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  • The Kallah’s Crown

  • Jane Whittier

    September 22, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    This is not a polished as I would usually like piece to be before posting, but it is only timely now, before Yom Kippur.  Besides, I have to  stop working on it and start figuring out if our own courtyard minyan is actually going to have ten men for all five services willing to brave the heat during a fast. Oh, yes, and whether or not we will have a Cohen.

    G’mar chasima tova,


    The Kallah’s Crown

    “Hello, Savta. This is Riki.” It was easier to call by phone than to go down four flights of stairs and get her grandmother to come out into the heat on her first floor balcony.

    “Ah, Riki.  How are you and your husband doing?”

    “Managing. I still don’t have a job.  I hope that when school starts, I can get some sort of tutoring.  But it’s very hard to do well over the phone.”

    “Yes, it must be.”  Her grandmother sighed.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “I’m just worried about being in a super high risk category ”

    “Oh, dear, that must be scary.”

    “It is.  My friend who was on a respirator for two months is still not herself. And recently O\one of my old friends caught Corona and was gone in two weeks. Her husband also had the virus, so the family couldn’t even sit shiva together.  They had to put all the phone numbers on the funeral notice.”

    “Oh, my.”

    “It was so nice over Pesach when we had that minyan in the courtyard.”

    “I know,” said Riki.  “I was actually praying with a minyan three times a day, which I certainly never did any other time in my life. Not that we don’t all need a lot more davening right now.”

    “I feel so sorry for Saba. You know, without a minyan, there are hardly any of the special prayers that we say on Rosh Hashanah.  And on Yom Kippur, we won’t have the service in the Temple or the Ten Martyrs.”

    “Savta, to you think there may be more people in your situation in these six buildings? Maybe you can find ten families who would like to revive the minyan, at least for Rosh HaShanah.”

    “I don’t think it will work.  Most people are very attached to the shul where they have been praying for fifty years. And Rosh HaShanah is very holy.  A high ceilinged room with the Ark out in front is much more appropriate than a dirt courtyard.”

    “Maybe it won’t work, but maybe it will,” said Riki quietly.


    “Reuvi, maybe yes?”

    “Maybe yes what?” asked Reuvi.

    “Maybe there are ten families who would like to daven in the courtyard on Rosh Hashanah.”

    “Maybe,” said Reuvi.  “You friend Tami has gotten me kind of scared with that story of the choir practice where one person sick with Corona infected thirty others.  They were only sixty people, singing for two and a half hours.  On Rosh Hashanah you might have a hundred people in a room, singing for five hours.”

    “So you think that if there were such a minyan, we should daven with it?”

    “Yes, I do.”

    “So maybe…maybe we should do something about it.”

    :”Do what about it?  No one is going to listen to us. A newly married couple? And it is only Tu b’Av. No one else is even thinking about Rosh HaShanah.”

    “Yes, but once they buy tickets to wherever they usually go, they surely won’t be interested.  The tickets are sold in Elul. You have to offer them a different option before Rosh Chodesh Elul.”

    “If you like, you can speak to Mrs. Rothstein. They organized the minyan last time.  They might know if this is possible.”


    “Hello, Mrs. Rothstein?  This is Riki Klein.”

    “Ah, Riki.  How are you doing?”

    “A little bored.  What are you doing for Rosh Hashanah?”

    “You are a little bored if you are already thinking about Rosh Hashanah. I’ll be here in the house with the little ones, just like every year.”

    “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the courtyard minyan again, at least for Rosh Hashanah?”

    “I personally would be very pleased.”

    “Could you…could you give me the list and I could phone around?  See what the situation really is.”

    “My husband’s cell phone died and wiped out most of the list. But I know the last names by building, so you can probably find them in the city directory.”

    “Wait, let me get a pad of paper and a working pen.” When she had the list of people in the six buildings who might be interested, Riki looked at it with doubt. “I don’t know what these people will think of me calling them.”

    “Why exactly are you thinking of doing all this calling?  You are worried about your husband catching it?”

