They’re true the world over and if you go to shul, you’ll know what I mean…
1. Shaking hands – Every time someone gets a mitzvah at shul – whether it’s an aliya, opening the ark, lifting the Torah – everyone he passes feels the need to shake his hand and congratulate him. Congratulate for what? It’s easy, it didn’t involve any preparation and we’ve all done it.
2. Instructions on opening the ark – Every time the job of opening the ark is given to a guest, shul wardens always feel the need to explain how to do it, as if directing a novice on how to do open heart surgery. “There’s two strings, one is high and one is low. Pull the high one down and the curtain will open. Then you’ll find two doors. They’re the slidy variety so don’t try to pull them open… Would you like me to go up there with you in case you need help?” Let’s be honest, we all have curtains and doors at home, we’ll figure it out.
3. Shokeling – What’s with the ferocious swaying movement? Sometimes forward and back, occasionally side to side. Someone once told me that Jews shokel to help their concentration during prayer but have you ever seen people violently swaying in an exam, or while driving a car?!
4. 'Someone’s sitting in my seat' – We’ve all been there before, when visiting a shul that someone comes in late and tells you that you’re sitting in their seat. Reasonable people like myself see this as incredible rudeness unbefitting of a House of Prayer. That said, when I come to my shul and see someone sitting in my seat, I find somewhere else to sit…and spend the rest of the service pissed off that someone's sitting in my set.
5. Standing up for the Rabbi – As a mark of respect to the Rabbi, we stand up when he walks into the shul. The problem is, that we’re tired and can’t be bothered getting up for him. So what do we do? We’ve put our hands on the sides of our chair, push all our weight down on our arms, and lift up our back sides so there’s about an inch between us and the chair. Then we release the pressure on our arms and drop ourselves back down. Let’s get something straight – that is not standing up.
6. Pointing your little finger – When someone goes up to lift the Torah for Hagbah, we’ve got this weird thing we do when we point our little finger in the air, close one eye, aim our little finger at the Torah scroll and then kiss our little finger. In my book, that’s not the way to kiss something. And why the little finger?!
7. Correcting laning – When someone goes up to read from the Torah, despite the fact that we know he spent hours preparing the laning and does so for no material benefit, we treat him like an arrogant showman who is out to impress us. It’s the only way of explaining the combat that begins with his first word, where we yell out every time he slips up. And when we do, we have that smug sense of having caught the bastard.
8. Sweetie man – Children are taught never to accept sweets from a stranger. It’s one of the most basic rules of childhood, along with “stop, look and listen”. But when it comes to shul, kids are free to take candy from anyone, regardless of how creepy they look.
9. Missing pages – All shul siddurim have pages missing. We accept it as if it’s a given. In fact, we never question why it is that we have books at home that have been read many times but are still in decent condition, but shul siddurim are always missing pages. Do people get so caught up in their prayers that thy start tearing it apart?
10. Sleeping – It doesn’t matter how much sleep you’ve had – there are certain points in the service that can put even the insomniacs to sleep. The Rabbi’s sermon goes without saying, but things like Megillat Kohelet and that song before laning on Shavuot morning can put the whole congregation down. Just make sure not to snore.