by Mali Schantz-Feld (Seminole, FL)
Minyans were for the men of my family during my childhood in Brooklyn, NY more years ago than I would like to confess. Decades later, at an egalitarian Conservative synagogue in St. Petersburg, Florida, my daughter was invited to read from the Torah at Thursday morning minyan before her Bat Mitzvah. A few years later, for my son’s Bar Mitzvah, the scenario was a bit different. I kvelled over his beautiful voice chanting his Torah portion, but, later in the service, I chanted Kaddish for my mother, who had suddenly passed away. A celebration of life, a comfort in death, I felt her presence, along with a connection to the others in the small group and to my heritage.
Fast forward three years: Rosh Hashanah, a time for resolutions. A plea from the bima floated from the speaker’s mouth and rested on my shoulders. Although only ten people were needed to recite Kaddish, read Torah and other prayers, often, attendance was less than ten. So, adding to my Jewish New Year’s resolution to exercise more, I resolved to get my soul in shape along with my body by attending Tuesday morning minyan.
I was nervous. The “regulars” could daven in Hebrew faster than I could keep up in English. Grabbing on to a word here and there, and depending on the kindness of strangers to point out the place, I looked around at the small band of “minyanaires.” A 90-year-old, with a European accent and white hair reminiscent of my grandfather’s, read from the siddur words that obviously had been etched in his mind years ago. A variety of people stopped by before starting their day’s business—lawyers and doctors removed their suit jackets to put on their tefillin, chatting about the latest stock market news one minute, engrossed in prayer the next; men in jeans; women, some in running suits and others dressed for success; out-of-towners and members of other congregations. Anyone with a few spare minutes was encouraged to stay for coffee and a bagel afterward.
After a while the Hebrew words and familiar faces became my friends—seniors with their mischievous smiles and ready jokes; the accountant and handyman who kept everyone on the right page; the woman who lost her husband to cancer at a time in life when they should have been enjoying empty-nest syndrome together. Someone volunteered to recite Kaddish for a previous “Minyan-keeper,” a poet, with a gray beard and leprechaun-like stature who unlocked the chapel doors and announced pages for so many years. The regulars dedicated the chapel’s eternal light in his name so his inspiration would preside over the minyans indefinitely.
At the minyan, not all come to say Kaddish. But all come to start the day with thankfulness, integrity, faith and love of Torah. It’s tough to drag myself out from under cozy blankets to arrive at the synagogue at 7:45 a.m. But when I see the smiles on the other nine faces, knowing that I’m the one who makes the minyan complete, I really feel like a “perfect 10.”
Mali Schantz-Feld, a professional writer for twenty years, has written on topics ranging from medical breakthroughs to the national economy. She has won writing awards from the Florida Magazine Association, the Florida Freelance Writers Association, and the national Jesse H. Neal Award for Editorial Excellence. She loves sharing the warmth and significance of Jewish traditions and heritage with family and friends.