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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
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Going In Circles

Schmutter-091412-Succos

When people ask me what kind of column I write for The Jewish Press, I say, “advice,” but I actually make those quotes with my fingers. I don’t think I’ve actually saved any lives yet. But this column is still great way to vent about your problems, so long as you can figure out how to put them in the form of a question.

Dear Mordechai,

The guy next to me on the road is talking on his phone while driving. Is he trying to get us all killed?

Sent from my iPhone

Dear Sent,

I would say you should stay right on him, lean on your horn, and don’t stop. Eventually, he’ll have to hang up.

This all makes us long for the good old days, when phones were attached to people’s houses, so there was only a limited distance that you could drive with them, depending on the size of your cord. Most people couldn’t leave their neighborhoods.

But the truth is this kind of multitasking is nothing new. People have always been doing other things while driving, and people have always been doing other things while talking on the phone. Before we spent all our driving time staring at our phones, we were eating, finding something good on the radio, shaving, clipping our toenails, blindly groping for things our kids dropped under the seat, and passing back open drinks. And back when we had separate devices for phoning and computing, we would only half pay attention to the people we were on the phone with, who would think they had our full attention until we mumbled, “Uch, where are all the jacks?”

“Um, are you playing solitaire?”

“No, I’m… playing jacks.”

It’s not like the really old days, when phones came in two separate pieces – one for the ear and one for the mouth — and the wire was six inches long, so to talk on the phone, people had to lean over them and use both hands. Maybe that would solve the problem.

Or maybe not. People text with both hands too.

Dear Mordechai,

Why does everyone in my shul walk so slowly during Hoshanos? I need to get to work.

Sent from my iPhone

Dear Sent,

I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be suggesting we all walk faster while holding lulavim.

No shul I’ve ever been to has ever managed to do any better. They could bring in city planners to figure out the best route around the shul, and they could move tables and put up traffic signs, and people will still take shortcuts across corners and merge back in, which, in the end, makes the line go even slower. .

Half of them don’t even realize they’re merging. They’re just looking down at their siddurim and following the tallis in front of them.

Somehow I always end up with a guy in front of me going really slow, and a guy behind me leaning on my back. Or else the guy behind me is a kid, and every time the guy in front of me makes a short stop, the kid pokes me in the back with his lulav. Not that I blame him. The poor kid, with his tiny hands, can’t hold a thousand-page Artscroll machzor and a lulav and an esrog that is bigger than his hands. None of us can really hold all that and turn the page (because somehow you always have to turn the page. That’s the other nice thing about the Artscrolls).

So you figure, “Look, the chazzan is saying everything out loud, 3 words at a time. Why do I need my own siddur?” But then as soon as he’s done, there’s a whole paragraph that you have to say by yourself, and it’s going to take you ten minutes to get back to your seat, because the chazzan, when he finishes, is somehow right back at his shtender, but everyone else is on the exact opposite side of the shul from where they need to be. So yes, you need to have a siddur with you, so you can say the paragraph while blindly making your way to your seat.

We don’t have this problem on Simchas Torah. We go around the shul then too, but people are running, they’re holding each other’s shoulders, weaving in and out, and everything’s fine. And this is on top of Torahs and piggyback riders and sticky hands from all the candy. And I’m not even talking about the kids. But on Sukkos, those same people can’t manage to make it around one time.

We think, “Is this how these people drive?” And the answer is: No. But it is how they drive when they’re looking down and reading something and holding five things at once.

My advice? If the guy in front of you is going slowly, step out of the line for a second, let the kid behind you poke him in the back, and then merge back in behind them. Or hire a traffic cop. Or use a horn.

Some shuls use shofars.

Dear Mordechai,

I’m starting school this week. Should I sit in front or in the back of the class?

Nervous

Dear Nervous,

I’m actually a teacher, so this question is slightly different for me. I don’t know you, but I assume, statistically, that you’re a student. Statistics show that teachers are still severely outnumbered at these schools, though we’re trying to work to fix that.

If you’re a student, there are benefits no matter where you sit, which is great, because half the time there’s assigned seating anyway, which is the teacher’s way of not admitting that he doesn’t know anyone’s name. If you sit in the front, you can see the board better. If you sit in the back, the teacher will never ask you to do anything, such as make copies or pass things back to the kids who don’t care. If you sit in back, the teacher won’t see if you’re eating, but if you sit in front, the teacher won’t see you if you’re eating either, because he’s going to be busy trying to see if the kids in the back are eating.

You also want to decide if you want to sit closer to the door or the window. If you’re near the door, you get to recess first. If you sit near the window, you can stare out the window all day while the teacher yells at the kids near the door for sneaking out every time he turns around to write on the board. Also, you get to see those kids get to recess first. You also might be able to get to recess first yourself, unless your classroom is on the third floor.

Not that seats are permanent anyway. While I’m writing, the kids are doing hakafos behind me, and then I turn around and everyone’s sitting like an angel, but I can swear that each kid is on the opposite side of the classroom than when they started.

And therein lies the problem, as a teacher. If you stand in front of the class, you can write on the board, but you can’t see the kids while you’re doing so. If you stand in the back, you can see the kids, but you can’t reach the board. I’m looking for somewhere I can buy a really long piece of chalk. Or, once we’re using board markers anyway, we should replace all the boards with mirrors, so we can see the kids as we write.

Got a question for “You’re Asking Me?” Raise your hand, and I’ll see you in the mirror. Or text me on my way home.

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