The New Normal Shul

Marcel Strigberger


Synagogues were recently given the green light, or rather, a partial green light, to resume services. This resumption, however, is subject to guidelines and restrictions. How will these new rules change the traditional normal “normal”? I can see it affecting all aspects across the board.

Let’s start with a vital mainstay, the kiddush. After all what is a Shabbat service without a kiddush? After the concluding prayers, we would all make a beeline to the room housing that delectable buffet. In many shuls, the congregants would wait patiently for the rabbi to complete the kiddush blessing and give the go-ahead to hit the food. In others, there was a mass charge, every person for themselves, with scenes resembling the storming of the Bastille.

Now with COVID, this enjoyable institution may become history. Yeshivas may one day teach about this defunct practice as they do about the sacrificial altar or the red heifer. The rabbi might ask the pupils, “Anybody know what herring is?”

This might be followed up with, “tomorrow we’ll discuss the mystery of cholent.”

Oh, how we shall miss that kiddush!

Then, we have the rabbi’s sermon. Given that services must be getting shorter in order to get everyone out quickly, the rabbi will have to cut some corners. This will likely see the elimination of the rabbi’s weekly joke. No more, “Ginsberg and Levine go on a safari…” From now on, the rabbi will simply have to refer us to some website if we want to find out what happened to Ginsburg and Levine. I’m certainly curious.

Then, there is social distancing. The synagogue must only accommodate a maximum of 30 percent of its capacity, and participants must space out. This situation will likely see the end of comments such as, “is this seat taken?” or “I’m going to the washroom. Can you keep an eye on my place?” or “is that your siddur?”

Chances are, given the spacing distance and the donning of masks, most likely the closest person will not even hear you.

Does this mean synagogue services will also see a vast reduction in chatter? Maybe initially. As the need to gab becomes more pressing, congregants will find ways to communicate. We may soon see a surge in shul charades. I cannot say what they will try to mime, but it certainly won’t be about a kiddush.

And speaking of washrooms, all shuls likely have an abundance of hand sanitizers strategically located. These have become crucial items during this pandemic. It got me thinking: Since there is a blessing for handwashing, would it be appropriate for there to be a bracha for hand sanitizing?

I thought about it and parsed the Hebrew-sounding letters for the word “Purell,” doing a gematria calculation of the letters peh, resh and lamed. They add up to 310. That’s a little more than half of 613 – the number of mitzvot. Half would be 306.5. Then again, there are no letters in the Alef Bet representing fractions.

It is close though. Maybe it’s 310 for one hand and 310 for the other, with seven left over. And after all, the number seven is significant in the Talmud. Who knows?

The again, I doubt my gematria means much. I would have to leave this one to the rabbi. And even if he finds a meaning, would he have the time to discuss it? Maybe, if indeed he cuts out the joke.

Will our shuls be safe? Probably, if everybody follows the rules, for the most part. Can they be 100 percent safe? Yes. I can think of one synagogue that would be 100 percent guaranteed safe. That would be the one in the punchline of that joke in which the Jewish man on that island builds two synagogues – and one of them he would never enter.

Who ever said our relr change?

Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit