So there he was, spotted as soon as I entered the shul. Couldn’t have been more obvious if he’d been wrapped in neon and fitted with the bass system from a riced out Honda Civic. He eyed me the same and proffered an Ashkanazi siddur, one of the rare ones in this little nusach Sefard chassidic place. I accepted the siddur and sat down next to him. He asked where I was from, I told him. He apologized for not recognizing me, offering by way of explanation, “I’ve been in yeshiva for the past few months, this is my first time back since Elul.” I smiled at him. “I know,” I said. “I know.”
You can spot them everywhere at certain times of the year. Many greenhorn spotters (or “grotters” as we prefer to be known) will tell you that chanukah is the best time for this widely practiced, yet little talked about sport. Others, the ones with less finesse, you might say, will dig out the binoculars and set up camp only at pesach time. Not to be too arrogant, but they’re amateurs. My preferred game is the unexpected. It takes more skill to find them, but when you do they’re unawares and therefore easier prey. I tag the species and the location in my little book and release them back into the wild. Just this past week I saw a fantastic example of a Medrash at J2. Perfect specimen, a prize catch. He was talking about how he’s just recently started to buckle down and work on himself. It really made my week. I eschew the obviousness of catching them when they come back for yom tov in favor of spotting the ones who trickle in here and there for the family bris or wedding. It makes them more of a catch because you never know if there will be many, if any at all.
They’re an interesting species to be sure. This time last year they were just another batch of seniors obsessed with pog cards and their hippety-hop music (I think. I have no idea what the kids are into these days), totally unaware of the evolution that would soon transform them. They head off to Israel to their chosen (or not so chosen) yeshivas and then, I wait. When they start to trickle back, the season begins.
There are certain signs to start your hunt with. My favorite is the linear siddur. You know the one, the hebrew is on one line with the english below it so the words match up rather than the block of english text being on the opposite side of the block of hebrew text. These siddurim are used by only two people; those becoming frum who are trying to learn hebrew, and newly minted yeshiva guys trying to learn the meaning of all those words they’ve been mumbling daily since they were eight. You could also look for the copy of Pathway to Prayer, that little book where it goes into detail about one part of the davening (the greenhorns tend to prefer the shemonai esrei one), but I think that’s too easy. Other things to note: the white shirt. Is it crisp, like it’s new to him and he still takes pride in his appearance? A favorite tactic of mine is to check the collar if it’s on shabbos. Is it buttoned up to the neck, with the tie properly done? See, if it looks like it fits correctly, then he’s new to this. Look at the ex-yeshiva guys in their late twenties and thirties. They’ve been wearing it for so long that the neck hasn’t fit in years, so they simply go to the second button and pull the tie up partly, for comfort. If he’s more Mad Men than Hocker, you’ve got a greenhorn on your hands, my friend. Other things to look for are shoes, belt, glasses and type and frequency of chumash used for leining, but this has become a wall of text so those, my friends, are for the next installment.