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Sunday, May 31, 2009

A reason for everything... even a lack of 'Zitz Fleisch'

For those not in the know, 'Zitz Fleisch' is a yiddish expression that literally means 'sitting meat'.  It is used to describe the admirable ability to sit still and pray, study, etc. for long periods of time.  So, someone who is fidgety and unable to sit still in synagogue or study hall is said to lack 'Zitz Fleisch'.

Clear so far?  Good.

Now, even though my posterior would seem ample to long periods of sitting, I am a classic example of someone who lacks 'Zitz Fleisch'.  Throughout my less-than-stellar educational career, my teachers complained that I had problems staying focused on the tasks at hand, and that a short walk for a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom or even a quick stare out the window was far more interesting to me than anything that might be transpiring in class.

Sadly, the same problem of restlessness has always been part and parcel of my synagogue attendance, and I have had to create countless 'work arounds' and tricks to keep my mind inside the building and focused on the tefilot (prayer services) going on around me. 

These include (first and foremost) choosing a minyan where the length of tefilot are kept to a bare minimum.  I have no patience with people who want to show off their cantorial skills (or their ability to shoehorn various inappropriate/random melodies into the liturgy), and my absolute limit for Shabbat or holiday services is 2 hours (and that's pushing it!).  Even then, I need to build in at least one short break to get up and stretch my legs.

Additional reading material is also a must.  It may be the 'parsha sheets' that are available at the entrance to the shul, or translated sources from home... but I need a few such crutches to keep me from wandering around and talking to people.

Even so, at least once during a two hour davening I will need to get up and stretch my legs.  I usually try to make these appear as if I am actually taking Yonah out (ie.. during speeches, etc.), but if I have no handy child on which to pin my departure, I'm not proud... I simply get up and go.  I'm sure most people [mistakenly] assume I'm taking part in a 'kiddush club' (a much maligned custom of going out in the middle of services to make kiddish on fine whiskey).

This past Shabbat was especially hard for me since it came on the heels of a late Thursday night and Friday celebration of Shavuot.  By Saturday morning I was just completely out of 'Zitz Fleisch'.  Luckily Yonah was being a bit fidgety at the mid-point of the service (gee, I wonder where he gets that from), so I asked him if he needed a break to go outside and 'shake out his sillies'.  To my relief, he readily agreed.

Once out in the lobby, I noticed my lovely wife standing with a few other women who had just arrived, so I went over to say hello.  One of the women was a young British immigrant who had a pretty little girl clinging to her skirt.  I'd seen the little girl before and remembered her because even though she was three or so, she already wore glasses... something that one doesn't often see with children so young. 

Anyway, as I walked up, the conversation had just turned to her daughter's glasses and how kid's frames were extremely expensive... and that they were mostly unattractive due to having to be overbuilt to survive rough treatment.

As I looked down at her daughter I noticed that the frames were indeed quite thick and dominated the girl's pretty face.  And all at once it struck me that I might have a possible solution.

You see, a few years ago when I was trying to figure out what kind of frames to get for my first pair of reading glasses, I did some online shopping for antique frames; specifically gold rimmed Windsor style (think John Lennon) since I liked the style and the antique frames seem to have been made quite well (judging by how many have survived).

Anyway, most of the places selling such eyeglass frames know the value of what they have and were selling them for at least as much as modern frames (if not more).  But some 'junk dealers' were selling 'lots' of multiple eyeglass frames for very reasonable prices.  Among the lot were usually one or two decent frames... and the rest were truly junk.  But since the lot was reasonably priced you didn't really mind buying them all in order to get the one or two frames you really had your eye on.

Such was the case with a lot I purchased.  In among the crap was a pretty pair of antique gold-filled Windsor style frames.  I didn't know what size they were and didn't dare ask too many questions about them (for fear that they would jack up the asking price), so I just bought the whole lot for $15 or $20 bucks.

When the lot of frames arrived I was disappointed to find that the only frames I really cared about were much too small for me.  In fact, even though they were exquisitely made and in perfect condition... they were obviously meant for a small child, not an adult.  So with a heavy heart, I put them back in their original antique case, slipped them into my junk drawer... and promptly forgot about them.

