the schmooze


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

I recently had the pleasure of reading Brenda Shoshanna's book "A Guide to the Practice of Judaism And Zen-Jewish Dharma."  She writes,

Observant Jews gather together to pray twice  day, morning and early evening, in minyan, a group of at least ten men.  The community is essential not only in lifting the prayers and strengthening them but in reminding us that we are not alone.  Being present for others in the minyan and helping them in times of need is a form of prayer as well...The time prayers are offered is also important because these prayers combine with and affect the different physical, emotional, and spiritual energies that arise throughout the day and night. For example, morning prayers set the tone of the day, opening the heart and mind to a new vista; evening prayers create a protective shield against the depression and darkness that arise at night."

Dr. Shoshanna continues, "When a minyan is not present, the kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead, cannot be said. This prayer requires the strength of ten to lift the prayer and lift the spirit of the departed."

Speaking about a "minyan mensch," brings to mind a touching--and true--story found in Yitta Halberstam Mendlebaum  and Judith Leventhal's book titled, "Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart."  The story is titled, "Waiting for the Tenth Man."  (I thank them for allowing me to share the story.)

In a small, makeshift synagogue not far from the Twin Towers, Orthodox Jewish professionals regularly meet early each morning for daily prayer services. Usually there is no problem rounding up a minyan (quorum of ten men required to pray) and the cramped quarters often overflow with worshippers.  But on the morning of September 11th, there was an uncommon dearth of available men.  Perhaps they had decided to remain that morning at their resident shuls for the important selichos services that precede the High Holidays.  Or, perhaps they were participating in the shloshim (one month anniversary) memorial services for the Jews who had been killed in the Grand Canyon helicopter crash.  Two hundred men who worked in the World Trade Center, were, in fact, late to work that morning because of their participation in the shlashim service.  But whatever the reason, the congregants were faced with a problem:  only nine men were present, and time was marching on.  These were serious men, professionals, and all had to be at their desks at the World Trade Center well before 9 a.m.  "What should we do?" they asked each other, impatiently tapping their wrist watches, as they paced the floors.  "This situation hasn't happened in ages!  Where is everybody?"

"I'm sure a tenth man will come along soon," someone else soothed.  "We have to be patient."

The men waited, restless and tense.  Some of them were already running late. Finally, when they had all but given up and were going to resort to individual prayer (instead of the preferred communal one), an old man whom nobody had ever seen before shuffled in the door.

"Did you daven (pray) yet?" he asked, looking at the group.

"No, sir!" one shouted jubilantly.  "We've been waiting for you!"

"Wonderful," the elderly man responded, "I have to say kaddish (a special prayer recited on the yarzeit, the anniversary of a close family member's death) for my father and I have to daven before the omed (lead the prayer services).  I'm so glad that you didn't start yet."

Under normal circumsances, the men would have asked the gentleman polite questions: what was his name, where was he from, how did he come to their obscure shul?  By now, however, they were frantic to start and decided to bypass protocol.  They hastily handed the man a siddur (prayer book), hoping he would prove himself to be the Speedy Gonzales of daveners (prayers). The old man proved to be anything but.

"Oy!" someone smacked his forehead in frustration, "Are we going to be late!"

That's when they heard the first explosion: the horrible blast that would forever shake their souls.  They ran outside and saw the smoke, the chaos, the screaming crowds, the apocalypse that lay before them.

It should have been us.  After the initial shock and horror, consciousness dawned on them quickly.  They realized they had been rescued from the jaws of death.  Each and every  one of them worked in the Twin Towers.  Each and every one of them was supposed to be there before nine.  Had it not been for the elderly man and his slow- motion schacharis (morning service), they probably would have been killed.

They turned to thank him, this mystery man who had saved their lives.  They wanted to hug him in effusive gratitude and find out his name and where he had come from on that fateful morning.

But they'll never know the answers to these questions that nag at them to this day-- when they turned around to embrace him, the man was gone, his identity forever a mystery.

Copyright (c) by YItta Halberstam Mendelbaum and Judith Leventhal


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

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