    “I started thinking about this because of my grandparents.  You know, She has asthma, and he never goes out, because he is worried about infecting her, but he should also be careful for himself.  He’s in his late eighties, and the average age of people for whom the disease is fatal is around 80.”

    “Where to you get that statistic?”

    “My friend Tami just bubbles over with statistics.”


    Riki’s first idea was that she would speak to one person in each building, and ask if there were any families who didn’t go out.  It took her about a day to locate one person from each building, but the housewives to whom she spoke did not have any idea if there was anyone else in the building who would be interested. Many of the women were interested themselves, since there were rumors that the women’s section in a number of shuls and yeshivas would be closed.

    “You started too early, Riki,” said Reuvi.  “No one is even thinking about the High Holy Days.”

    “They are thinking about it enough to pass on rumors.”

    Only Tami was encouraging. “Keep trying,” she said.  “Remember that there was that one government official who said that everyone would be davening alone in their houses on Rosh Hashanah.  At the moment, 36% of the people with Corona in Israel are hareidim, and another 20% are Arabs. The Ministry of Health knows that the shuls and mosques are spreading the infection. If they close the shuls at the last minute the way they closed the cemeteries at the last minute before Memorial Day, people will be very pleased if you have gotten something organized.”


    The next day, Riki took the list of neighbors and tried to look up phone numbers for all of them. She didn’t have first names of any of them, so she had to run down the whole list of people with that last name until she found the address she needed.  When the list was as complete as she could make it, she began calling.  She usually got the wife, who told her that she would ask her husband and get back to her.  Many numbers never answered.

    By the second day, the picture was clear.  Most people didn’t know what they were doing for Rosh Hashanah davening.

    “I told you it was too early,” said Reuvi.

    “But if we never even mention the possibility, everyone will make some other arrangement.”


    Just after Rosh Chodesh Elul, Mrs. Rothstein called up and suggested that the Kleins could hang up signs. “You are going to have to promise some things: tables and chairs, shade, fans, something to cover the ground.”

    “Mercy,” said Riki, “I don’t think we can pay for all that.”

    :”You can get tables and chairs from a gemach. As for the other stuff, why don’t you speak to your grandmother?  Maybe they can lay out the money, and people will pay for their places.”

    This was beginning to sound very complicated. “Could your husband give us the wording for a sign?  My friend Tami who can print them up.”

    “I’ll ask him to prepare it, and my children can hang them,” said Mrs. Rothstein.

    Once the signs were up, two people called up, very enthusiastic, and two more called up looking for places for women. “They are closing the women’s section in Ponevezh and Beis Meir.  Lots of women ae left with no arrangement.

    Riki admitted freely that they were just starting to collect the minyan, and said that she would call and tell them what was happening the following on Thursday.  Riki decided that the people they were trying to reach and help were people who didn’t go out of their houses as all, so she needed to put small copies of the sign in people’s mail boxes.  She called back to Tami, who managed to print two copies of the sign to each sheet.  When one of Riki’s brothers brought them over, she cut the sheets in half and set out to distribute the signs to all buildings in a circle around the spot where they wanted to hold services.

    By Wednesday night, two and a half weeks before Rosh Hashanah, they had only five people. They had a lot of “maybe’s”.

    “If we would make a minyan out of question marks, or out of women, we would be in great shape,” said Riki.

    Reuven decided that he had better go buy himself a seat at his old yeshiva.  It was just about the time of year that they started selling places.  He got on his bicycle and rode off.  He returned an hour later, disgruntled.  “They started selling seats a week ago and they are all gone.  Because they have to spread people out so much in the beis midrash. How are you coming with the minyan? Anyone else call?”

    “No, and I think I will hand out the rest of the small signs on the other  side of the street. I have a few left.”

    The next morning was Thursday, the day by which she had promised to give people an answer. Riki got up and decided that she had done all the histadlus she could think of. All she could do now was to daven.  She put a book mark in “Shma Koleinu” and when she got there she said, “We are not doing this for ourselves.  We are doing this for all those people who have no other way to pray this year.  We just have to put it is Your hands.”

