For several years, I was a regular weekday minyan participant.
What’s a minyan, you may be asking?
Per Wikipedia (as of today), the definition of minyan: (Hebrew: מִנְיָן lit. noun count, number; pl. מִניָנִים minyanim) in Judaism refers to the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious obligations. According to many non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, adult females count in the minyan. The most common activity requiring a minyan is public prayer. Accordingly, the term minyan in contemporary Judaism has taken on the secondary meaning of referring to a prayer service.
Our synagogue holds minyanim on weeknights, from Sunday through Thursday, and in the mornings on Sunday, Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Ideally, Jews are commanded to pray three times daily – Shacharit (morning), Mincha (afternoon), and Maariv (evening). The prayers can be recited individually, but, in the presence of a minyan (quorum of 10 adult – >13 yrs old – Jews), certain prayers can be recited which cannot be recited individually, most importantly, the Kaddish, which is recited to remember those we have loved who are no longer alive.
So, for many people, participating in a minyan is launched by the death of a parent, or some other close relative. The expectation is that the mourner should attend at least one minyan daily, in odd to say Kaddish for the deceased family member. This route was the entry point for my husband, when his father died several years ago.
I have, of course, lost a close relative, my father, but he died many years before I ever even knew that one could convert to Judaism, and I still struggle with how to honor his memory within the context of, or outside the context of, Judaism.
My path to regular minyan attendance was reading Torah, the Hebrew Bible, the Pentateuch, the first five books of what is known as the Old Testament. When I first learned to chant the Torah, which means memorizing a melodic chant of the biblical text, reading from a hand-written scroll which lacks both vowel markings and the trope marking that indicate the phrasing and punctuation, as well as the melody. The Torah is chanted on Saturday mornings, but also on Saturday afternoons, and Monday and Thursday mornings. I was advised by one of my Torah chanting mentors that, if I wanted to get really comfortable with chanting, I should volunteer to chant Torah at these weekday services, since the “audience” is smaller, cozier, and less critical than the approximately 100-200 people attending Saturday morning services. So I did.
I also, for a time, was leading a meditation group at the synagogue. For a year or so, we met on Monday evenings, right after the evening minyan, so I made a habit of coming to Monday evening minyan before meditation. And, as I started to attend the Saturday afternoon service, I came to really appreciate joining with other congregants at the end of Shabbat to join in prayer, so, whether I was the Torah reader or not, I would go.
And then, we got two small kids.
No way to carve out time to attend minyan.
Until recently, when a call came out asking for help from the congregation to make the minyan on Monday morning. The husband and I discussed it, and decided that he and I could manage to alternate attendance at the Monday morning service, guaranteeing one more person in attendance. We started this two weeks ago, and he went. Last wee, I realized I forgot, but this week, I had volunteered to read Torah. So, this week I attended morning minyan on Monday and this morning. We were short on the minyan on Monday, so we weren’t able to read Torah, nor recite Kaddish (both requiring the presence of 10 people). But today, we had exactly 10.
And, as we recited the prayers, and began the Torah service, I thought how odd it is that we celebrate the completion of the minyan of 10 Jewish adults gathering by reciting more prayers, all in Hebrew, which is a struggle for many of us. But, I also know that, when I was regularly attending minyanim, the prayers became familiar, and it was less of a challenge to keep up with the Hebrew.
And the prayer, davening, became a meditative exercise.
So, I will keep going – not every week, as I did BK (before kids), but every other week, and sometimes twice a week, because of my commitment to reading Torah periodically. And I know that the prayers will again become familiar. I look forward to feeling that familiarity again. And, I look forward to having my kids join me, when they are able to comprehend the prayer service for themselves… Then we can all participate as a family.
N.B. – in the Orthodox movement, only men are counted in a minyan, but in the Conservative movement, which we belong to, men and women count equally to the minyan