Balcony Prayers

Coronavirus has forced us Orthodox Jews to get creative, which has resulted in surprise blessings

Balcony prayers amid coronavirus.
Photo: Hodaya Kalman/Flash90

One of the most difficult things for us Orthodox Jews amid the coronavirus crisis is that we can no longer pray with a minyan (quorum of at least 10 men). For as long as one can remember, you’d have to leave your house three times a day to pray. And now, suddenly, you are no longer allowed to do so.

For many at first, muscle memory kicked in and they automatically left the house to go to the synagogue, only to find it closed. For fathers of young children, and there are many of them here, the situation is particularly difficult. The mandated prayer times were a very welcome and convenient reason to suddenly drop everything, frantically tap one’s watch and shout, “Gotta run, see you later!”

Since we can no longer do this, we have developed the balcony prayer. We benefit from the fact that apartments in Orthodox neighborhoods are built in such a way that the balconies are not underneath each other. This allows us to better see our neighbors and have a minyan by getting together on our balconies at the same time. It’s actually a rather comfortable way to conduct our prayers, because instead of sitting on narrow synagogue benches, we now make ourselves comfortable on our garden furniture. And with the arrival of some beautiful spring weather, prayer time feels like a holiday.

Our minyan at Prophetess Miriam Street (nice name, right?) is especially successful thanks to the Chabadnikim who live in the building opposite me, and have five boys over the age of 13, making it very easy to form a quorum for prayer. Half of the minyan is complete as soon as the Chabadnikim come outside, and it usually only takes about 10 minutes past the agreed time (not bad for Israelis) for the other participants to show up.

In this way we were also able to hold the prayers concluding the Passover holiday on Wednesday. We even found Torah scroll for the occasion, which the Chabadnik family read aloud from the common area between our two buildings. With all of our wives and children gathered on the balconies round about, everyone had a wonderful view of the Torah scroll and in the bright sunlight. It was quite an experience.

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