That is, until I found myself eavesdropping on this conversation about the high cost of unattractive, substandard children's frames.  As I stood there looking at this pretty little girl, all I could think about were these lovely gold frames that were sitting in the bottom of a pile of junk.

Since we live only a five minute walk from the synagogue, I ran home to get them.  When I opened the case at home, I was stuck anew by how well they were made, despite their delicate appearance.  I went back to shul and took the young mother aside and asked her if she had ever considered antique eyeglass frames for her daughter.  She said no, but after I'd explained what I was talking about and showed her the pair I had, she immediately wanted to see if they fit her daughter.

Not only did they fit, but the 'riding cables' (the flexible curved portion that goes behind the ears; designed originally for equestrians) were perfect for making sure they didn't fall off an active child. 

It was clear that she loved the frames but I could sense her reluctance to accept something of such apparent value.  I just smiled, told her how I had acquired them and assured her that they were simply being wasted in my junk drawer and that it would please me to no end to see her little girl in such pretty frames.

Usually when I return to the synagogue after one of my much-needed breaks, I feel a bit guilty at having taken a stroll when everyone else was somehow able to carry on uninterrupted.  But this time I couldn't help feeling that there was some extra purpose to my little walk-around... and that the world was just the tiniest bit better for my inability to stay in my seat.

This could be just my sorry attempt to excuse away a childish habit of mine.  But to be honest, when I see that little girl in a week or two with her new glasses, it won't really matter.  I'll know in my heart that there is purpose to everything... even a chronic lack of 'Zitz Fleisch'.


Posted by David Bogner on May 31, 2009 | Permalink


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I'm certainly in agreement with the cantorials - no need to drag it out. Great to be able to do such a nice Mitzva as a way of stretching your legs!

Posted by: Gilly | May 31, 2009 3:47:26 PM

Kol ha-kavod. Who knows how many positive ripples you may have set into motion by that single sweet act?

Chalk up another vote for no-nonsense davening (though with the addition of some congregational singing, not a cantorial concert from the bima).

Posted by: Rahel | May 31, 2009 3:57:38 PM

I will shamelessly autoquote: "Sometimes, one happens to be the right person, at the right place, at the right time."

Posted by: QuietusLeo | May 31, 2009 4:58:50 PM

Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, we're finished with morning Minyan in 20 minutes. Monday and Thursday, about 30. Rosh Chodesh is another story. Shabbos is about two hours and then we break for a fleish lunch. For those who wish, we sit around and shmooze and pray Mincha.

Posted by: Mickysolo | May 31, 2009 5:20:11 PM

When I was a little girl, stuck too young in big, "Coke bottle bottom" glasses, my Mama got me a pair of those frames. They were delicate and unusual, sort of like jewelry... and they rescued me from the embarrassment I had suffered behind the previous year's pastel blue harlequin plastic. You may never know the pleasant curve you just put into her social life. Kol hakavod! I knew there was a logical rationalization for the fidgets.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | May 31, 2009 6:51:15 PM

Knowing the family, I know you probably made their day by saving them about 1000 nis. You may have eaten "my" cheesecake (really, I couldn't have eaten it anyway) but you're still a giver!

Posted by: noa | May 31, 2009 7:11:26 PM

They have LOTS of nice frames today for kids, but yes, they cost a ton. I always had to buy Ricki 2 pairs (one to wear and one to search for), so it added up. I am sure this family was happy at the savings....

Posted by: rickismom | May 31, 2009 8:01:09 PM

Well, I guess someone is going to have to defend chazzanut. I would rather sit a little longer and listen to someone with a trained voice who has studied and knows nusach, then race through the davening led by someone with a mediocre (at best) voice who got to be shaliach tzibbur that day because he had yahrtzeit. And is getting through the davening quickly really what davening is all about? Do we really need to get that piece of potato kugel in a hurry? I have found this line from My Fair Lady to be appropriate in shul numerous times..."You will get a lot further with the Lord if you learn not to offend his ears".

Posted by: marsha | May 31, 2009 8:02:06 PM

Sounds like a touch of A.D.D., Dave. But it seems you know how to compensate.

Oh and you ARE a giver, huh?

