Sunday, February 27, 2005

20. The Secret Rabbi Room

I call it the Secret Rabbi Room. From a door behind the bima they emerge at the start of each service, mysterious as Israelites arising from the Red Sea. Or at least that's how it seemed until I got to see, and exit, the Room for myself. The one in the synagogue is a casual little lounge, with a tan leather sofa, photos of Israel, and the imposing locked back of the ark along one entire wall. There's a pile of boxes filled with CDs, some old siddurim, and a mirror. It wouldn't be good to face the congregation with spinach on your teeth. During my moments of complete terror right before the first time I helped lead Shabbat morning services, I was excited to notice a Gemini II alarm panel on the wall. I was, coincidentally, in the middle of designing a Flash animation for an alarm company to show how to arm this very same panel after it was installed next to your front door. I tried to staunch torrents of adrenaline by contemplating the meaning of safety, whether in the real world or during prayer, but all I could think was: how weird is this. Some of my reality is here.

The Secret Rabbi Room at the church where we also have services is much more interesting. Officially it's the Robing Room, where clergy and choir dress in ceremonial polyester. A narrow triangular space wedged behind incapacitated organ pipes, it's furnished with chipped metal file cabinets ("Anthems--inactive--A-K"), crumbling Bach keyboard octavos sandwiched by bookends on a dark, scratched wooden desk, and shelves with mountains of paper reaching up to the vaulted ceiling. Most prominent, and at eye level when you put your coat on the desk and pour yourself a drink of water, is a box labeled "FEATHER BOA." I've always wondered what Methodist ritual this is for.

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