Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Same Thing Happens Every Kiddush

To paraphrase Bill Cosby, the same thing happens every kiddush ...

Boring Section, Skip to the Next One

Kiddush after synagogue services is a small affair, usually sponsored by a synagogue member on behalf of a recent bar-mitzvah, upcoming wedding, or the like. It serves mostly to provide for social community interaction among the synagogue members, something which is not (supposed to be) possible during the prayer service itself.

The affairs range from very modest - soft drinks, grape juice, plain cookies and some salty snacks on synagogue tables - to highly elaborate - fancy cakes, spirits, quiches and kugels, dips and so on, on catered linens with decorations, or even catered with staff.

In some synagogues, they disallow extravagant kiddush affairs so that those who are only able to throw more modest affairs are not made to feel embarrassed when they do so. In most communities, however, people simply give what they give and people don't look askance (overtly) at smaller affairs, although naturally the fancier ones are yummier. Even in these synagogues, however, anything overly pretentious would be discouraged.

In our synagogue, the eating takes place in the sanctuary. After the prayers are over, and the announcements made, the chairs are moved to the side and tables with food brought in. The food is first prepared in the kitchen, and the tables prepared with food in the little hallway outside the sanctuary.

The Set Up

The same thing happens every kiddush ...

After the torah portion is read, and before the speech, Ms M, Ms T, Ms O, Ms L, and Teen Daughter L leave the prayers to go prepare the food and lay out the tables.

In Jewish law, only men are required to pray with a congregation; therefore, those who hold strictly by this law are not able to leave the services in order to prepare the food. If the preparations were left until after the services, a slightly longer delay between the end of services and being able to eat would occur.

Therefore, these women take it upon themselves to leave the services and do the preparations so that the kiddush tables will be ready to bring in at the end of services. But not without some resentment.

Ms M will always complains, to whomever will listen, that it is outrageous, not to mention sexist, that the women always do all the kiddush preparation. Why can't the men help out? Sometimes she raises this issue at the board meetings; the men agree with her, but nothing ever changes.

Ms T, on the other hand, is happy that her husband has to stay and do the boring praying while she can be out talking with the women.

Everything done by Ms O is redone by Ms L who knows the right way to do everything. And Teen Daughter L is Ms L's daughter, and generally a saint.

The Hoverers

As items begin to be placed on the tables, the hoverers arrive.

The hoverers are mostly boys aged 8 to 14. They wander around the tables, pushing each other and pretending to grab big hands full of stuff to stuff in their mouths.

This goes on for some time, with the grabbing getting closer and closer to the food. Eventually, one boy picks up something and puts it back down. Then another one picks one up and pretends to put it in his mouth. Finally, one boy picks up something (a potato chip or a pickle) and eats it. The other boys start doing the same, until an adult yells at them to stop. The scene then repeats.

It is not helped by the 14 year old girl taking care of her 5 year old sister. The girl takes a few food items to give to the child, because, after all, she's just a child and can't be expected to stand near the tables and not eat. A few other five year old kids try to do the same for themselves.

Eventually, the boys start running around the tables until they knock over one of the bowls of chips or something. The boys get quiet as an adult yells at them. They look chagrined. After unsuccessfully trying to get one of the boys to clean it up properly, an adult sweeps up a bit. The boys remain quiet, until someone accidentally steps onto an unswept chip. Another boy then steps on a chip on purpose, and then the other boys all do the same until they are thrown out of the hallway.

They wander back in after a while and this scene repeats until services are over.

The Chair Stackers

At the end of services, the announcements are made, competing with the loud din of people milling around the tables in the hallway. The last announcement is that everyone is invited to the kiddush and could we all please stack the chairs on the side.

People begin talking and milling about. Some immediately step onto the small rug in the front of the room that one person is trying to roll up. Every few inches, he has to push someone off the rug who doesn't notice his efforts.

There are two types of chair stackers. The vast majority of them approach a row of six chairs as follows: stack the first chair onto the second chair. Stack both of those chairs onto the third chair. Absently note that it is too hard to lift three chairs. Wonder what to do next. Stack the fourth chair onto the fifth chair, and then both of those onto the sixth chair. Push the two piles of three chairs each to the side.

