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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Best seat in the house: A close-up look into a closed world during its holiest season

By Refoel Pride


Credit: Mishpacha magazine




For seating planners at large "ultra-Orthodox" rabbinical seminaries and synagogues, there is no more daunting a task than finding just the right seat for the hundreds and thousands who demand them. Yet with technology and lots of Divine help, seats are filled and prayers are answered


JewishWorldReview.com | You sort through the pile of directories, looking for the one containing your listing. You set aside volume after volume until you find the one you want. Flipping through the pages, running your finger down the column of names, you finally arrive at yours. You show it to a distinguished-looking man behind the table; he examines the page, aims a scanner that flashes a blinding red light across your entry, and seconds later there appears a ledger showing all your pertinent details from the previous year.

Is this the Sefer HaZichronos, the Book of Remembrances that the Divine has recorded all your deeds? Is that your signature on the account? Well, not exactly. But if you want a seat for the Days of Awe prayers, you might want to get to know that man behind the table.

Though often portrayed by secular media as backward and Luddites, the "ultra-Orthodox" are employing increasingly sophisticated means of matching the prayerful with seats. It's a case of technology rising to meet the challenges presented by age-old dilemmas. Some challenges, however, are ageless, and require generous doses of human ingenuity, patience, and faith.

Rabbi Uri Stern, the international liaison for Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem, sets the scene two to three weeks before Rosh HaShanah. In one of the large rooms at the rabbinical seminary — one of he world's largest -- tables are lined up in rows, and distributed across them are multiple copies of bound directories, containing the names of everyone needing a seat for the High Holy Days.

At four separate designated hours, people descend on these books, searching for their names. Upon finding his name, a student will point it out to a man sitting behind one of these tables who wields a scanner. Flashing the scanner over the bar code adjacent to the name activates a printer, which produces a report detailing the lad's seating preferences in previous years.

If he's a new bochur, then obviously this information needs to be collected for the first time. So the rabbi-to-be is subjected to what Rabbi Stern calls the "airline questions."

"They ask him his name, his parents' names, his spouse's name, if he's married, and if he has any friends coming with him," Reb Uri says. "Then they'll ask him which building he wants to daven [pray] in [the Mir has three], whether he wants a middle seat or an aisle seat, if he wants near the air conditioner or not. When I was new here and they finished asking me all these questions, I said to them, 'And I'd like a kosher meal.' "

Gauging the individual's preferences is, of course, only half the equation. The other half involves creating the actual place for the person to sit.

"Everyone's name is printed on a list, with a four-digit code assigned to each name," says Rabbi Stern. "They print out hundreds of stickers with these codes on them and stick them on seats in the various buildings.

Each seat then has a sticker on it with this number, with a shtender (prayer and study lectern) by it. Every seat's a good seat, everyone feels he got a good seat. By the time they start Barchu, everyone is ready to go."



These types of complex systems have developed in response to a pressing need. Eliezer Pollack, who volunteers his services to arrange the seating at Yeshivas Sh'or Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, New York, also relies on computers to help him come up with a plan.

It's a far cry from the system — or lack thereof — that he encountered years ago. "For many years when I prayed here, there were no assigned seats," he recalls. "It was basically first come, first serve. And if you had to leave your seat for any reason during the prayers, you could expect to find it taken when you returned. One year, after Yom Tov [religious festivals] ended, I mentioned to one of my friends that there had to be a better way of handling the seats. The reply I got was, 'Thanks for volunteering.' "

Volunteer he did — and he still does, 16 years on. He holds no official position with the rabbinical school, beyond active and concerned alumnus. As Rosh HaShanah draws near, Reb Eliezer comes home from work in the evening and is likely to be up at his computer until 2 or 3 a.m., crunching the numbers to produce his seating plan. At 5 a.m. he's up again for Selichos.

And he's not the only one putting in long hours. Rabbi Shulem Eliezer Frankel of the Satmar Chassidic community in Kiryas Joel, New York was just beginning his night, heading back to work on arranging seats for 5,500 on Rosh HaShanah, having already devoted his full day to the task.

Rabbi Frankel faces a unique challenge. In addition to dealing with the logistics of finding all those seats, he is also helping to plan a major operation. His rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum of Satmar, divides his prayer services during the season between his two primary communities — Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The services for Rosh HaShanah, Hoshana Rabbah, and Simchas Torah are held at the community's center in Williamsburg, which is normally presided over by the Rebbe's eldest son, Rabbi Menachem Mendel. The services for Yom Kippur ("Yom HaKadosh" [Holy Day] in chassidish parlance) and Succos take place in Kiryas Joel.

"We have more than 20,000 people who want to pray with the Rebbe, but it's impossible to get them all under one roof," Rabbi Frankel explains. "So the Rebbe divides it up."

Officially, then, for Rosh HaShanah Rabbi Frankel is charged with assigning 5,500 seats at the shul in Williamsburg. Unofficially, the attendance is much higher. "We're finding seats for 3,500 men and 2,000 women," he says. "But when you come into the shul on Rosh HaShanah you'll see that there's nowhere to walk between the benches. We once had a fire marshal look into the shul [on the Holy Day] and he was shocked. He said there must be 12,000 people in there."

