My shul is moving. To be fair, it’s been “moving” for about two years now. But it’s actually moving as I’m writing this. I’m supposed to be helping.
We’ve been in this location for about ten years, give or take, but we have to leave, because the landlord keeps raising the rent, and the shul isn’t exactly a huge moneymaker, seeing as the only thing we sell is aliyos, and it’s only for about 13 days a year to people who are already in the shul. It’s not like we post signs outside: “Now selling aliyos! Buy one hagba’ah/gelilah, get a second FREE on equal or smaller sefer!” We’d have random people coming in out of curiosity.
I guess there are other ways the shul brings in money, such as long Mi Shebeirachs, the annual Chanukah raffle, and charging more to sponsor a Kiddush than the Kiddush actually costs, but the shul was in a storefront, and the landlord was hoping we’d be making storefront money. His feeling was that this isn’t a charity. So instead, from here on out, we’ll be sharing a building with the local Jewish Family Services, which actually is a charity.
At least we think we’re sharing it with them. Or else the community got together and decided that our entire shul needs therapy. Group therapy. And that we have to be tricked into it, so everything we’re paying in rent and “shul membership” is a co-pay, and the rest is covered by our insurance.
It had been so long since the shul first announced they were moving that when they recently told everyone to take their personal belongings out of their cubbies, I came in to do that and realized that I’d already done it the last time they’d announced that the shul was about to move. You might think this is weird, but I don’t use what’s in my cubby a whole lot — it’s just a kiddie Siddur from when my oldest son was little, an interlinear Siddur that I always forget I have, and some copies of my books that I’d brought in to advertise, which have since been floating around the shul and somehow made their way to the children’s book library.
Yes, our shul has a children’s book library. The only thing that’s still in mint condition is the sign that says who originally dedicated it. Having a kids’ library in a shul is a good way to fast-forward through years of kids damaging books. It’s not their book, and their parents aren’t saying anything to them about destroying it because we’re not supposed to talk in shul. If you ever have some books you need destroyed to make room for other books, bring them to the kids’ book library.
I’m not thrilled about the move. The new location is at this awkward distance from our house where it’s more worth it to drive than to walk. And once we’re in the car, there are a lot of shuls in town where it’s more worth it to drive than to walk, though, to be fair, none of them have parking. So even though they’re farther than this shul, walking would still take less time than driving plus finding a parking spot at a time when there are minyanim going on, which is the worst time to try to find parking in front of a shul. But this new location is going to be the only shul in town with a parking lot that holds more than five cars. That can be our slogan: “Come to our shul! We have a parking lot!” That’s not a great slogan for Shabbos and yom tov, but we can always then erase the board outside and replace it with aliyah sales. (“This week only: Buy Chassan Torah for the rav!”)
But today I came to the old location one last time, on a weekday morning, to help with the move. Everyone was who available was asked to show up, so it was basically a bunch of guys who didn’t have to be at work for various reasons such as that this technically was work because they were writing about it later. I don’t know. Plus there were the movers, who were actually paid to be there. So the rest of us were supposed to … We weren’t sure what, exactly. Every time I started doing something, the movers would come back in and say, “Oh, we’ll take care of that.” Were we just supposed to be supervising them and answering questions we didn’t know the answers to? All the people who knew what we were supposed to be doing were at work.
We were originally told that we’d be putting sefarim in boxes, but some mispallelim showed up the night before and had taken care of most of that, only stopping when they ran out of boxes. See, the thing about moving a shul is that, on the one hand, it’s an easy move because there’s not a lot of stairs involved, but, on the other hand, every box is full of sefarim. And it’s hard to estimate how many boxes you need for sefarim, because each box can only hold about six sefarim. You know how when you put people together, they can accomplish more than they can individually? Well, there’s a similar concept with sefarim: One sefer isn’t that heavy, but two sefarim together weigh 90 pounds. This might sound like a lot when it comes to moving a shul of almost 2,000 sefarim, but it’s convenient later on, when Beis Din Shel Ma’alah is weighing your mitzvos against your aveiros.
“How many mitzvos do you have?”
“Well, I learned these two sefarim …”
So someone sent me out to drive around the neighborhood and find more boxes. It was recycling day, so I had to stay one step ahead of the truck—far enough ahead to avoid having conversations I didn’t want to have. And by the time I got back, it was just me and like two other guys. So I started putting sefarim in boxes, and the movers came back in and said, “Nah, we’ll take care of those.”
I think our job was more about trying to figure out how to get the aron out of the beis midrash. That’s what everyone was arguing about the first time I walked in.
See, years ago, when we first moved into this location, someone had built a beautiful, well-constructed aron kodesh frame around the safe we were using to house the sifrei Torah and the stand it was sitting on—so well-constructed that there was no way to take it apart, which was very unfortunate, because it was bigger than the doorway.
“Then how did they get it in?”
They built it in the beis midrash.
So then it was suggested that they cut the frame in half, lengthwise, and then, when we get to the new location, cover the crack in front with some kind of design. In case you’re wondering why a lot of fancy arons have a luchos over the center of the door.
We weren’t even sure how the safe itself had been lifted onto the base without someone driving a forklift into the shul, which we didn’t know how to do either without cutting the forklift in half. But the movers insisted that carrying it out was not a big deal for them, compared to all those boxes of sefarim they were lifting.
So the guy who’d originally built the aron showed up with a circular saw, and I was sent out to get boxes, and by the time I came back, the aron was in two pieces, and most of the guys had apparently hightailed it out of there.
But this is one complication that only happens when you’re moving a shul. When you’re moving a house, this isn’t an issue, because you don’t generally put the sofa together from scratch inside the room you keep it in. Nor do you build a house around your sofa. The sofa is manufactured elsewhere, usually after you build the house. And everything that you do put together inside your house comes in a kit that, if you reverse the instructions, can be taken apart. Ikea doesn’t sell an aron kit. And if they did, it would fall apart the very first Simchas Torah.
I bet this is something every carpenter learns the hard way—that he has to measure his doorways first.
“Great. How do we get it out of the workshop now?”
“Maybe if we take it apart and sell it in pieces like we meant to do it that way?”
“I’m getting the saw.”
But the day wasn’t just about boxing or not boxing sefarim and cutting an aron in half and wondering what to do with all the half-eaten herrings in the fridge. There were also a lot of random things that we had to figure out what to do with: an assortment of unclaimed coats and vests and a shoe, a riding toy, leftover premade oil glasses from several Chanukahs, two-year-old jelly beans, a Hatzalah kit, a bunch of brochures about talking in shul that someone was supposed to — I don’t know — passive-aggressively give out during davening, several cases of Shabbos toilet paper, and the contents of the shul’s unofficial muktzah drawer, featuring car keys and years’ worth of people’s change that they’d accidentally walked into shul with on a Friday. Not to mention what we found literally stuck to the walls when we pulled out the sefarim shranks (mostly pens, pages of kids’ books, and some schmoozing brochures).
And what are we supposed to do with all these aravos?
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of six books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.