LETTERS
When shammas showed shul visitors to a seat

FOR once, I must agree with Gita Conn in her column headed Shuls are more than buildings.

She deplored that as a newlywed, she had no sooner sat down in Manchester¹s Crumpsall Synagogue than she was peremptorily evicted by an extravagantly behatted latecomer, snapping, “That¹s my seat!”

In the old days, every shul had a shammas, one of whose duties was to guide visitors to available seats so that such unfortunate incidents could be avoided.

Perhaps there was no equivalent in the ladies’ gallery — as a male, I would not know.

In their absence, every member should take on this role, though it might be a matter of courtesy for visitors always to approach someone and ask where they might find a vacant place.

I did so even when visiting Manchester’s 900-seat Crumpsall Synagogue on the first evening of last Rosh Hashana — though fewer than 20 people eventually turned up.

While the “extravagantly behatted latecomer” would appear to have been less than tactful, sometimes there is a very good reason why a person may need to use his or her fixed seat.

This might not apply to ladies, but many men keep their tallit and tefillin in their seats and need to be able to access them.

They would then inevitably disturb anyone sitting there in the unfortunate case that they were delayed by circumstances beyond their control and came slightly late.

Perhaps Ms Conn would have done well to give the lady the benefit of the doubt.

After all, from the way she describes the incident, she herself cannot have arrived much earlier than the seatholder — even though I believe some women think that getting to shul before the beginning of the service is showing off!

Martin Stern,
7 Hanover Gardens,
Salford,
Manchester.

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