I am no stranger to the maariv service. For several years it was one of my three-a-day but the maariv I've enjoyed most was only a few days ago. I was on a cruise with the Silversea line, the epitome of luxury. I even had my own tailcoated butler. On this boat there is nothing where service isn't on tap. With only one exception.
The crowded programme for Friday evening featured: "6.00 enjoy a cocktail with pianist Alfredo" and "7.00 the Silver Spirit Trio plays easy listening music". Between them, at 6.30: "Jewish Sabbath Service (self-conducted)". A service without service! If they can supply butlers, then why not a rabbi?
How would it be? Would we get a minyan? Would there be yarmulkes? It was all to play for (or pray for). As the time approached I made my way to the appointed room on deck seven - "Stars", it was called, presumably of David. My only confederates were two ladies from the southern United States. Promisingly there was a pile of yarmulkes and prayer books. But would there be any people?
There would. We got a minyan - five men and five women. Three more Americans, a long-retired European doctor from Melbourne, his wife - whose family fled from Lithuania to Australia in 1938 - and a couple who came from Mexico but left there because it was too dangerous. They now lived in Marbella.
The Spanish woman made the blessing over the candles. Being American Reform jobs the prayer books opened from left to right like ordinary English books. And if that was a problem for some, it was nothing compared with the fact that they were all for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
They supply butlers, so why not a rabbi?
But were we daunted? The lady from Tucson led from the front with considerable oomph, though she admitted reading Hebrew was not among her skills.
You will be pleased to know that your correspondent stepped into the breach, turning pages in the wrong direction and nimbly picking through references to the New Year.
Everyone had got into the spirit so we rewarded ourselves with large glasses of kosher wine and ripped into the challah, easily the best bread on board. And there was conversation. We suspected, nay knew, there were plenty of yiddisher no-shows among the 500 on board. We could do Jew-spotting later - "our national sport," said the Australian woman. The Spaniards told how their son-in-law had been kidnapped in Mexico and was chained to a tree for three weeks: "They especially kidnap Jews and Spaniards and we are both."
We were sailing off Lisbon where apparently shuls and mosques are behind walls. There was chat about Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Inquisition. How his boat was financed by Jews and, our newly-formed history circle decided, quite a few Jews took the way out with him to America. Then off to the captain's reception and a formal dinner. We were wonderfully elegantly dressed though not exactly a youth group. It had been a good effort and a sweet meeting, a shmooze on a cruise. There could have been more of us, but more may well have been less.