Photo Credit: Courtesy
A photo of the shul inside the Vert Dead Sea Hotel (located in Ein Bokek).

Traveling as an aveil is a well-known challenge. A year ago I had the pleasure of spending three weeks in Israel (this was, of course, well before the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks). It was a bar mitzvah trip for my second son. We had previously traveled to Israel on the occasion of my two daughters’ bat mitzvahs and plan to do so again for my youngest son. (My oldest son’s bar mitzvah trip was missed because of Covid).

It is a great tradition and since it had been 10 years since our last visit, we decided to make it a nice long trip. This was not a park yourself in Yerushalyim trip either. Over the three weeks, we started in Yerushalyim and traveled west, south and north. We had 8 stops along the way at various Airbnbs, hotels and friends. An additional dimension of this trip is that I was an aveil. My Mother, a”h, passed away last August. That meant I needed to find many minyanim along the way. I figured if there were ever a place to do it, it was Israel. What follows are the highlights of my adventures in minyanim.


The first minyan happened here in New York. I hoped there would be a minyan at the gate, given the time of the flight. But you never know. Sometimes getting 10 men together with the flight time nearing isn’t so easy. I shouldn’t have been concerned. I didn’t even have to ask for it. I was the only chiyuv and I led up Maariv right before the flight.

The next challenge was Shacharis. Again, I was hoping but wasn’t sure there would be a minyan mid-flight. We’d be landing after the zman, so if there wasn’t I’d have to daven alone. I needn’t have worried. At sunrise what seemed like half the plane got up, donned tallis and tefillin, and made a minyan in the center of the plane. I was apologetic to the people in the row right in front of us whose toes may have been stepped on.

After a quick train ride and a nice walk we arrived at our Airbnb in Yerushalayim. I had remembered from my last trip here 10 years ago that there were shuls nearby on King George Street. A few minutes stroll confirmed that. And at the first one, there was a very friendly zmanim sheet on the outside of the shul. Love that. I took a picture of it and headed back for Mincha.

As an aveil I have a chiyuv to daven for the Amud, but it gets tricky when you are a guest in a far-away shul. There could be others there and you’re never quite sure of the nusach; as I’ve come to learn, even “Ashkenaz” can have multiple meanings. However, when the time came, and the gabbai asked if there were any chiyuvim in the crowd, I was the only one to volunteer. He confirmed they were an Ashkenaz shul and I figured Mincha couldn’t be too hard, so away I went. Shacharis the next morning, however, was a bit different. In Israel most minyanim, even Ashkenaz, recite Birkas Kohanim – with actual kohanim like we do in Chutz Laaretz on Yom Tov. And they usually say Ein Kelokeinu at the end of davening as well. It was good I paid attention that morning as someone else was the chazzan, because the gabbai told me the next morning the Amud was mine. Here I was in town for 1 day, an “outsider” from 7,000 miles away, and they immediately offered their Amud to me. I guess their feeling was, a Jew is a Jew. I came across that sentiment a lot in my travels. I managed Shacharis the next day and they told me I could have the Amud as long as I wanted it. It was nice to feel so welcome.

When you go to the Kotel the first thing you are required to do is meet a friend you haven’t seen in 25 years. I was yotsei within the first five minutes. I am sure there are others, but the one place you can be sure to get a minyan just about 24 hours a day is at the Kotel. I made use of that many times for Mincha. The first time I went with my boys we were rookies and didn’t know the ropes. We attached to the first young man calling for a minyan. It didn’t take too long to get one, but he proceeded to daven heavy-duty Sephard with a full complement of Korbanos. It was very nice to see and be a part of, but when your teenage boys are tired and hungry and what was supposed to be a 12-minute Mincha turns to 30, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

At the bottom of Ben Yehuda there is a tiny shul about 15 feet by 15 feet that has one minyan a day for Maariv. It is a great location and is attended by many. Somehow, like the other miracles of Jerusalem, everyone fit. Again, a great place to see people you haven’t seen in a long while. As my boys loved eating on Ben Yehuda, I frequented this minyan many times.

This next stop is one of my favorites. We were in Tel Aviv for 1 night. We headed out walking to a restaurant for dinner and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about Maariv. I shouldn’t have worried, because as is the case in most places in Israel, on the way down Dizengoff Street I passed a shul. After a quick inquiry I learned that Maariv was in 20 minutes. I told my family I’d catch up with them and headed inside. I had learned quickly even before this trip to Israel to assess the nusach of the shul and the nusach of Kaddish. When davening in a nusach other than my own, I usually use two sedurim – one in my usual nusach, in which I daven most of tefillot, and the other to say the right local Kaddish. I could tell immediately this was a Sephardi shul. The group inside was learning NaviShoftim, to be exact. After 20 minutes they concluded and Kaddish Derabanan was said. Although I had said it before in this nusach, Kaddish wasn’t rolling off my tongue and I tried to keep up. I am pretty sure those who were saying it with me realized this and slowed down – the first indication of the kind of welcoming place this was.

