Get me to the shul on time

By David Robson, November 21, 2011
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My grandfather used to leave shul at the same time every Shabbos. I have a feeling it was 11.30 but that does seem a little early. Maybe it was closer to midday. Regardless of what was going on - praying, preaching, singing - we walked out and headed for the café where my grandmother was waiting. Enough was enough. In the afternoon, I would often go to watch Leeds United with my uncle, his son. Five minutes before the final whistle, even if the game was on a knife-edge, we would always make for the exit.

I now realise this could have caused me untold emotional damage and sent me to my grave with out ever hearing Adon Olam. Actually, it has had the opposite effect. I hang on for the end of everything and never reach a conclusion before the conclusion. Consider my old friend, Sam. Until well into middle-age, he was far too cool for shul. A cultured man, the only tallis he knew was the 16th-century English composer. A Jewish boy certainly but, I would have thought, the most unlikely shul-goer in Christendom. Then I started to get the phone calls. "The music was fantastic," he told me excitedly. What music? I wondered. Some symphony concert? Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys? "Where was it?" I asked. "The Festival Hall?"

"No, it's this fabulous shul I've found."

"Pardon, Sam, did you say what I think you said?"

Regardless of where the service had reached, we headed for the café

"Yes, it's so inspiring, you must come."

"Pardon?"

Another week, another shul, another phone call: "A brilliant sermon." A brilliant sermon? As a child, I rarely heard a sermon. Walking-out time was sometimes before the sermon even began or else when it was in midstream. And, in the years since, "brilliant" and "sermon" have hardly gone together like egg and onion. But clearly - and he has never explained how or why - Sam had seen the light, even in sermons.

These days, I have a new role, as a sort of etiquette guide to a new entrant. "What do I do if I'm called up?" Answer: pray for help. "Do I need to wear trainers on Yom Kippur?" Answer: yes, it's the only day when most Jews dress like sportsmen.

"What time do I need to get to shul to be in time for the haftorah?" Now this was a remarkable question: (a) getting there for the haftorah is a bit late by almost anybody's standards (b) anyway, he would be bound to get there at least an hour earlier (c) not very long ago, Sam hardly knew what a haftorah was.

As it happens Jack Rosenthal's play, Barmitzvah Boy, was on the radio last week, the one where the lad does a runner from shul when he's called up because he doesn't want to become a man - not a man like his father or grandfather at any rate. I think Sam should have a barmitzvah soon (he had one long ago but it didn't count). He has been a man for decades now. He's putting in the Shabboses and it would be unreasonable for him to wait till he's 83.

I should live so long! His would be a haftorah which, like a Leeds United equaliser in the last minute, it would be a sin to miss.

    Last updated: 10:50am, November 21 2011