Have you ever walked into services on a Friday night or Saturday morning and noticed the odd arrangement of seating? People seem to be spread out willy-nilly around the sanctuary with a few small clusters here and there. The front row is empty unless there is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah; there are some families, some singles, some couples in a seemingly random pattern, and a bunch of children in the back row. But if you were to take a mental picture (photography is not allowed on Shabbat, so we have to make do with our minds) and come back the following week, you would find that it is not so random and that people are generally in the same places. These are our assigned seats.
While the seating arrangement is not formal and I have never heard someone comment if they walk in and find someone else in their seat, I have come to realize that each seat has special meaning and holds special memories. Some people acquire their assigned seats over years of regular attendance and sitting in the same place, and others seem to acquire their seats in a few short weeks. Some have assigned seats for every Friday night or Saturday morning, and some just for the holidays. Some people have special seats beside their friends so they can catch up (quietly of course), and others have seats specifically apart so chatty friends don’t disturb their time of prayer. Some sit strategically to be near doors or heaters or aisles; others sit where they can see or hear the best.
While assigned seats obviously are comforting to the “sitter,” they also serve a secondary purpose. For the Gabbi Rishon, it is easy to see who is available for an honor. For the Rabbi, it is easy to see who is missing and may need a check-in phone call to make sure they are well. For the congregation, it creates a sense of home and belonging, even though we are only there a few hours a week. And finally, for all of us, the seats hold the memories of those who have passed on and are no longer with us. Whether a seat has a new physical occupant or not, an individual’s spirit always occupies their assigned seat as long as we are there to feel them.
Come join us on Shabbat to claim your seat.