    Right after breakfast she got a phone call. “Yes?”

    “Are you organizing a minyan?” It was a woman, so Riki didn’t give the phone to Reuvi.

    “Yes, we are.”

    “My husband is Rosh Kollel.  He has been very careful, giving his shiurim by phone, davening at home, but for Rosh Hashana I would like to find a way for him to pray with a minyan.”

    “Then we are your solution,” said Riki.  They talked a little about how well separated people would be and then the woman said, “For the last fifty years, my husband has been the chazzan for the morning service on Rosh Hashanah, and Musaf on Yom Kippur.”

    :”Why, that would be fantastic.  I’ll have my husband call him and talk to him.” Over breakfast she told Reuvi all about the call.

    Riki called up some of the rebbetzins who wanted to join their minyan and told them that they were still short three men.  She asked if they couldn’t find three grandsons who could act as a backup.  They were actually missing four men, but Riki figured that she would get one of her brothers to do it for Saba.

    At lunch, she reported to Reuvi. “What should I say to these people when I call them tonight.”

    “Why are you going to call tonight?”

    “Because I said that I would. So that people won’t be left hanging.”

    “If people want to know, they will call you.”

    “And what do I do if people do call me.  I don’t know ow to bluff.”

    “Bluffing isn’t your forte.  All right, if you get a call which seems to require bluffing, you can give it to me.

    “What about Rav Weisskopf?  He definitely will want to know how we are coming.

    “Again, he can call us.  I don’t have to go looking for people to bluff.”

    Well, Rav Weisskopf did call. Riki decided to shift attention away from the existence or non-existence of a minyan by talking about other problems.  “Well, we have a ba’al tefila, but no ba’al tokea.”

    “I was a baal tokea for thirty years,” said Rav Weisskopf.  It turned out that he had been the Rav of a shul in Tel-Aviv.


    Tami called up to hear how it was going, and after hearing Riki’s discouraged tone, said, “You have to get to the people who don’t go out.  I’m going to print up some more of the small signs.  You can hand out a few every day you take a walk.”  When Menachem brought them over, Riki found that Tami had printed another three hundred signs.  “Tami, I can’t possibly hand out this many signs.”

    “Listen, those new houses along Rav Landau street must have twenty four families to a building.  You would use up a hundred just on four buildings. Then you can do the rest of your walk with a light heart.


    “Excuse me, is this the Pollack family?”


    “Are you the family with the Sefer Torah.”


    “You are not in number 8?

    “No, in 4 ”

    “Sorry, I mixed you up with someone else.  However, as long as you are on the line, I have you down with a question mark.  Are you planning to come to the minyan?”

    “I haven’t made up my mind yet.

    “You know, people like you are really not helping us.”


    Riki had been bluffing cheerfully on the presumption that some of her rebbetzins would come through with a grandson or so, but in fact one by one they told her that none of their grandsons were willing.  “I wonder if I am being overly optimistic in thinking that I can get Menachem.  Do none of these boys care whether or not their grandfathers can go to shul on Rosh Hashanah?” They did, however get two more men, so they were missing only two.

    On Thursday, the government announced at curfew to take place for a week starting on Monday.

    “Now what do we do?”

    Reuven said, “On Sunday, we go out and buy the stuff. I’ll borrow a thousand from my grandparents and you will borrow a thousand from yours.” “First try asking your grandparents and I will ask mine.  If each can loan us a thousand, that should cover more of it.   I can also look it up to see if this is a legitimate use of maser ksafim”

    “Maaser from what? Reuvi, until I get a job, we haven’t got any income to take maser from:”

    “Our grandparents might also want to know. And look at the bright side:

    “I always get nervous when you say that.  Which bright side?”

    “Since you don’t have a job, you will have plenty of time to organize this minyan.”

    “But suppose we don’t get two more people?”

