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.