The tall white building was entered from the western side. I looked up at the Star of David-shaped window in the gable above the entrance. It was a friendly place. By this I mean a place where one came to meet friends and demonstrate solidarity with the community. Prayer was important but played second fiddle to sociability.
I made the mistake of thinking that prayer was the all-important activity of the congregation. Concentrating on the prayers in the prayer book rather than joining my friends in horseplay of one sort or another was a real hardship, but I stuck to prayer with the mistaken idea that God wanted it.
Today I know that the Jewish God likes to see His people being friendly with one another. One could go in or out of the precinct at any time. Starting times were mostly adhered to but nobody minded if one came late or went out before the service ended. Also, one could walk around and chat with friends during services as long as the special holy prayer, the Amidah wasn’t being recited or the Torah (the holy scriptures) was not being read.
My idea of sacrificing sociability for concentrated prayer had its origin in the Convent where I was sent for the beginning of my schooling. There a deathly silence was maintained, only holy words sent up to God were permitted, and socializing was unthinkable.
I liked the long blue-grey benches on either side and the windows of frosted glass, the holy ark with its red velvet curtain, embroidered with lions and stars of gold and silver thread. Nobody wanted to come here but everyone felt obliged to help make a minyan. This is the word for ten men over the age of 13 who are required for a worship service to take place. Outside the shull one could pray by oneself but inside a minyan was required. As long as the community put together a minyan it was a community. As soon as it wasn’t able to make a minyan it ceased to be a community.
Krugersdorp was proud of being a community and put together a minyan every day, morning noon, and night and on Friday night and Saturday morning. On festivals, the place was crowded with congregants dressed in their finest.
Torn between punishing myself with constant prayer and socializing with my friends, Krugersdorp became a place of suffering for me. I finally gave up in the nick of time before becoming a complete hermit. The image I created, however in Krugersdorp of those days, never left me, a sort of angel-like saintly creature unapproachable by normal human beings.,