    “Then I will have to go around convincing them that to pray in a closed shul for five hours is simply too dangerous.”

    On Sunday morning, someone new signed up, making nine, and he was also a Cohen. To be the tenth, she was pretty sure that her parents would force Menachem if necessary.

    Reuvi borrowed his father car and they set off right after mincha.  Their first stop was Osher Ad, where they found a space in the crowded lot and walked to the door. ”

    “I think this is the place,” said Riki, pointing to racks of schach and mounds of thermoses, “but I don’t see any fold-up tents.”

    “Maybe inside,” said Reuvi.  The entry way had piles of dishes, but shortly thereafter they bogged down in vast displays of food.

    Riki managed not to say that they could have bought the tents a month ago when they first heard that they were on sale.  A month ago they hadn’t had a minyan, but today they also didn’t have a minyan. “Let’s at least get schach for out succah,” Reuvi suggested.:  The way to do that was to go pay, and then just walk off with whatever they had purchased.  No one, in fact, checked them..Reuvi dropped the back seat to make room.. “I don’t know how we will fit in everything”

    Someone said that the tents  might be on sale at ACE, so Reuven headed over there.  They put on their masks and wandered through the store, trying to stay far from people. Finally they found a jolly looking man in a kipa at a computer, who looked up the item in stock and found that they had it.

    “We can get it for you in seven days.”

    “But maybe the city will be in lockdown,” said Reuvi.

    :”We got to deliver even during the last lockdown, but I will see what I can do”.  He vanished, and stayed vanished for a very long time.  Riki tried looking at the furniture, but none of it appealed to her. Not, of course, they they could possibly have afforded any of it.

    After a very long wait he showed up.  “The tents are at the entrance.  You can bring your car around. ”

    Their worries about fitting everything in were wasted.  The tents folded up into boxes barely a meter long.  The car groaned under the load.  “We need to drop this off.  There won’t be room for the cloth.

    “I don’t think there will be time, Reuvi.  We have to get to the nursery there by 5;20.” When they got out to the highway, the GPS told them that they would get there at 5:06. “All right, we had better go straight.”

    They got a bargain on the cloth, brought it home, and stashed it allin the storage room.  Then Riki went upstairs to continue with her phone calls. Now that they actually had a minyan, she was ready to call up some of the question marks and try to add them in.

    “Hello, Mrs. Kosover? This is Riki Klein.  I wanted to know if you had made up your mind. About the minyan.”

    “How is it coming?”

    “Well, today we went and bought the tents and fans and groundcloth.  You know, to have them all before the curfew.”

    “Oh, there won’t be a curfew.”

    “This morning the papers said that there would be.”

    “Right, but my brother is the mayor. I spoke to his secretary an hour ago, and she said that they are getting the curfew cancelled.”


    Riki was sorry about being so snappy with Mr. Pollack.  She wanted  to ask forgiveness now, before Rosh Hashana, but she either called when he wasn’t home or put it off.

    “Mr. Pollack, I wanted to ask your forgiveness.”

    “For what?”

    “The last time I called you, I lost my temper and spoke angrily.

    :”Really? I didn’t notice.”


    Riki cut all the cloth, but when she wanted to pound in the holders, she discovered that she had lost the hammer she had taken from Reuvi’s tool bax.  She tried pounding it in with half a brick but it took a very long time.  Finally she went up and got Reuvi’s second hammer.  The first one she put in got bent out of shape .When it wouldn’t going any further, she squashed it flat against the ground  She held the long sheets in place with door and pieces of metal fence. Feeling discouraged, she dragged herself upstairs and carefully replaced the second hammer in the tool box. .She spent the morning cooking for Rosh Hashanah.

    When Reuvi came in, she told him her troubles with the cloth.  “Let me try.  I just need to get a hammer.”

    “Uh, Reuvi, I don’t know how it happened, but I lost one of your hammers.  I took it downstairs in the bag with the phone, and I didn’t use it, but when I looked for it to put it away, it wasn’t in the bag. I looked around for it and didn’t find it.”