A small minority actually stack the fifth chair onto the sixth, the fourth chair onto these two, the third chair onto these three, and so on, leaving a single neat stack of six chairs. This only works if they manage to do this before turning around to find that a wrong-headed stacker has gotten to the first two or three chairs and then left.

The rest of the people artfully stand in the way of the table carriers.

The Table Carriers

The hoverers continue to hover as the tables are brought in, unless they are converted into table carriers. Children who are assigned to be carriers instantly change to responsible children. The same boys who were knocking bowls off the table now shoo away other children while carrying the tables, and even after they have put them down in the sanctuary.

About halfway in, someone realizes that they shouldn't have put bottles of drinks on the table before carrying them in to the sanctuary, but only after all of them have fallen onto the floor. These bottles are scooped up and placed again on the tables after the tables have been set down.

The Troublemakers

The room is very noisy, waiting for the Rabbi, or someone associated with the affair, to say the blessing over the wine. Everyone is supposed to wait for this blessing before taking any food.

The exception is that people are allowed to pour themselves a plastic shot glass full of grape juice or wine. Sometimes, the women have poured these already, and you only have to take one.

If you don't drink wine or grape juice, you can pour a shot glass of spirits. Can you pour a shot glass of cola? How about a cup of cola? Opinions vary.

Then there's the plates. Some people decide that it's ok to take a plate and fork so long as you don't take any food. Of course, once one person does this, everyone else starts doing it.

Half the people stand away from the tables, talking and waiting. For the other half, hands hover over the food, sometimes resting on the serving utensils. Children's hands hover like bulldozers over the potato chips and cookies. They mime how much they are going to shovel onto their plate as soon as the blessing is done. A few parent halfheartedly try to tell them not to do this.

A five year old starts taking food: half the cookies from one plate and chips. Someone tries to get her to put it back and she whines. Older kids see a little kid taking food and try to put one or two items on their plates, just to "get ready". They are scolded. When is the Rabbi going to "do kiddush" already?

Meanwhile, a seventy-year old man begins taking food onto his plate. He's seventy-years old already, damn it, and he's not going to wait for any dang blasted Rabbi to tell him when he can or can't eat. Parents who were just telling their kids to wait for the blessing stand around helplessly, unable to scold another adult, and now unable to explain why their kids should wait for the blessing when there are adults who don't.

The Blessing

Someone has to yell the first words over the din, which settles down to almost quiet by the time the person saying the blessing is around halfway through.

If it's the Rabbi doing it, he teases everyone by doing the words slowly, while the kids wait in agony to eat. If it's someone else, it will probably be a shortened version of the blessing.

Regardless, the kids start taking the food before the last few words of the blessing is uttered. Ms L grabs the hands of one child who took an entire bowl of potato chips and yells at him, while the other kids grab the chips he dropped.

Chips and cookies fall on the floor. Soda spills on the floor. Salty snacks go first, except for pretzels with sesame seeds. Colas go first, followed by strawberry-banana juice, and then the Sprite. Other sodas, such as orange, are barely touched. Chocolate chip cookies and cakes go first; nut cookies and jelly filled cookies are left over. Vegetables and dips are eaten slowly. A few fruits are eaten.

Kids with piled plates of cookies and chips run off to other rooms, where most of the food and chips will be later discovered, uneaten, soda cups spilled on floors and windowsills, down the stairs, and on the steps outside. It all eventually gets cleaned up by about five women and two men, one of whom is the one who threw the kiddush.

Most people talk to people they know; a few approach newcomers, if they are noticed. Some eat and leave, but most stay. For the majority that stay, they might hear a few words near the end of the kiddush, followed by the after-blessing. Otherwise, people make their own after-blessing.

The Upshot

Despite the children who lack discipline, and parents unwilling to give it, the kiddush works. People get a sense of community from it, and those who give the kiddush, and those who partake in it, are blessed.

A little more health consciousness would probably be a good thing, as would a little more helping out. But that is true for all people in all places, isn't it?



Jack's Shack said...

Some things are universal.

Yehuda said...



TherapyDoc said...

Deliciously universal, but not on all counts, of course. In my shul? It's the guys that set up, clean up, etc. See, if you manage to daven (pray) early, there's all the time in the world to take over the kitchen.