Last week I chanted twice at morning minyan, welcome practice for those 29 verses this past Shabbat. Morning minyan happens whenever there aren't services for holy days or Shabbat, and a minyan (more than ten adults) usually does show up. Like our congregation in general, the minyan attracts a diverse bunch: retirees, people on their way to work who need to say mourner's kaddish, stay-at-home moms, students, and others who just like to start the day with some calm, intimate prayer. We meet in the sanctuary, sitting not in rows of chairs but around a table like a family gathering for dinner. It always feels a little subversive to be part of such a small group in this large, ornate space, as if we had a special secret no one else knew. I love chanting at morning minyan; I'm never as nervous as on Shabbat, and the quick pace (half-hour service; three aliyot; go home and eat a bagel) means my adrenaline doesn't have time to rise to stratospheric levels.
Services are led by a rotating cohort of rabbis, rabbis-in-training, and laypeople who know enough to be rabbis. M. is there almost every day, a sweet man in his 80s who's gabbai on Mondays and Thursdays when the Torah is read. His job, much like that of F. on Shabbat, is to hand out honors and make sure the choreography of the service proceeds without a hitch. M. also stands at the bimah and follows along with the reader to catch mistakes. I've rarely seen him without a smile; although we've never exchanged more than a few words, I'm certain he's one of the gentlest souls on earth. As is his wife, who pulled me aside after I chanted Esther while dressed as a MetroCard, canary-yellow wig on my head: "Your hair looks really nice! No, I mean it! You should be a blonde!" She was so earnest that I gave the idea serious consideration for a second or two.
This past Thursday, as usual, M. took his place up front as I got ready to read. "This morning we'll be treated to even more beautiful chanting than planned," announced the rabbi. (I had learned an additional aliyah earlier in the week.) I blushed.
"And she's a looker, too!" added M.
From anyone other than an 85-year-old man, I would have responded with a withering glance or treatise on why this comment was highly inappropriate during a religious service. But from M.--as he shared the bimah with a female rabbi fifty years his junior--I knew it was meant as a grand compliment, and with utmost respect. I had a sudden image of M. as that sailor in the middle of Times Square in the Eisenstadt photo, kissing a pretty lady on VJ Day. I'm sure he never imagined, fifty or sixty years ago, that he'd be gabbai for a woman chanting Torah. I blushed again, grateful for his time-shifted chivalry, and began to chant.