Posted by: Baila | May 31, 2009 10:31:31 PM

That was nice of you, Dave. That incident wasn't a coincidence. BTW, that style of glasses is standard issue to submarine crewmen. The wire temples allow the glasses to be worn while wearing an EAB (Emergency Air Breathing) mask, which is similar to a gas mask. An airtight seal can still be made because the temples are so thin.

As for being unable to sit for long periods, I have the same problem. If I were in school today, I'd probably be diagnosed with ADHD. But there seems to be a good reason for being fidgety.


Posted by: Karl Newman | May 31, 2009 10:59:33 PM

Well, I guess someone is going to have to defend chazzanut. I would rather sit a little longer and listen to someone with a trained voice who has studied and knows nusach, then race through the davening led by someone with a mediocre (at best) voice who got to be shaliach tzibbur that day because he had yahrtzeit.

Marsha...They aren't mutually exclusive.....and theres a looooong stretch from good Chazzanut to hollow "kvetcherei". Good Chazzanim are usually good programmers as well. It's the layman who thinks he's a chazzan that gets us into trouble. With our prayers for his forbearers good health he won't have too many yahrtzeits to observe.

Posted by: shmiel | May 31, 2009 11:37:56 PM

Delightful post. I love getting to the end of a day and seeing the wonderful ways of Master of the Universe. Your big daddy heart reaching out to a little girl. Super! You've made my day!

Posted by: Noa | Jun 1, 2009 12:04:03 AM

Great story. It sure pays to save and remember what you're saving.
Tizkeh l'mitzvot!

Posted by: Batya | Jun 1, 2009 5:38:06 AM

G-d moves, using us, in strange ways sometimes.

Also: my daughter has, for years now, always got her glasses made using thrift-store frames, which -- when I discovered her modus operandi -- I find extremely clever, and hugely money-saving.

I plan, my next pair, to get some a those great horn-rimmed jobbies like my brother had to wear in the sixties. Yum! Oh, to be hopelessly 'square'! ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 1, 2009 6:05:20 AM

Awww! I wanna see a 'before' and 'after' photo now. :)

Posted by: Chantyshira | Jun 1, 2009 7:19:09 AM

Just FYI for anyone else looking for nice and reasonable kids glasses, we buy our daughter's very cute pink glasses from an online site (39dollarglasses.com, the model called Saturn) which while not the cheapest online site is much better priced than any 'real-life' optician shop. They take your prescription and send them to you anywhere in the world. We have been using them for 4 years now. To quote someone I know,don't thank me, I am a giver!

Posted by: hadassa | Jun 1, 2009 3:13:45 PM

Did you fear we might forget you are a giver? Seriously this is a fine story and these lovely glasses will be put to good use.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jun 1, 2009 3:50:37 PM

Nice, Dave.
I, too, have that fidgety nature in services.

Getting up and walking around is not an option in our Temple (unless I were holding a squirmy/crying baby), but the service is usually an hour, and I really want to be there, so I manage to deal somehow.

And yeah, a before and after pic of the little girl would be lovely.

Posted by: val | Jun 1, 2009 4:36:49 PM

I concede to Shmiel. He's right, it's the amateur
"chazzanim" we must silence at all costs. Let's help the pros,however, make a living!
As to posting a picture of our little eyeglass model, I suggest not, for security reasons...leave her in peace..

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Jun 1, 2009 6:02:59 PM

@ Marsha: rather, go ahead and post the picture of the cute tyke! Just make sure to put a "black bar" over the eyes, to prevent identification! ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 2, 2009 5:33:10 AM

to every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose...

Nice post

Posted by: Rivka with a capital A | Jun 2, 2009 7:21:37 PM

Beautiful story.
One point about singing, though. I am not a fan of dragged out chazzanut either, but the shul I went to on the 1st day of Shavuot did not sing anything [and this was at the the regular 9 AM minyan, not the 5 AM]; not Hallel, not Kedusha, not Adon Olam. It just did not feel like Yom Tov.

Posted by: SaraK | Jun 3, 2009 12:28:00 AM

Dear David,

As the father of this little child (Eliana)I'm grateful. I hope that you will be able to see her with the glasses this coming Shabat.

Thank you


Posted by: Chanoch | Jun 14, 2009 2:03:05 PM

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