I recently spent a Shabbat morning with a self-described “grassroots, lay-led, independent, progressive, pluralistic, traditional minyan (prayer community).” I have gone to some of their more social events and had had a great time getting to know some of the people involved – but this was my first time really davening (praying) with them and I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
We arrived to find that there was a trichitza! I have heard of this phenomena before, but had never actually witnessed it in usage. For those who have not heard of this before, it is a unique option for segregated seating which is adapted from the word mechitza (which literally means “separation” and refers to the physical divider traditionally used to separate men and women during prayer services), a trichitza divides the prayer space into three sections though instead of the two of a mechitza. To one side there was a section for mixed seating, and to the other a divided section for men and women.
It was quite a pleasant surprise for me, though I was a bit skeptical as to how this would really feel and work. Would it really feel like I was in a women’s section? Would everyone feel engaged in the service? Would everyone feel like they had a space, or would it feel like it was forced? To be honest, it was surprisingly natural. People gravitated to where they felt comfortable and everything happened in the middle. The torah was walked all through the space so that anyone who wanted to kiss it could, and people were called to the torah from all sections. The service flowed, there was a great drash, and there was abundant natural ruach (spirit/energy) to the day.
I think part of why it worked, is that it was natural to the community. One of their board members and I were speaking during the lunch that followed, and he told me more about the growth of the community and its trichitza. Apparently, it started as only mixed seating and as the minyan grew, so did the needs of the community. People began to pull chairs away from the mixed section to sit seperate. At some point, the minyan as a whole noticed that this was a part of where they were and decided to incorporate this into its set-up. Now, at every service people can feel like they have a space to sit which is consistent with their ideals. (Even if, like this week, it means chairs are being moved about constantly to ensure there are enough in each area for all participants to be comfortable.)
It was just one part of what makes this a really special minyan that I look forward to learning and praying with more. I feel there are more blog posts on this unique community to come!
(For the record, I did attempt to find a picture but short of doing my own illustration it just wasn’t happening.)