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THE  SHTENDER     My  first  lectern,   I  had  thought  it  too  presumptuous   Until  now  that  is,   When  we  moved  from  the  shteibl  to  the  new  shul  across  the  street   And  the  announcement  for  those  who  wished   A  small  medium  or  large  standing  lectern,   Something  inside  me  agreed,   And  a  month  later,   In  my  new  place,   There  it  was,   unexpected   Mahogany-­‐cherry     New   Dignified   Erect   Beautiful.     Since  then   Something  has  changed  in  me   I  want  to  go  to  shul   I  need  to  be  there   For  my  lectern/shthender   I  cannot  let  it  down   I  cannot  shame  it.   It  is  making  demands  on  me!   What  anthropomorphism!     Yet  there  you  have  it   I  awaken  Shabbat  early  for  it  beckons  me   I  arrive  in  shul   And  feel  its  surface   Placing  my  seforim  on  it  and  in  it   For  it  has  a  secret  vault   Where  I  keep  my  “stuff”   (Even  a  book  of  Leonard  Cohen  poems!)   My  “quota”  of  learning  for  the  day   And  even  a  miniature  scotch  (for  emergencies  only!)   Only  single  malt  will  do  for  this  quality  shtender!     As  a  child  we  sat  in  pews   London  in  the  60’s   Made  by  kibbutz  Lavi   Finchley  Central  Synagogue   The  very  notion  of  an  individual  shtender  


Was  so  foreign   Untouched  by  the  “yeshivishe  velt”   Where  from  the  Lithuanian  Yeshivot  (especially  Slbodka)   Each  Talmid  becomes  his  own  unique  Torah  personality   So  each  receives  a  shtender.   This  leakage  into  the  everyday  world  of  shuls   And  community  study  Batei  Midrashim   Is  late:   After  the  Fruchthandler/Reichmann  revolution   That  transformed  American  Jewry   From  modern  orthodox   Into  a  neo-­‐charedi  Artscroll  world   Where  every  Tom  Dick  or  Moishe   Now  studies  in  a  community  kolel   The  daf  yomi   Using  his  own  shtender.     Having  watched  Rabbi  Soloveitchik   In  his  decline   I  lived  in  a  world  of  mourning   For  what  might  have  been   Had  he  had  a  successor   To  continue  balanced  centrist  orthodoxy   Which  is  of  course  now  ridiculed   As  “lukewarm”,  embracing  modernity  and  secularism     As  a  tool  for  spirituality.     So  I  too  resisted  the  trappings  of  yeshivishe   Externalities.   As  if  it  was  a  betrayal  of  what  I  held  dear  and  true.   That  was  until  now.     This  shtender   Its  dark  grained  wood   Beckons  me   To  stand  or  sit  by  it   Like  the  Giving  Tree   (was  it  taken  from  it?)   Shel  Silverstein’s  iconic  work   That  makes  me  cry  each  time   I  read  it  to  my  grandchildren,   It  gives  me  much  more  than  I  could  ever  wish.     It  stands  in  a  place  in  the  spiritual  geographic  landscape   Of  the  shul.   Two  rows  behind  the  Bima  


Where  it  has  a  commanding  view  of  all  that  takes  place   Both  in  the  service,  and  afterwards,   And  in  site  of  any  newcomers  or  strays  that  wonder  in  to  daven.     When  we  all  moved  across  the  street  from  the  intimacy  of  the  shteibl   We  were  slightly  disoriented  by  the  immensity  of  this  sacred  space.   Where  to  sit?     To  establish  one’s  identity  and  relationship  to  the  geographical   Is  no  easy  task.   Does  one  choose  to  sit  near  older  friends   Far  from  holier  than  thou  congregants   Or  begin  afresh?   I  allowed  my  body  to  move  me   And  initially  I  went  to  the  same  location  as  in  the  shteibl   But  then  something  moved  me  backwards   And  centered  behind  the  bima   And  there  I  rested   Until  now   When  the  shtender  arrived  unexpectedly   In  the  very  place  I  had  designated   With  my  name  on  it.   As  if  it  validated  the  choice  of  location   Between  the  sacred  and  the  open.     It’s  as  if  this  is  my  place   My  spiritual  location   Among  other  worshippers   My  station  in  life   My  location  in  spiritual  space   In  relation  to  the  Rebbe   And  the  Bima   And  the  Schechina.     And  it  has  grabbed  me   Emotionally   Irrationally   For  the  first  time  in  my  life     I  feel  obligated   Not  to  let  it  down   To  show  up   To  be  present   For  its  sake   As  if  it  represents  a  stake  in  a  homestead   Out  there  in  the  far  west   And  I  a  pioneer   I  must  claim  it  


Daily.     I  remember  my  father  loving  the  “box”   That  enclosed  seating  for  the  lay  leaders   Of  his  synagogue  in  Finchley   Not  because  of  its  power  or  prestige   But  I  now  believe  because  it  had  some  power  over  him  too   It  was  a  place  structured  and  designated   Where  people   Would,  on  arrival,  look  to  the  box,     To  see  if  “Willy  had  arrived”   It  was  his  place  beyond  a  mere  pew.     And  as  I  age   This  shtender  will  hold  my  arms  as  I  sway   And  lean  on  it   As  I  attempt   To  connect  to  the  divine   In  an  age  old  service   That  resists  change   But  must  be  infused  with  vitality.   And  as  I  bend  in  slowly  progressive  loss  of  spinal   Stature   Maybe  it  will  support  me   In  the  crustification   And  decaying  spirit   As  I  face  the  inevitable   And  the  failures  of  my  spiritual  life.  


The shtender