The Most Awkward Woman in the Shul: Rosh Hashanah Edition


So, I’m the Most Awkward Woman in a Shul (temple/synagogue depending on your religious denomination). I don’t know how after almost 41 years of shul going, I became the most awkward woman in the shul. But, it’s definitely the best way to describe me. I try to avoid shul going for this very reason because, inevitably, I do something awkward and weird and I feel mortified and there are just so many shuls we can go to in Jerusalem. We’ve been through five so far and well, it looks like after Rosh Hashanah, we may be on the way out of another one.

So, I tend to avoid shuls all together and when the occassional need arrives where my attendance is absolutely necessary (read: High Holidays and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs), I just pray I make it through.

If you know me, you also know about my obsessive personality. So of course, since first day of Rosh Hashanah ended, I cannot stop thinking about the incident that has solidified my title as the “Most Awkward Woman in the Shul.™”

During the High Holidays and once a month on Shabbat Mevarchim (special prayer for the new Moon), we like to pray at an Assisted Living Facility Old Age Home in Jerusalem. We enjoy the atmosphere and the people, and we especially like how some of the residents really light up when they see our children running around the hallways. It also helps that no one yells at the kids for being too noisy or messy or rowdy; they are just legitimately so happy to have the little ones around to interact with.

On High Holidays, a number of the residents (especially those who are very mobile and mentally sound) will pray with us in the community room turned into a shul. So, by the time I sauntered into davening with 10 minutes to go before the first Shofar blowing, the women’s section was pretty packed. Not too crowded that I wasn’t able to snag three seats for myself and the little ones, but impressively populated nonetheless.

I settled in to daven for the first time all year, and refereed a little bit between the kids, and was hoping to just get through the entire Rosh Hashanah liturgy without any awkward incident.

G-d clearly had other plans for me.

One thing I should mention here is that we oftentimes have to help some of the other women during davening, especially those who live at the facility. Whether it’s to find the place, or to help move chairs so that wheelchairs can get in and out of the rows, or even something small like lifting a shawl that slipped off of a woman’s shoulders during the prayers. Whatever it is, there’s always some small ways the non-residents are available to help the Assisted Living Facility Nursing Home residents successfully attend the davening.

I let the first 30 sounds of the Shofar fill my soul and began the long Mussaf Amidah on aching feet in shoes that were just not the right footwear for such a long davening. But I was feeling good inside, hopeful for a good New Year, silent prayers for myself and husband and our children going through my mind. My outlook was rosy, it was a New Year! Our sins will be forgiven, and we will be written into the Book of Life!

It was during this high, almost meditative state that my 6 year old needed a bathroom and so I put down my Machzor (special prayer book for Rosh Hashanah) and took her to the bathroom. We were in there longer that I had planned and I started to get anxious since there are another 30 Shofar blasts embedded within the Chazzan’s repetition of the Mussaf prayer, and I really did not want to miss them.  So I tried to hurry her along. Finally, after babbling on and on about the emergency pull cord that is installed in all bathrooms at the Assisted Living facility (Mommy, do you know why this is here? Mommy, let me tell you why this is here! Mommy, it’s in case someone needs some help! And Mommy, we shouldn’t pull it because we don’t need help. Do we need help, Mommy? etc. etc. etc.) she was done!

We hurried back to the makeshift shul and walked into the room, where I immediately noticed two things. 1) Every one was standing and 2) there were what looked like two pieces of paper on the floor in front of an elderly woman.

Well, I was feeling helpful, since that’s part of my unofficial role at the shul, and as I quickly made my way back to my seat, I swiftly bent down, picked up what turned out to be two tissues that had been spread out onto the floor in front of this woman, and put them gently down on this woman’s seat. I then continued to my seat without looking her way.

The mistake I had just made didn’t dawn on me right away. I flipped some pages looking for the right spot, and then the Chazzan called out in his booming voice “Alenu” and still, it didn’t register. It wasn’t until I was semi-prostrated onto the marble floor and was able to glance back at the now scowling woman, that I realized my mistake. Those two carefully laid out tissues did not just fall from her Machzor but were rather placed purposely to cover the ground that she was able to kneel on during the prayer.

I’m sure I flushed a bright red and not from the blood rushing to my head in my awkward prostrating position (I don’t go all the way down on the floor since that’s not what we did as children, but rather we like kinda crouch real low and throw our head over like when you’re at the hairdresser and they want to blow dry underneath) with shame. When we were finally able to stand, I glanced her way again and this time she was tsking and muttering and shaking her head in my direction. She then carefully folded these two tissues like they were an Hermes scarf and tucked them back into the folds of her Machzor.

Whoops! I was really embarrassed.

Fortunately, my husband popped his head into the women’s section a couple of minutes later and I quickly went out to tell him what happened. I asked him what should I do? Should I apologize to her and say that I hadn’t realized where we were up to and obviously I would never have picked up the tissues had I realized they were on the floor on purpose?

My husband shook his head and said no, I should make myself “Nishvisindik” and just ignore it. Act like it never happened. If I start apologizing then she’ll feel cause for anger even though it was a mistake and we will end up causing more of an issue then it really was, etc..

I was surprised he managed to use my Mom’s favorite Yiddish phrase for such an occasion but when it comes to Israeli culture, I take my queues from him. And so, I returned to my seat while avoiding this woman’s gaze. I did notice that she had moved her seat up by two rows, thus putting five rows of seat between us, making a significant separation so I shouldn’t feel the need to “help” her again. The “Most Awkward Woman in the Shul.™” strikes again, I thought miserably.

So, why am I sharing this story with all of you during the Ten Days of Penitence? Is it my search for public absolution for not apologizing to this woman on the one day of the year you are SUPPOSED to say you’re sorry? Is it to share my shame so my friends can also tell me to just forget about it and move on, it wasn’t such a big deal?

Nope. I’m sharing my story as a cautionary tale for this New Year. Something I will definitely try to do moving forward.

If there is anything you can learn from my story it’s this:

Make sure a person needs help, before you help them.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah. May we ALL merit a place in the Book of Life and may this year be full of good health, happiness, good fortune and limited awkward moments.




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