It starts on the Saturday night when a computer alarm goes off. I’m Gabbai in two weeks; get going! The hardest part comes first: finding the people who will lead the service. Whom do I ask? I used to be more ambitious about reaching out to others, but many declined. So if you are wondering why you see a lot of the same folks on the Bimah, this is why. We Gabbaim are constantly and sincerely looking to diversify, so if you can lead and wonder why you haven’t been asked, it’s because we don’t know you. Please make yourself known.
The day before the service, it’s back into action. Who’s reading Torah? Check Aaron Wolf’s email. Who’s the greeter? Who’s the Darshan/Darshanit? Who’s reading Haftarah? Check the libraryminyan.org web site. Any special Aliyah requests? Check the email inbox. Special event or Kiddush? Check the Beth Am bulletin. New month, special prayers, Hallel, or other events? Check the Luach. Was the person in charge of the relevant service made aware of this? Who’s doing Mishnah study? TBD. How many scrolls? What’s the page numbers of the Torah reading and Haftarah reading? Check the Luach, then check the Chumash. Did any Minyan members have a death in their families on Friday? Check the email. Then, get the people list, sequences, Aliyah requests, honors, and exceptions all written down
Sun rises, alarm goes off (on my Gabbai day, it goes off on Shabbat), and it’s show time. I try to make it for Mishnah study but generally show up with just enough time to note who is leading Mishnah study, extract the Torah and open it to where we’ll be reading, get the Aliyah cards out of the Shulkhan on the Bimah, sort out the duplicates and find missing ones, and take a deep breath before Pseukei D’zimrah begins. If I haven’t gotten a Torah Gabbai Sheni, I recruit one then and there. I announce “page 65, Birkhot Haschachar” and we’re off.
Pseukei D’zimrah consists of about 45 pages of psalms, a Kaddishes, excerpts from the Torah, and selections of other prayers and rabbinic teachings. It’s more material than Rosh Hashanah Musaf — the longest service of the year — and just as profound, but we do it in 20% of the time. I try to keep up and announce the, about one a minute, so that as the congregants know where we are as they come trickling in.
Then, comes Shacharit and I have to spring into action. A few years ago, the ritual committee made a determination that we can’t distribute Aliyot and other honors after the Sh’ma. I have about 5 minutes to distribute Aliyot, and not make a mistake by forgetting anybody who had requested an Aliyah while figuring out who they are if I don’t know them. If I were smarter and thinking ahead, I would ask them what distinctive item of clothing they would be wearing so I could find them, but I love surprises. Sometimes there’s an imbalance between supply and demand, like when I people decline Aliyot as the clock tolls, or a Minyan member requests an Aliyah for themself or another person after all have been given out. Two tips: If you want an Aliyah for yourself or someone you know, it’s a good idea to be in shul by 10 AM. Also, if you’re offered an Aliyah, remember that it’s an honor and accept.
With the Aliyot distributed, I look for people to lift the Torah for Hagbah and to tie it as G’lilah. I try to wait until later in the service because the congregation is still filling up. We Gabbais eventually learn who has the physical strength to do the lifting and make an assessment of how much assistance the person doing G’lilah will need. G’lilah can be tricky for someone who hasn’t done it before. Then have 2 minutes to look for ark openers. It’s to announce the silent reading of the Amidah. Any special inserts? If I was alert when checking the Luach yesterday, I get this right. If not, I will undoubtedly get a friendly reminder from one or more congregants. We Gabbais need friendly reminders from time to time, but it’s still usually an “ouch” moment. Then, the repetition. Which version are they going to use — with the Imahot or without? Finally, an announcement of the Kaddish Shalem, and we’re done with Shacharit. While all this is happening, I’m scanning the congregation. Whom shall I ask to do Kiddush at the end of the service?
