A Good Seat…

A couple of weeks ago, we went to an event at the local library. A few New York Times reporters were talking about the presidential election. The event was to start at 4:00 PM and the doors were not opened until 15 minutes prior to the start. There were no reserved seats, which is why many people had arrived early. As the doors opened, a library staff member whisked a married couple I know who have been generous supporters of the library to the front row.

This of course reminded a few stories about High Holy Day seats. I was once at a synagogue conference talking to a gentleman about his synagogue. He was bragging on and on about how great his synagogue was and how the spirit of egalitarianism is in everything they do. They have their High Holy Day Worship inside a tent in the back of their property. There are no assigned seats, he told me. He also told me that he and his wife have been sitting in the same seats near the front since the synagogue began having High Holy Day Worship in the tent many years ago. And that people know that those are their seats.

I found that a bit strange.

At our synagogue, there are three different kinds of chairs on the High Holy Days. The amount of the cushion in the chair lessens as you sit further away from the Bima. The basic white folding chairs from the rental company are the last option. Congregants are told that saving seats is a no-no. I always encourage my family to leave from home early enough so that we can get the “Mid comfortable” chairs. But it always seems that coats, sweaters and Talit bags are strewn over the seats towards the front.

My back really loves those plastic white chairs.

The sanctuary renovations in a very large synagogue had taken longer than anticipated. So High Holy Day Services were moved to a local high school gymnasium. The synagogue always had assigned seats, but decided to have open seating this year. The synagogue’s dues model is very old school and based on “pew fees”. The higher the level of dues that you pay to the synagogue determines where you sit on the High Holy Days.

Anyway, apparently a number of families who were paying dues at the highest levels came into the gym and walked to the front only to see that the seats in the front of the sanctuary where they had always sat were taken. The next day, a number of these families had sent family members a half hour ahead of the start time with coats to lay claim to the seats that they believed to be rightfully theirs.

When we go to see Broadway show, we always ask for an aisle seat, just so I am sure my legs have a place to dangle. Of course here these are paid seats, and there is some entitlements with what you pay.

Many people just want good seats. Close up, aisle, comfort. And despite the egalitarian intent of open seating and a policy that there is no saving of seats, there are some people who feel a sense of entitlement. Maybe it is because of the time and/or money they have given to the synagogue. Is it worth complaining to the ushers – congregants and volunteers like you and me, unlike at the theater or ball game?

What do you think?

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