    They went downstairs together.  Riki showed him the pins put in by the neighbor girls on the first strip she had cut, and her own failures.  Reuvi smiled, took the hammer in one hand and the pins in the other.  He began driving the in, a meter apart down the length of the ground cloth, with one knee on the ground. In short order he had one cloth completely pinned and had opened out the second.  Riki was sweeping the path and smoothing the ground for the women’s section.  “Next time you need some of this done,” he said, “don’t get girls. They are very well-meaning, but hammer work is not their specialty.”

    Early the next morning, Riki hung up more signs. The phone began to ring with new additions to their minyan. When the fellow who would be twelve called and said that he was in the yard, she went down the four flights of stairs to show him where the men would be and where the women.  He wanted something on the east, because he said that he prayed for a long time and didn’t want to feel that he was disturbing someone in front of him.  Riki found him a door and two pillars to which to tie it.  She even gave him the string. Twelve men would mean that her grandfather would not have to come downstairs.

    “Could I have a fan on me?”

    “The electricity for the fans is being donate by neighbors who have generators.  It won’t help anyone if we put on so many fans that we blow out the fuses.”

    “It would be good to have cloth hung up so that all the people walking along the path wouldn’t disturb the daveners. Could we put up the rest of that black stuff.”

    “I’m concerned that there may no electricity be any left.” But later, when the neighbor just above his spot volunteered electricity for another fan, she called him up and gave him their number.

    Once the ground cover was spread, Reuvi set up the gazebos with the help of some neighbor boys. Rosh Hashanah was on Shabbos.  Wednesday morning, Mr. Rothstian started putting up the eruv, the lights and the fans, with the help Benny, the son of a neighbor.

    “I’m supposed to pick up the Aron Kodesh Thursday, but I don’t think I can carry it alone.”

    “Maybe Benny will help you?” So she called up Benny’s mother, who promised to send him along.


    By Thursday morning, they were up to sixteen men and nineteen women. Riki was finally beginning to relax about have the minyan, and went to tell her grandfather.  The gazebos, fans, lights and table were up, and Reuvi was putting up the mechitza. Riki stopped to talk to her grandfather who was watching the progress of the work from his porch..

    “It looks wonderful, Riki,” he said/

    :”The best of all is that we have the minyan.”

    “Just don’t forget what this is all about.”

    “What do you mean, Saba?”

    “Did I ever tell you about the first Yom Kippur after I married Savta?”

    “No, I don’t think so.”

    “We were renting a one and a half room apartment in Shikun Heh, near the Chug Chasam Sofer, a shul  of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. I bought wood for making a Succah and the neighbors let me store it in their bomb shelter. Many of the men stayed up all night on Yom Kippur but I went home with Savta.

    “I was disappointed at how much heavy traffic I was hearing on the highway running along the east side of Bnei Brak.  In central Brnei Brak, where I grew up, there were no vehicle moving on Shabbat but I thought the rest of the country at least respected Yom Kippur.

    The Hungarians say all the piutim, rather quickly.  Some I had never heard before, and sometimes it was a struggle to keep my place, much less to concentrate on the meaning.  During Musaf, someone came over and asked me if I could read the Torah for mincha.. In the Hungarian custom, there is no break.  Mincha starts right after .musaf, and I didn’t see how I would have time to prepare.

    “‘What is wrong with the person who read the Torah in Shacharis?’ I asked

    “‘He’s been drafted.

    “‘Drafted?  In the middle of Yom Kippur?”

    “At two in the afternoon, the air raid sirens went off and we finally understood that we were at war.  The Egyptians had send a bomber to Tel Aviv. We men all frantically moved my wood out of the bomb shelter so that we could fit in the women and children.

    “You know, a bomb shelter is not a storage room,” grumbled one of the neighbors.

    “I gave him permission to use if for three days.” said another neighbor.”How was I to guess that just in those three days, war would break out?

