Thursday, September 18, 2014 Elul 23, 5774
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Chatty During Services

Friday, July 18, 2014
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Dear Miriam,

I really like going to Shabbat services. I try to concentrate on the prayers, but even when my mind wanders, I like to be in that meditative kind of zone. The problem I'm having is that I have a good friend who regularly sits next to me and wants to chat. How should I handle this without being rude?

Signed,
Chatty During Services


Dear Chatty,

A good friend of mine often travels great distances to be with her family for the High Holidays, only to spend the entire time in services sitting by herself in the balcony. Other friends go to services specifically to visit with their friends.

After three years of going to services with my kids, I no longer have the focus necessary to sit down in services even when I have the opportunity. My husband typically only goes into the sanctuary for the d'var Torah and then leaves again. Many people I know only show up for kiddush. Others walk in, pray the required prayers to themselves, then sit and talk. And I'm sure I don't need to point this out, but many, many people don't even bother to show up to services at all.

My point is, there are a wide range of ways of being/not being in relation to services, and all of them are acceptable by my standard of super-inclusion. You have figured out which way of being in services works best for you. Unfortunately, your mode of service attendance is totally incompatible with your friend's, and you'll be better off addressing this as soon as possible.

There are two things you need to do, one during services and one in a neutral setting. Outside of services, say to your friend, "I've been trying to concentrate more on the prayers lately, so I'm trying to cut back on the chatting. I hope you'll understand if I'm not responsive during services, but we should definitely find another time to catch up."

Telling her this is a new thing for you will prevent her from second-guessing all the times she may have chatted with you previously, and telling her that you want to find another time to catch up will let her know that it's not personal.

Then, during services, if she starts talking with you, smile warmly and say quietly, "Let's chat during kiddush." Keep reinforcing this response, and hopefully she'll catch on and respect your solitude.

Another option is to avoid sitting next to her. If you arrive to synagogue before her, you could position yourself between other people who have your level of concentration so she can't sit next to you.

Either way, after a few weeks of getting the polite cold shoulder from you during davening, your friend will find another place to sit where her mode of being is more appreciated.

Be well,
Miriam

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