I can remember sitting next to my father in shul, an antsy child waiting none-too-patiently for the announcements that would herald the end of the service. I knew they would come, I just didn’t know if they would include it – the holy grail of shul attendance.
Finally, the announcements came. The shul’s vice president, a boxing promoter with a long pony tail and cowboy hat, strutted to the bimah and stood in front of Ark.
“This week’s parsha class will be at four o’clock this afternoon,” he recited as if by rote, “followed by Mincha shortly after.”
He went on to tell us the schedule for the rest of the week, punctuated by other supposedly relevant announcements, but I could see no one was interested. All anyone really wanted to know was one piece of information: Was there going to be a kiddush?
Suddenly, his tone changed. His eyes met the audience. He stood up straighter. And the side conversations screeched to a halt.
“This week’s kiddush is sponsored by the Katz family,” the VP said, and you could almost picture everyone in their suits and talesim jumping up and slapping each other “high five” like a bunch of frat guys at a homecoming football game.
To be sure, there was no outward change in anyone’s behavior. People simply turned their prayer books to the next part of the service with a little more fervor than before. But you could feel the anticipation in the air. Little conversations formed between the machers, each of them firing different questions:
“Who are the Katzes anyway?”
“Hey, is it a hot kiddush or what?”
The rumors flew around the pews. “I hear there’s going to be cholent,” someone said, and suddenly, by way of his big mouth, everyone had visions of a full blown, hot kiddush, “Gala Kiddush” as some Upper West Side shuls like to call it (similar to the way motel chains call free donuts and coffee a continental breakfast), replete with cholent, kishke and potato kugel.
The rumors were unconfirmed, of course, until the children abandoned their fathers’ sides in order to do a little reconnaissance mission of their own – and, of course, to escape the rabbi’s droning speech. We ran up the three flights of stairs, hearts pounding in preparation, dreaming of the Ultimate Kiddush. Suddenly, though, we were stopped – by a locked door and what can only be described as a kiddush bouncer. There he stood, just inside the social hall, directing old white-haired ladies (i.e., the sisterhood) on where to place the gefilte fish platters.
Always one of the taller ones, I was designated the “scout.” I wish we’d have been smart enough to bring binoculars to at least ascertain whether there were food warmers on the tables – placed there so that when the last notes of Anim Z’miros were heard and everyone knew the locusts were coming to wreak havoc on the land, the food staff could deposit the dishes. Pronto.
Sometimes, of course, we were lucky enough to get past the kiddush bouncer. Once in a while we knocked on the door and he actually let us in. But it was rare. He knew better than to let a bunch of kids into a nicely prepared kiddush; the orange soda wouldn’t have lasted three minutes under the sly hands of 10- and 12-year-old boys. Neither would those little rainbow cakes every Jewish kid grows up eating on Shabbos.
The bouncer might also have been wary of ruining the caterer’s next job, since we were sure to report back our findings to the congregation below. For instance, he didn’t want the women to know the gefilte fish platter’s soggy lettuce leaves had been reused so often their veins had been flattened to obscurity. He didn’t want the Men’s Club knowing the booze table consisted of Slivovitz from last Pesach.
Of course, it didn’t make that much difference when we actually got to the kiddush. I was a pretty cute kid, so I was able to make a face and grab the cholent spoon first, before it was dropped into the pot by some clumsy lady and made disgusting by wet napkins placed on the handle to cover up the residue.