Aaron Koster

My father wasn’t overly religious but always tried to observe the Sabbath. It was important to him that we children observed it as well. My mother always had Shabbos meals waiting for us when we returned from shul. We are Ashkenazi Jews.

We attended an orthodox shul in the Bronx. Women sat in the balcony, separate from men so as not to “distract each other from concentrating on praying,” as my father explained to us. I was always distracted. I must admit I found myself perusing the balcony for the pretty girls. I was young, not very tall, and had difficulty seeing over the rows and rows of yarmulkas and tallism in front of me. Dad, nor the other stern looking worshippers tolerated fidgeting, talking, or laughing. It was a strict, boring, no nonsense environment, and my brothers and I were all about nonsense.

I had my bar mitzvah in that shul. I dreaded the arrival of that day for months. Giving a speech in front of an audience was a terrifying thought to me. I memorized my speech in Yiddish although I had never spoken the language. In a trembling, nervously low voice, I delivered the speech as quickly as I could. By the amazed looks on some of the congregants’ faces, especially the very elderly who stood up directly in front of me, straining to hear, I could tell they couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I know I didn’t.

Header artwork Shul Days No distractions please by Aaron Koster.

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