Not only is it a challenge to catch the unfamiliar nusach when davening in unfamiliar territory, knowing when to say Kaddish can be an adventure too. After Shemoneh Esrei I went up to a gentleman and asked him if he could signal me when to say Kaddish. He told me he was saying it as well and to watch him. I did and it went smoothly. Before I could take a step toward the door, this man and his friend called me over. They asked me who I was saying Kaddish for and then immediately said a prayer I believe was akin to a Keil Malleh – they had asked me my mother’s name. After he was done, he told me I was welcome any time and I should come back and join them. This shul of mostly elderly gentlemen from the old country couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming. I was sad that I would be leaving early in the morning and that would be my one and only minyan with them.

We traveled down south to Mitzpe Ramon. I woke up early, but I had no idea where to find a minyan. So I figured I’d drive into town and see what I can find. It didn’t take very long. At the first traffic light I came to, a guy wearing his tallis and tefillin crossed the street right in front of me. I rolled down the window and asked him where the minyan was. He started to point and then just walked over to my car and got in. We drove a few blocks and there we were. This was another heavy-duty Sephard minyan, made up of almost exclusively younger men. It turned out that would be an issue. As I had no guidance when to say Kaddish and no one else was saying it, I am sure I missed one. Oh well.

Later that day we found ourselves still in Mitzpe Ramon at the kosher Pizza Hut for lunch. We were about to start our drive to the Dead Sea and I thought the timing for Mincha would be a challenge. I started discussing this with my family and the family at the next table overheard. They told us they’d be happy to help make a minyan right there. There were four of us and five of them, so we just about had it. As soon as everyone was done eating, I gave a shout on the dining patio: “Mincha!” By the time we gathered in the courtyard we had 20 people with us. Got to love it.

The Dead Sea was our next stop. Again, I was a little concerned about the availability of minyanim, and again I needn’t have worried. Not only was there a local minyan, it was actually inside the hotel. That’s Shacharis, Mincha, Maariv, in a shul, inside the hotel. Perfect.

We returned again to Yerushalayim and stayed again in the center of the city. I thought there may be closer options for davening, so I went down to the hotel desk and asked a question I never have before from a hotel concierge. “Where is there a minyan?” He smiled and directed me to one just one block away. Times were posted on the outside (still love that). It was a small shul with about 20 participants and was Ashkenaz. And here too, once they heard me say Kaddish at Maariv, they told me I could have the Amud for Shacharis. I was given instructions: what time I should be at Yishtabach, and what time to be at Shemoneh Esrei. I hit them on the nose. However, even with the times given I still ran into the issue that a lot of shuls grapple with: the pace of davening. There are those who have to get to work and the like, and there are those who want to add extra kavanah and take their time. Because there was no set time for when I should begin Chazaras Hashatz, we ran into trouble which I think had been brewing far before I showed up. I took my signal from the gabbai, who told me to start, but before I could go, another gentleman told me to wait. I looked back at the gabbai who then assured me it was time for me to start. Before Ashrei, davening was paused for a brief dvar halacha presentation on halachos pertaining to kavanah. After davening there began a boisterous debate about the importance of kavanah vs. people having to go to work and the need to avoid tircha d’tzibura. Felt like home.

Our last stop on our three-week bonanza was in Zichron Yaakov. We had come back a little late from our activities and it was past the zman for Maariv for the main shuls in the center of town. I found out there were yeshivas with later minyanim and went out searching. It didn’t take long until I found one and arrived a few minutes before Maariv would start. As I walked around the shul, I noticed a sign that said the minhag of the shul is that only one person says Kaddish at a time, and to find a gabbai and ask, and he would determine who gets priority. This was a minhag I was familiar with and set my expectations properly. I found the gabbai and he told me to wait. After conferring, he told me that there was one other aveil and he would daven for the Amud, but the Kaddish Yasom at the end of davening was for me. Here I was dressed in my hiking clothes and baseball cap, an outsider who wandered in. It didn’t matter. They welcomed me and gave me the honor of the only Kaddish Yasom.

For good measure I got one last minyan at the gate at Ben Gurion Airport. We all have heard about Jews stepping up to make a minyan so someone can say Kaddish. There is an implicit respect and understanding of what it means to the mourner. I was overwhelmed time and again in city after city by my experience with minyan and Kaddish. A person can feel a bit lost, or a little lessened by the death of a loved one. When he experiences his fellow Jews come together and respond in unison to his prayers, he sees he is not alone. I experienced what it means to be comforted amongst the other avelei Zion and Yerushalayim.

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Ari Fischbein grew up in Far Rockaway, N.Y., where he currently lives with his wife and children. He is the CEO of Paladin Tech Solutions.