Now the real work begins: the Torah service. Ein Komocha starts. Wow, I hear “Adoshem Melech, Adoshem Malach..” Oh my gosh, the ark openers! I forgot. Whom did I ask? Oh, there they are. I casually saunter over, smile, and invite them up. Hopefully, the pause isn’t too noticeable. Now, back to the Aron. I undo the chains. As you may recall, the chains came as a result of a Torah falling out of the Aron Kodesh. The problem should have been solved by deepening the slot into which the bottom scroll handles are placed, but instead we have these chains. I used to struggle with them, but by now we Gabbais have gotten pretty proficient. Usually, there’s only one scroll and I take it out of the ark and give it to the person leading the Torah Service. If there is a second scroll I give it to the other person selected. But wait, did I remember to do that? Ah well, grab a person in the front row by the Bimah. So, the Torah procession is on its way –— ah yes, remind the ark openers to close the ark. Hopefully, my Gabbai Rishon and Sheni have come up to the Bimah and are ready to receive the Torah. Wait. Did I remember to move the Shulkhan to the Torah reader position? Another boo-boo. I’ll take care of it after the first Aliyah. I can take a break for a few minutes while the Aliyot go by. But I can’t doze off too much… there’s the 7th Aliyah. One Torah? Good, Maftir’s in the same place. Two Torahs? Alert! Get the first Hagbah and G’lilah up there. Oh, and I did remember to get the second pair of people, right? No? Not a problem. I’ll have at least 20 seconds after I put the first Torah on the stand and bring up the second Torah. Another dive and grab, and I’m all set. The second Torah is raised, carried, tied, and covered, and all is well. It’s time for the Haftarah. A couple of weeks ago Lida Baker had to deal with 3 Torahs because of Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat Chanukah. She did it with aplomb. I admire her.
“Yasher Koach!” says the congregation as the Haftarah’s done, and the Torah Service leader is back on. Wait, did I move the Shulkhan back to the reader position or is that person at risk of falling off the Bimah? Caught it just in time. I announce the prayer for Our Country, prayer for Israel, and prayer for peace. Then Ashrei and back into action. I go over and give the Torah scroll to the leader and… uh oh, where are the ark openers? If they’re regular Minyan participants, they’re already up there. If not, a casual glance around to locate them and bring them up. The ark is opened, the Torah is back in place… and those chains again! While I’m fumbling, we’re already in the middle of Etz Chaim but that’s OK.
Torah service is done and it’s time for the Drash. Break time. Wait a second, the Darshan wasn’t announced. A quick look at my notes, and I recover most of the time. Once, the Darshan started before getting an introduction. I made a joke that the Darshan didn’t need an introduction, but still felt badly.
Drash is over and the Musaf leader comes up. I try to remember to ask which Amidah version, but most of the time it’s with Imahot, so the omission goes unnoticed. Soon it’s the end of the silent Amidah, time to announce Kaddish Shalem, and we’re almost done — except for the one appearance that I’d better get right: the announcements of the week’s losses of temple members and the Mourner’s Kaddish. I look at the bulletin once more to be sure I’ve announced the names completely and correctly. A quick and discrete glance at my notes to be sure I haven’t forgotten the name and family of someone who passed away on Friday. If I forget, the congregation helps. This is the one time where I really do appreciate it.
Now it’s Adon Olam. This is really fun, the kids come up, trying to look engaged and give only side glances at the lollipops waiting for them. I can’t wait for them to grow older. I think they truly will be the next generation.
Finally, it’s time for announcements and for me to give credit to the principal participants (there are actually more than 20 if you count ark openers, Aliyot, Hagbah, G’lilah, and auxiliary Torah carriers). As is customary, I do it in order of appearance. But if it were on the basis of preparation and effort, the Darshan would be first, then the Torah readers and then the Haftarah reader. Some of them are relatively new and have put in many hours of preparation. The Kiddush is said, and the congregation disperses. I sit down for a few minutes to recover and gather my thoughts.
So, things went pretty smoothly overall, Jerry Krautman, our boss who tried to retire and failed (we wouldn’t let him) comes over and says “great job”. A few fellow Gabbais will wish me a Yasher Koach (they know), and I go into Hersh Hall to have some Cholent. Have a good week. See you again in 8 Shabbatot.
— Myron Hecht