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Sure we have a minyan: ... 7, 8, 9 .. what? Oh....

There is a requirement to have 10 Jewish men who have attained maturity (ie, bar mitzvah) in order to be allowed to say certain prayers.  Everyone knows that, but too often we do not feel both the privilege and responsibility of that fact.

Our shul started in the home of  Rabbi Aryeh Rodin a bit more than 20 years ago; around September of 1987.  He started it by looking for at the zip code map and choosing the region that had the most Jews.  Then he moved into the neighborhood and starting knocking on doors with mezuzahs and asking them to attend an Orthodox minyan, maybe learn something more about Orthodox Judaism, etc.  The response was... well.... slow.  We moved into the neighborhood in the beginning of 1990.  By that time, Ohev Shalom ("Where Jews of All Backgrounds Feel At Home"), had taken up residence in a second floor storefront at the back of a small shopping center in the north part of Dallas (pretty much as far north as you could get and still be in Dallas).  We always had a minyan for Shabbos, but not always right at 9:00AM (the announced and all too often understood as "suggested" -- starting time).  Since I was (again, sigh...) not Jewish but was a potential (oh that hurt) proselyte, the smart thing to do would have been to wait till 9:30AM or so and then walk over.  That way, by the time I arrived there would already be a minyan and I could just slip unnoticed with the other late comers.

I, of course, am not smart about things like that that.  Instead, I would get there early so I could be dressed in my tallis, in my seat, and ready to pray.  That meant that the weekly schedule was:
8:50AM: Arrive at shul (sometimes first!)
9:00AM: Start davening
9:20AM -> 9:45AM or so: Wait and watch as minyan arrived one Jew at a time.

On good weeks we (well, they) would get a minyan before we needed to say the fist kaddish.  On other weeks we would have a parsha review/overview while waiting for a minyan to start krias haTorah.  Since the Jews were coming in one at at time, there would be some point there would be nine Jewish men and me.  (That's basically the mean value theorem for those of you like mathematical precision.  And for those of you who know what that means... yes, I know it is not quite right, but its close enough to be nerdy cute.)  Moreover, there were often guests, so at some point one of them would say, "We have a minyan."  And one of the regulars would say, "No, we don't."  "Sure we do: ...7, 8, 9... what?  Oh...."

There is statement in M'silas Y'sharim that has always struck me as particularly powerful:
kol inyanim ha'olam -- bein l'tov bein l'mutav -- nisyonos heim l'adam
  All matters of this world - whether good or for improvement - are trials for a person.
Being in the position of having to explain that I was not Jewish to everyone in the shul even once was certainly not comfortable; week after week was not pleasant at all.  (I should note that I "looked" very Jewish; full black beard and very comfortable in a shul.)  I would therefore put this in the "for improvement" category; especially when week after week turns into month after month.  When I see a pattern like this, I try to think what could be the particular lesson that I am supposed to take away from it.  (After I whine and sulk for an appropriate amount of time, of course.)  I would say there were two particular benefits.

The first benefit is that by being compelled to repeatedly to say (and think), "I am not Jewish", I was able to move that intellectual/philosophical fact into very real and strong belief.  The importance of having a strong resolve is beautifully expressed in Chovos haLevavos.  In the fifth chapter of the section on Avodas Elokim (service of G-d) is written as a dialog between the soul and the intellect.  The intellect asks the soul, "Are you firm in your understanding that you owe an unpayable debt to G-d; is it fixed in your mind that this is your aspiration?"  The soul responds, "Yes; but why do you ask?"  The intellect replies, "For without that resolve, you will not be able to endure the bitterness of the remedy."  In my case, the "remedy" was conversion.  It would have been all too easy to avoid the whole issue by driving over to the conservative (billed as "conservadox") synagogue just a little further from our house.  There were, after all, several families at the day school who attended that synagogue.  They would accept me as Jewish and we could have all enjoyed complaining about those dogmatic and backward orthodox.  But after the constant repetition  of my new mantra, "I am not Jewish", "I am not Jewish", "I am not Jewish"... I would never have been able to accept myself as Jewish.  I have many faults, but I strive to ensure that "fraud" is not among them.

The second benefit was experiencing first hand real loving kindness; a subtle kind that easily goes unnoticed, and causes the recipient no feelings of shame.  After a few months I noticed that occurrences of being one short of a minyan were getting fewer and further apart.  It took some time, but I finally noticed that when the eighth Jewish man walked in, either Rabbi Rodin or Ted Fishman (the shul president) would walk out.  As soon as the 10th Jew arrived, the two of them would walk in together.  It was all done very quietly and barely noticeable; but it saved me the constant embarrassment.  They never told me their plan and I suspect they didn't even talk it over with each other; they just did it.  Mi k'Amcha Yisrael.

Looking back on those few (seven, in total) months of my life, there was an interesting progression in how I viewed myself.  I started thinking of myself as Jewish with a conversion that was not acceptable to the Orthodox.  I originally went to the rabbi to convince him that I really only needed a "rubber stamp" to make my Jewishness acceptable.  In the ensuing months, I both delved into what it really meant to be Jewish and thoroughly eradicating any notion that I might actually be Jewish.  The net effect being that at the end of the day, once the conversion actually took place, I knew very well both what it meant to really be Jewish and that I really was Jewish.


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