Montpelier, VT – This year, Congregation Beth Ben David’s Yom Kippur service began like any other: a time for solemn introspection, fasting, prayer, and repentance. Little did the attendees expect, that before the end, it would devolve into absolute mayhem.
“It all started around 2:30pm,” recounted Rabbi Michael Goodman. “A visitor walked in with a small paper bag and sat down as we were praying. Nobody had seen him before, but all are welcome at our FREE services, and obviously we’re not going to turn away someone who’s seeking after God on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. I did make a mental note to keep the microphone away from him –we’ve gotten some really bizarre, ranting prayers from visitors at these things in the past – but beyond that, I didn’t think much of it. That is, I didn’t think much until the smell hit.”
According to congregants, the smell of the sandwich quickly began to change the tone of the prayers. “At first I thought I was imagining it,” said longtime member Hope Feldstein. “It seemed odd, since I hadn’t really noticed being any more hungry than your typical Yom Kippur, but all of a sudden I could swear I smelled grilled chicken. I tried to put it out of my mind, but then I noticed a whole lot of food imagery suddenly popping up in the prayers. Then when the Rabbi used the word ‘succulent’ to describe The Lord’s divine forgiveness, I knew it wasn’t just me.”
From there, things only grew worse when the visitor pulled out the sandwich and began to eat it in the middle of the service. According to witnesses, there were audible gasps, followed by dead silence for several seconds. Then the screaming started.
“Jerry Eisenberg was sitting a couple of rows back from the sandwich eater,” said Rabbi Goodman. “He’s a big guy who can get a bit hotheaded at times, and he was the first person to recover his wits enough to say something. So he just started laying into the guy, but he kept getting distracted as he noticed the various ingredients in the sandwich. When a bit of ranch dressing dripped onto the man’s chin, it finally diverted his attention for long enough for me to step in and try to resolve the situation with a bit more grace. I started talking about the importance of fasting on this day, how our people remove the distraction of food in order to focus our attention on our own failings and our relationship with God. I went on for a few minutes, and I honestly think it was one of the best messages I’ve ever given. So when the man responded by saying ‘Dude, chill, it’s just a sandwich’ and taking another bite, I’ll admit, I kind of flipped out.”
Eventually, after a shouting match with the Rabbi and a heated confrontation with the ushers, the man and his sandwich were forcibly removed, but by then the damage had been done. “The Rabbi tried to get things back on track,” said Feldstein. “He talked about how his reaction was a perfect example of why we all need to seek forgiveness, then asked his wife to come up and play some worship songs to get us back into the right frame of mind. Unfortunately she started off with Holy of Holies. Just as everyone was starting to get into the spirit of worship, we hit the part about “I hunger and thirst for Your righteousness” and we were right back where we started.”
After a few more slip-ups, including a rendition of Joshua Aaron’s ‘Hodu,’ which had to be hastily rearranged into a medley to avoid the line “all who are hungry, all who are thirsty, come from the East and the West,” the meeting did eventually recover and return to earnest, spirit-filled prayer which completely avoided any mention of juicy porterhouse steaks or eggs benedict. Still, according to Rabbi Goodman, the incident ended up costing them at least an hour of solid prayer time. “The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster,” he said. “I swear, next year I’m posting guards at all the entrances to prevent this kind of thing. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s sundown; I’m needed at the buffet. And they’d better have roast chicken.”
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