Friday, July 16, 2010

Minyanim and the NYT

A guest post by LWP

During my 7+ years living a Frum lifestyle, there's one thing that everyone holds as Emes: the New York Times hates Jews and hates Israel. Well, I've been working there for over three months now on the "Metered Model" as a software developer, and I don't think that they deserve the rep. Not only are there more yomikas working there than you'd think, I came within a whisker of getting the following article in the paper (not just the website). The editor thought it was "too insidery"; maybe it is, hard to tell.

I can say that she was enthusiastic about it. You all be the judge as to whether a newspaper that would very seriously literally spilling lots of ink on the following article is truly anti-semitic.

See it after the jump

A Minyan Sampler

We hide in plain sight.

Maybe you’ve noticed us. A group of yarmulke wearing men may descend on your office building during a work day afternoon en masse, more or less, and then more or less silently depart about ten or fifteen minutes later. We mean no harm—we’ve just come to daven Mincha (i.e., perform the afternoon prayer service).

I find much to like about working in midtown Manhattan. When I work in midtown, I tend to lose 10 pounds just from walking a lot more than I normally do. I don’t mind being driven to work even though it just got a lot more expensive and the wide variety of kosher restaurants makes it easy to have lunch with non-Jewish co-workers. However, a really big draw is the plethora of Mincha minyanim (roughly, prayer groups) within easy walking distance and at a wide range of times.

For the past four years, I’ve been living in Basking Ridge, NJ, a veritable wilderness in the Orthodox Jewish world, for family reasons. I really like living there, but I suffer from minyan deprivation. While it is OK for men to daven alone, it’s much preferable to daven with at least nine other Jewish men (10 Jewish men comprise a minyan). It’s a real treat for me to be able to daven with a minyan regularly and easily.

Mincha is designed to interrupt your work day. You’re supposed to stop what you’re doing, take about ten to fifteen minutes out of your schedule and daven. That said, Mincha is a great networking opportunity. There’s an enforced egalitarianism that brings together men who wouldn’t normally associate otherwise, and nobody has a problem with making contacts there. For example, my Rabbi met a major donor when an intern at Morristown Hospital needed to say Kaddish for his father. Since a lot of doctors and interns were making the minyan, pretty soon the drug reps heard about it and it was standing room only.

Perfectly kosher.

Below are 5 regular Mincha minyanim, and my take on them:

Yad Avraham (Time Life Building, 6th Ave between 50th and 51st, 47th floor, 2PM):

  • Security: first time, give the security desk 10 minutes to process you. If you like it there, you can ask for a card to speed you through for the next time.
  • Speed: I don’t read Hebrew as quickly as an Israeli or a Yeshiva boy, but I don’t read haltingly, either. I finish the individual portions comfortably and don’t feel oppressed waiting for the communal repetition to start and finish, either.
  • Atmosphere: After passing through security, you take the normal elevators to the 46th floor. You then walk through a glass door to a second set of elevators that take you to the middle floor of the penthouse. Once there, you enter a large room with an eight digit view of midtown and the East River. Rabbi Kalatsky is very approachable and gives great Torah lectures, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Crowd: Very mixed. Varies from wealthy diamond merchants and real estate developers to shnorrers (beggars). Lots of big beards, black hats and black and white outfits to shaved faces and business casual.
  • Shnorrers: not uncommon to be asked for money over and above the usual shaking of the pushke (charity box).

Jerusalem Pizza II (Broadway between 37th and 36th , 4:15PM)

  • Security—none. Just walk in to the second floor dining room.
  • Speed—a little on the quick side, but I didn’t feel rushed. Your mileage might vary.
  • Atmosphere—you’re on top of a pizzeria. Business like. The men are there to perform a service, and they do.
  • Crowd—quiet, but friendly. Not a mob scene.
  • Shnorrers—I’ve never seen one there.

West Side Jewish Center (34th Street, near 9th Ave, 1:40PM)

  • Security—None. Just walk in.
  • Speed—Varies widely, depending on the leader.
  • Atmosphere—I find it on the impersonal side myself, but it gets the job done. Starts on time, finishes with a minimum of fuss
  • Crowd— a whole lot of black hats come from B&H, the giant camera store across the street. A minority of clean cut khakis, but not insignificant, and not unwelcome.
  • Shnorrers—often, but almost never obnoxious.

The Millinery Center Synagogue (6th Ave between 38th and 39th, 1:30PM, 2PM, 5:00PM, 5:30PM)

  • Security—None. Just walk in.
  • Speed—Usually pretty brisk, but Rabbi Wahrman, a jolly, Obama-hating, dreadlocked-payus wearing character often adds a short “vort” in English. Mondays and Thursday s he will re-read the daily Torah portion if you missed hearing it in the morning.
  • Atmosphere—Come, daven, buy some sheets and towels and support the shul. The local minyan factory, they have lots of services during the afternoon should you get pulled into an impromptu meeting just before you head out to Mincha.
  • Crowd—mixed.
  • Shnorrers—usually there, but very laid back. Lots of emissaries from Israel.

The Pinnacle Group (1 Penn Plaza, 40th floor, Suite 4000, 2PM)

  • Security—you need to get a temporary badge every day you come unless you already work in the building.
  • Speed—on the quick side. This is a place of business, after all.
  • Atmosphere—a medium size, crowded conference room with a large desk in the middle. The walls are filled with massive deal books that look more difficult to read than the Babylonian Talmud in the original Aramaic, and a lot less fun.
  • Crowd—nice, friendly. It seems to consist mostly of Pinnacle employees as far as I could tell.
  • Shnorrers—never.

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