (not necessarily one of Germanic descent—any shul that does this is by definition a Yekkishe shul) and they hand you a laminated card that says what aliyah you’re going to get, in case for some reason you don’t instinctively respond when your name is called? Or maybe it’s to prove that it’s you, so no one steals your aliyah.
So I started giving out cards. I know I wasn’t the first person to think of pesichah cards—I’d actually gotten a set of cards from someone else—but then I handed them out and didn’t quite get all of them back.
But this is definitely the first set of cards that has all the instructions in clear, tiny English. It lets people know what I want from them, it gives them clear instructions, and they can use the card as a bookmark so they can see when the page is getting closer.
For example, if it’s the kind of pesichah that’s sooner than the person thinks, I say so on the card. I also say if he’s supposed to close it and then open it again. I’m a writer. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure out that I should write things out.
I also put cute lines on the cards to wake people up. For example, some of them have divrei chizuk, such as, “FUN FACT: In the old days, they used to go into the fields on Yom Kippur afternoons and dance around and make shidduchim. What did YOU do during the break?” Or, “There’s only one Avinu Malkeinu. If you think there are 45, you’re saying it wrong.”
On some cards, I write handy tips. For example, on one card I write, “This one sneaks up on everybody. You should probably start casually advancing toward the aron.” And on the one for Aleinu, I say, “NOTE: This card can also be used as a floor mat.”
And on some cards, I try to anticipate arguments. For example, on one card I write, “We’re all fasting. Just get up and do it.” On another, I write, “Everyone older than you already got pesichah.”
The only downside of these lines is that not everyone gives the cards back. Especially since one of my lines is “Collect them all!”
And I can’t just print out the ones that are missing the following year. I have to print all of them, because they come in sheets. (I’ve been using business card stock, which is something they sell in case you want your business card to feel bumpy around the edges. Like if you want to get your name out to people, but you don’t want to impress them.)
Of course, one can argue that if I laminated the cards, people would know not to keep them. But I can’t afford to keep laminating the cards, because what if people keep them?
Maybe I should stop with the cute lines.
See, the ones you get from the Yekkishe shuls, you can’t really keep. Those gabbaim come over to you afterwards: “Where’s your card?” And they’re always laminated.
But Yekkishe gabbaim are on the ball. I have no idea who I gave pesichah to by the time davening is over. I’ve been up since 5:30. And even if I do track them down, I can’t collect the card if it says “Collect them all!” Unless I say that note is directed at me.
Some cards I specifically designed so that people would give them back. Like on one card I write, “Present this card at the Kiddush for a free piece of kugel. Supplies limited.” Or I write, “Mention this card and get a polite nod from Mr. Schmutter.”
Maybe I should ask for the cards back right after they close the aron. But:
A. I’m off somewhere fighting with the next guy, and
B. Half the time I can’t talk. That’s why I need the cards in the first place.
So maybe I should print out a card that says on it, “I need it back!” Or write that in red on a slip of paper. But there’s no way I’m going to do that, because I just know that someday, many years from now, I’m going to open my Yom Kippur Machzor to say vidui, and I’m going to see, in big red letters, “I need it back!”
That’ll do it. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.
By Mordechai Schmutter