The fire marshal's opinion is not Rabbi Frankel's greatest concern, though. "The biggest problem is that the first night of Rosh HaShanah, everyone wants to wish a new year's blessing to the Rebbe."

MUSICAL CHAIRS
Developing a Rosh HaShanah seating plan for an institution of any size demands a great deal of time because of the complexity involved; the operation can be compared to a chess game writ large.

In addition to all the preferences expressed by longtime mispallelim (congregants) — an aisle seat, away from the air-conditioner vent, in a makom kavua, close to the dean — seating planners must also prepare for the unexpected. That can take the form of a late arrival, or even a complete surprise.


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"It happens every year," muses the Mir's Uri Stern. "We'll have a friend of the rabbinical school, someone who's contributed a lot of tzedakah, who wants to surprise the Rosh Yeshivah. So he shows up on Kol Nidrei night, unannounced. And we're not going to seat this person in the back, because he's a very good friend of the yeshivah. So we have to start playing musical chairs."

Fortunately, seating planners have a few tricks up their sleeves they've developed over the years to deal with such contingencies. "We leave about two or three seats empty, with fake names on them," Rabbi Stern admits. Nevertheless, he implores those planning a surprise visit to provide at least a little advance notice.

"Please let us know you're coming!" he laughs. "We won't tell anyone; we'll keep it a secret. We just ask that you let us plan accordingly."

Sometimes, Rabbi Stern says, the price the seating planners themselves.

He recalls how once a very generous benefactor, arrived unannounced at the very last minute. "And there was no place for him anywhere."

In the end, the seaters approached a person who had actually helped out with the logistics. Though looking forward to the seat that he had picked out specially for himself, in the spirit of the season he whole-heartedly gave it up.

"That's the way it always happens," Rabbi Stern says. "No one's particular on anything. As much as everyone wants their seats, everyone is willing to give up their seat. Before Yom HaDin [Judgment Day], what greater mitzvah can you do?"

But perhaps because there is a degree of self-sacrifice involved, seating planners also relate that they constantly see signs of direct Divine assistance in their efforts. In fact, Eliezer Pollack insists it's not him doing the work; really all the arrangements are handled by the One Above.

Pollack recounts one incident in particular that proves his point.

"People keep asking me if I'm in charge of seats at Sh'or Yoshuv," he says. "My answer to them is 'No, I just help assign the seats.' Every year I get last-minute requests from parishioners for family members that need to sit near them. The next phone call or e-mail is a cancellation for a seat near enough to the family that, with a little shifting, I can make work. I'm constantly seeing the His 'hand'. But what happened two years ago says it all.

"As I was placing the late requests for Yom Kippur seats, I noticed that I had some open seats, front and center — very rare. A person — let's call him Reuven — and his family had only been there for Rosh HaShanah. It seemed strange, and I wanted to make sure. So I searched my e-mails and found one saying that Reuven's family only needed seats for Rosh HaShanah that year, as they would be going to Israel for Yom Kippur. So I assigned those seats to someone else and continued on.

"Then on Yom Kippur eve, before leaving the house, I got a last minute e-mail from someone — we'll call him Shimon — canceling three seats. When I arrived before Kol Nidrei at the yeshivah, I gathered all the people with last-minute requests and assigned them open seats. I turned around and saw a person approaching" garbed the white of the holy day.

He had a "bewildered look on his face. It was Reuven. He asked me were his seats were and I said that I had an e-mail from him stating that he would be in Israel. He said, 'That was last year's e-mail!' My mind started racing, and I remembered Shimon's e-mail canceling the three men's seats. Not as good as his original seats, but a good location nonetheless. Reuven said he wasn't as concerned with his men's seats as much as with the women's seats; his wife and two girls were there, expecting seats together. words of advice for people eager to avoid a last-minute snag.

"Help me help you," he says simply. "Understand that as we come down to the wire, it's much easier for me to cancel seats that you don't need than it is to try to find seats for you that you didn't know you needed. When you're planning how many seats to reserve, it's better if you give me the worst-case scenario than a conservative estimate. Try to factor in all the friends or family who might tag along with your guests, or any family of yours who might call at the last minute. On Rosh HaShanah eve, I'd much rather cancel four reservations than have to try to find four seats together."

There's no denying that Rabbi Frankel, Rabbi Stern, Mr. Pollack, and all the other seating planners across the globe are accumulating prodigious divine merits themselves with all their work for the community and by judging their fellow Jews favorably, even in the most stressful situations.

Perhaps, when we receive our Days of Awe seat assignments, instead of grousing, we can consider all the hard work that went into producing that seating chart.

And may a favorable judgment for all of Klal Yisrael be recorded in the most important Book of all.

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Refoel Pride is a writer for Mishpacha magazine, where this first appeared.


© 2013, Mishpacha Magazine