(See the previous post for Part 1)
Finally, the day of the competition arrived. Ami rose before first light, so that he could down a breakfast of raw eggs without violating the prohibition against eating before davening. Nervous, he put on his tallis and tefillin at home just to use up the time before the showdown. Finally, accompanied by an entourage of family, friends and neighbours, he walked into the door of the Minyan Factory. Ami looked at the chart on the coatroom door, found the minyan with his name, and went to the assigned room. His male allies filled the benches around him; the females had to wait outside, as there was no Women’s Section.
The rules of the competition allowed the competitors to choose their chazan for Pesukei d’Zimra. Ami had his brother, Simcha, for the task. Simcha’s job was to serve as a pacesetter, helping Ami to warm up and build up speed. After the first two years of failure, Ami had thought about replacing Simcha, but at the moment he didn’t know of anyone better. Simcha was a good boy, Ami reflected; he knew how to get the rhythm going, and he had even changed his own pronunciation to match Ami’s newly adopted customs.
Berachos. Ashrei. Hallelukah 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Baruch HaShem l’Olam. Az Yashir. And then, there it was, the amud was open. Ami stood up; somewhere in the back of his head, he heard “The Eye of the Tiger” playing. He marched to the front, breathed, and launched into Yishtabach. Kaddish. Borchu. As always, Ami was careful to maintain optimal kavvanah – an awareness of what each paragraph was about, but not so much awareness that he would be distracted from the business at hand.
First berachah. Ahavah rabbah. Shema. After completing Shema, while waiting for the Rabbi to finish, Ami glanced at his friends; they were smiling. The rhythm was there today. His lips were dry enough that there would be no salivary distraction, but not so dry as to be a nuisance. And the pages were turning well; score one for Koren. If he won, Ami would never use Artscroll again.
The Rabbi said "Emes", and Ami was off and running. He used the minyan’s silent Shemoneh Esreih as one final preparation run for chazaras hashatz, just like the gemara (Rosh HaShanah 34b) said he should. Then he watched for the signal – and there it was! Ami sped through the words like he had never sped through them before. Avos. Gevuros. Kedushah. Refaeinu – with a moment’s thought about his sick mother, who couldn’t be here this morning because she was recovering from a heart attack yesterday. Teka b’Shofar. Modim. Birchas Kohanim – and his chevra knew how to respond Kein Yehi Ratzon quietly enough that they wouldn’t distract him. Sim Shalom. And he was done. Ami was out of breath, but he knew it had been a good race; now he just needed to wait for the results from the other minyanim.
The minyan skipped tachanun – the Minyan Factory imported chasanim daily to ensure they wouldn't need to recite this wordy apology for their sins. Ami recited kaddish, took out the Torah, and then he was done. Someone else would mop up, while he waited nervously for the scores.
Ami took off his tefillin, waited for Aleinu and the Yom to end, and then went downstairs to the breakfast room, joining the contestants from the other minyanim. They all grinned at each other, with the camaraderie of men who shared a fierce but fair rivalry. The Yekkie was there; he clapped Ami on the back and said, “I’ve heard you were good!” Ami tried to parse what those words might mean, but dropped it as the Chief Gabbai made the announcement –
- declaring Ami the winner! He had done it! Ami was the World’s Fastest Chazan!
Oh, the joy and jubilation! Later, Ami would face the nervousness that would come with needing to defend his title, but for now, he was the Champion! He hugged his wife and children, called his mother in the hospital, did a prizefighter pose with the golden gartel for the photographers, and sat down for a bagel with cream cheese. Later, he would watch these moments on YouTube and relish the joy all over again.
On the following Sunday, while getting ready to go to shul, Ami overheard his nine year old son David davening in his room. Or it seemed like he was davening, but he didn’t seem to be saying all of the words. Ami listened outside for a while, and then entered the room and asked, “David, what’s going on? Why are you skipping words?”
David blushed. “I’m not as fast as you yet, Abba. I’m only the world’s second fastest chazan, Ima says. So I need to skip some words in order to keep up. But when I’m older, I’ll be as fast as you, and then I’ll be able to say all of them.” And he gave his father an admiring hug, and went back to his Koren siddur.