Thursday, March 17, 2005

31. Understudy, part 2

I looked up, expecting to see the other rabbi at the bima. She had left about an hour earlier to lead the kids' service, and was supposed to be back to finish Musaf. People were walking around, returning to their seats after following the Torah in its procession, ready to start that final stretch, the runway approach back home.

I relaxed into the pew, an aisle seat about halfway towards the back. My mind drifted to the upcoming joy of a tuna salad sandwich, following by the reading of People Magazine, one of my favorite Shabbat afternoon activities. And then I noticed that the rabbi was looking at me. Right at me. Rabbis who are in the middle of leading services do not generally stare at individuals in the congregation. Speaking from my own, limited experience as a George Plimpton-style cantor, praying in front of a thousand people takes a great deal of concentration. If the rabbis are not, for whatever reason, engrossed in spiritual reflection, then perhaps they're thinking of their families, or a congregant in need, or what's for lunch--but I'm pretty certain they're not sneaking looks at the crowd and trying to identify our various depressed or ecstatic faces. I could be wrong. I had no doubt, in any case, that he was looking at me. It felt like a laser beam boring into my head.

I immediately turned around--surely he meant to catch the attention of the person in the next row. No. Oh, my God--I got it now, he wanted me to come up to the bima. The other rabbi had not reappeared, and he needed someone to help lead Musaf. I pointed to myself, the "Who, me?" gesture, and he gave a slight nod. When the rabbi nods and asks you to come to the bima, you don't dawdle. I jumped up and ran down the aisle, which seemed miles long, praying that I remembered Musaf.

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