Unfortunately (on many levels), this is based on a true story.
Steven Borenstein had gotten up from sitting shiva for his father the day before. The experience had been very draining, as he knew was to be expected. Now a new phase of his mourning was beginning. He had to say kaddish for eleven months. Three times a day. When he considered the amount of minyanim that he would be attending, it seemed rather daunting. But he knew he would do it. It would honor his father. It would honor his tradition. It was what one did.
Minyan had never been his thing. He tried to daven three times a day, but he often did it at home, in the privacy of his own living room. He attended shul on shabbat and on Sunday morning, but he hadn't davened with a minyan three times a day since he was a student. And that felt like a long time ago.
Shacharit and maariv would be easy. He could always get up early or stay up late and find a minyan. Teaneck was the land of hot and cold running minyanim, from 5:55 am until 10:45 pm in the winter months when he was beginning his aveilut. But mincha was a challenge. Steven had juggled his work schedule so that he could attend a 1:30 service in Hackensack, just ten minutes from his office. He had found it on a website called godaven.com (you just can't make some things up).
Now all he had to do was attend minyan. A lot.
It was pitch black outside when his alarm clock went off. He was normally a late riser, so it took him a while to get going. By the time he was dressed and out the door with his tallit and teffilin bags in his hand, it was creeping toward six-thirty. He still had to scrape the frost from his windshield, and when he finally pulled out of his driveway, it was 6:26.
Steven drove to his local shul where he was a member. It was the closest minyan, and it was where he davened on shabbat. He somehow managed to get his tefillin on in record time. Steven wanted to be the chazan and lead the service, as was the tradition for the mourner, but just as he was wrapping his hand with the straps, the gabbai approached him. It was 6:30 and ten seconds.
"You know, they're very serious about being on time at this minyan," he said in a kind voice. "Do you want us to wait?"
"No," Steven said with a smile. "That's O.K." But actually, he did.
The chazan was reading the early brachot by 6:30 and thirty seconds.
"Blessed are you Hashem, G-d of the universe, who gave the rooster knowledge to distinguish between day and night."
"Guess I'll need to be more like the rooster tomorrow, " Steve thought.
After davening, two more congregants came to tell Steven that the minyan was very time conscious. They certainly meant well. Still, it wasn't what he had been expecting, the day after shiva. His emotions were still raw, and he was hoping for a kinder gentler entrance into his comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Mincha had been interesting. He had been instructed that the minyan was in the conference room of an office in a high rise just off Route 4 in Hackensack. It took him a few minutes to find the office, and when he arrived he was worried he would be late. But they hadn't started. It was mostly chasidim who worked at the company and a few outsiders who drove in to make a minyan. It took until 1:40 to begin, and Steven hung back and let someone else lead the service until he could get the lay of the land. It was in a nusach that was new to him, but he figured he could handle it. He recited the kaddish with one other man in the room.
Before he left, one of the chassidim approached him.
"Are you a chiyuv?"
"Tomorrow, you're chazan."
Steven smiled. "It's a deal."
It was a start. He could learn a new nusach.
Maariv was uneventful. Steven was at his local shul again, but this time it didn't feel as foreign. A friend of his was saying kaddish as well, and after the minyan, the two of them stood outside after the shul was locked, hovering next to their cars in the cold and sharing aveilut war stories. It helped a little.
The next morning he arrived on time. He started at 6:30 and zero seconds and did his best to keep pace with the minyan. He thought he had been too slow--judging from a look he received at the end of his silent shemoneh esrei-- so he rushed through the repetition of the amidah. Hopefully, his davening had been successful from the perspective of the minyan.
After he took off his tefillin, a fellow congregant approached him.
I hope I'm not being a pain, but I thought your shemoneh esrei was a bit rushed. Maybe slow it down tomorrow."
"O.K." Steven said, a bit stunned.
The next day Steven davened slower, but the congregant still came over.
"I hope you don't mind if I offer you a few helpful pointers."
"At the end of Modim you skipped a word and said "vehamerachem ki tamu chasadecha" instead of "ki lo tamu chasadecha" and at the end of Sim shalom you said Bechol et uvechol sa-ah" instead of "Sha-ah"
"Yes, I heard you say it two days in a row."
'Thanks," Steve said.
This was not working out.
The next morning Steven woke up even earlier and drove across town to the shul in which he grew up. The minyan was at six-fifteen, and it was a ten minute trip, but he figured he could live with less sleep.
He had his tefillin on with time to spare. He stood before the shtender and was about to start.
"Wait," someone called out.
Steven turned to face the kahal.
"In this shul, you need to wear a jacket to lead the davening," the gabbai explained.
Now that was a twist Steven hadn't anticipated.
Before he could react, a middle aged man came forward and pulled off his jacket. He looked familiar. Steven pulled off his tallit and the man slipped the jacket onto his shoulders. The man leaned over and whispered into Steven's ear.
"Your father was a kind, wonderful man, and he'll be missed ."
Steven smiled and held back a tear in his eye.
He began to recite the brachot with a small smile.
At last, some nechama, comfort.