We’ve all been stuck in seemingly endless mazes of automated telephone response services. The following Purim shpiel (skit) imagines just such a situation, when a man calls his shul (synagogue), Lower Merion Synagogue (LMS), to find out one simple piece of information–what time Shabbat (the Sabbath) begins. Reprinted with permission of the author and the "Motzi Shabbas Players" at the Lower Merion Synagogue in Lower Merion, Penn.
Characters: Wife, Husband (a.k.a. shul member), voice on phone, rabbi
Woman’s voice (offstage): Dear, we lost the shul calendar and I need to know when candle lighting is. Could you please call Lower Merion Synagogue and ask them when candle lighting is tonight?
Shul Member: Sure, honey. (Picks up phone, begins to dial.)
Voice on phone: We’re sorry, the shul you are trying to reach does not accept calls from members who block their numbers. God might know who you are, we don’t.
Member: Oh, I can’t believe it, why does the shul need to know who’s calling them before they pick up. Alright, I’ll go ahead and unblock my number and call again. (He dials.)
Voice on phone: You have reached the LMS voice messaging system… Mr. Cohen. Please listen carefully, as our menu has changed. But of course, you wouldn’t know that, because according to our records, the last time you called us was April… 6… 19… 99… at 10:06. Your question was: "What… time… is… candle lighting?" Please make a note of it. We only answer a member’s question once, so that we might better service other members who don’t ask repeat questions.
Member: I can’t believe this. Lower Merion Synagogue has this sophisticated telephone system, but they don’t have a bathroom.
Voice on phone: Of course, if you know your party’s extension you may press it at any time. (Wait a moment.) I didn’t think so.
If you haven’t had an aliyah since the jubilee year, press 5-0.
If you are calling to make a pledge, press # for dollar sign and then chose one of the following numbers: 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 100,000, 1,000,000.
If you are calling about a new baby, press 18.
If you feel you have the right to send everyone in the shul an email, press BCC.
If you’re calling to find out when the new shul building will be finished, please hang up and call Mitzvah Factory and ask them when the Moshiah, the Messiah, is coming.
If you are calling about all the mitzvot, press #613
If you are calling about the most important mitzvot, press 10.
If you are calling to make a complaint, please hold and your complaint will be answered by the next available operator. The estimated waiting time is… 12… hours… and 23 minutes. Please hold.
Member: But all I wanted to know was when candle lighting is.
Voice on phone: If you’re calling to find out when candle lighting is…
Member: Oh great, finally.
Voice on phone: You must first press the name of the Hebrew month in which you would like to know the candle lighting.
Member: (Presses buttons.)
Voice on phone: You pressed , A…D… A… R… Is this correct?
Member (shouts): Yes!
Voice on phone: You may say ‘yes’ for yes and ‘no’ for no. Or you may press 1 for no and 2 for yes. If you like to continue in English, press 4. Or if you prefer to hear the rest of this message in Espanol. Press 5. If the candle lighting is for Shabbat, please press 7. If the candle lighting time you seek is for a yom tov, festival, please waiting for the list of holidays. When you hear the yom tov you want, immediately press the * key. If you hesitate, you will have to wait for the entire list to be repeated.
Member: Oh this is ridiculous!
Voice on phone: If you have a complaint. The estimated waiting time is now 13… hours and… 46 minutes. Please hold.
Rabbi: Hi. Since you’re waiting anyway, and I love a captured audience, I thought it would be good if we took this time to learn a little Talmud. Now, it says in tractate Baba Metziah that…
Voice on phone: The following is a public service announcement. In 10 seconds you will be desecrating Shabbat. Please leave a message after the beep, and we will get back to you after Shabbat.
Member: (Hangs up fast, checks his watch) Honey, candle lighting is at 5:06.
Wife (offstage): Thank you, dear. I knew we could always depend on our Lower Merion Synagogue for a quick answer.
Pronounced: PUR-im, the Feast of Lots, Origin: Hebrew, a joyous holiday that recounts the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre during the Persian period.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Pronounced: shool (oo as in cool), Origin: Yiddish, synagogue.
Pronounced: yome TOVE or YUN-tiff (Yiddish), Origin: Hebrew, alternates are Yiddish, literally “good day,” it refers to a holiday in which traditional Jews refrain from work and observe many of the same restrictions observed on Shabbat.