    “So for Neila we davened with all our strength for a year of peace and health.  I forgot about trying to keep up with the piutim and just poured out my heart.. I said to myself, ‘Idiot, and before the sirens went off you didn’t know why you were in shul?’

    “So I am just telling you, Riki, don’t get so wrapped up in the technical matters of arranging the minyan that you forget what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about.”

    “Thank you, Saba.  I probably needed the reminder.”



    “Reuvi, most people have paid and we have comvered the money we laid out, but I don’t have a phone number for that cohen and he hasn’t contacted me.:

    “So we don’t know if he is coming or not. So if anyone asks, you just don’t know.  There is an art ot knowing when to say, ‘I don’t know’.”

    The women who came were quite willing to have Riki help them find a good seat far enough form everyone else. “Good” often had to dow with were the rotationg fans reached in their travels. The only sticky part of her job as gabait came when the wife of the Rav who would be blowing the shofar came over to point out that one woman was not wearing her mask. Of course, like most of her customers, the woman was more than three times Riki’s age, but she went over and explained that they had put together the minyan for people who wanted to be particularly careful. “We have masks here on the shelf.”

    “I have a mask,” said the lady, “but not for davening.”

    “Even for davening,” said Riki firmly, and it worked.  The woman put on her mask. After the evening service, the women all came over to thank her and wish her well for the coming year.


    Riki got up and dressed by five in the morning.  She had one hope for finding them a Cohen.  On the next block over lived a family of Cohanim, friends of her Parents, .  She huffed and puffed up three flights of stairs, just as her father’s friend was coming down in his talis.  “Harav Cohen, could you help us?  We are holding a minyan in our courtyard for my grandparents and others who don’t go out, and we have no Cohen.  ”

    “Go ask my wife, maybe my son Elazar can do it, the one who was just bar mitzvah.  He is still home.”

    Riki stood at the door for the negotiation, as the mother tried to convince her son.

    “You can go after the silent prayer. You will be the only Cohen.  You will also get the first Aliyah.”

    “I want to daven Mussaf at our shul.”

    “Fine, you can go back to our shul for Mussaf.”

    At Modim, Riki began to get nervous.  Had Elazar found the minyan? Did the chazzan know that there was a Cohen?  By peeking, she could see him standing tall in front of the Aron, a borrowed tallis over his shoulders, just thirteen years old, ready to bless all these elderly rabbanim.  “Who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people Israel.”


    Since it was Shabbos, they did not say Avinu Malkeinu. Riki realized that she had never before stayed for the Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah.  She always rushed home to help her mother get the younger children ready to come to shul for the shofar blowing.  She moved over to a crack in the mechita from which she could see the Aron Kodesh. After the scroll was brought to the “bima”, Elazar the Cohen was called up to read the first portion. Riki sat down again and turned to the Torah reading of the first day in her Machsor. She didn’t even know what it was.

    “And G-d remembered Sarah..”

    Hashem, thought Riki, You remembered Sarah! Maybe You could remember me as well? This was what her grandfather was telling her.  She was here to daven.  She had to daven for a child, and that their extended family should survive and that there should be an end to this terrible plague! She had to daven with all her heart and all her strength.





  • PassionforWriting

    September 22, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    It sounds very good, Jane! I love how you described the whole mask situation in detail. I’m just unsure why it’s titled “the Kallah’s Crown…” Maybe I didn’t fully understand the story.

    • Jane Whittier

      October 15, 2020 at 7:04 pm

      <p>Dear PassionforWriting,</p><p> This is actually just one chapter in a novel about a kallah who’s wedding is schduled right for the beginning of the lockdown in Israel. That’s the kallah and the crown is the translation of Corona. In Israel, a kallah does where a wreath or somthing reminiscent of a crown. I wrote this chapter now because I wanted to remember the details of what the High Holy Days were like and what we went through trying to put this minyan together.</p><p><br></p><p>all the best,</p><p>Jane. </p>

  • Sherry

    September 23, 2020 at 10:17 pm

    Jane, thanks for this. Light reading with an inspirational message. Like.

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