Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jury Duty: A Piece of Kugel

I don’t think I’d be telling any family secrets if I admitted that I am a creature of habit. I don’t particularly like change. I live a very orderly life. When I leave for work I repeat the same routine every day. I say good-bye to my wife Linda, pet Louie the wonder dog, get in the car, turn on the same jazz radio station, back out of the driveway and go to work. When I come home I turn the radio to “Doctor Laura,” recount the day’s events in mind, and get the mail.

Recently, after I opened my mailbox I noticed an official-looking letter from the Marion County Court House. I tore it open and found I had been summoned to appear for jury duty. The subpoena indicated that this was going to be a serious case, and if selected, I would be on the jury for two to three weeks.

When I arrived in court several weeks later I found 400 other “candidates” sitting or standing in the room. One look at the crowd and I exhaled a sigh of relief. I figured I had a better chance of getting on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” than getting selected for this jury. Two days later I found out that I was the twelfth and final one selected. The judge, a rather serious and intimidating looking woman, peered down at us from the bench and informed us that we’d begin each day “PROMPTLY” at 8:30 a.m., break for lunch promptly at noon, start promptly again at 1:15 p.m. and adjourn for the day, at you guessed it, promptly at 5:00 p.m.

Visions of showing up late and being held in contempt of court started flowing through my mind. But I look at jury duty as a serious responsibility, so I rearranged my schedule to ensure I would make all of the judge’s deadlines. The trial began at 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. True to her word the judge ran her courtroom by the clock. Each day for the first three days we were in at 8:30 a.m. and out at 5:00 p.m.

As I walked out of the court house Thursday night thinking of the day’s events, a little voice inside my head began to ask, “What about Shabbat?”
“What about Shabbat?” I thought. My wife Linda would light the Shabbat candles, I’d make Kiddush over the wine, say “HaMotzi” over the two challas, have a wonderful dinner, and say the Grace After Meals, same as always. But as I looked around I saw that it was pitch dark outside. Suddenly I began to panic. I realized that if we adjourned on Friday right at 5:00 p.m., I wouldn’t be home before the start of Shabbat.

I had been so caught up in the excitement of the trial, I had never considered what time we’d get done on Friday. My pulse began to race! I knew what I should do, but I didn’t think I had the courage to do it. The little voice kept telling me, “Go talk to the judge, she’ll understand.” Understand! Heck, there are more elk in Oregon then there are Jews. In New York a judge might understand. In Los Angeles a judge might understand. But in Salem, Oregon, there was no way a judge would understand Shabbat!
Before I continue I have to tell you that of all the lessons I’ve learned, of all the experiences I’ve had, and of all the Jewish holidays I’ve celebrated since discovering Chabad, I have grown to love Shabbat the most. I love everything about it. The traditions, the smells, the kugel, the dovening (praying), the conversation, the rest and relaxation. I love Shabbat! So it was with a heavy heart that I walked into the courtroom Friday morning. I knew what I should do, but I was afraid of the severe-looking judge sitting behind the bench. I just couldn’t muster the courage to do the right thing.

I kept thinking how Rabbi Vogel used to encourage me to tell my boss in Delaware that I had to take a few days off for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, Simchat Torah and Sukkot. The first year it was hard to approach my boss and ask for the time off. But as my confidence grew and time passed it became easier, or as we say in Delaware, it was “a piece of kugel!” But this situation seemed more intimidating.

As the day progressed I listened intently to the testimony but I tortured myself during the recesses. The voice kept telling me to go see the judge but I was too embarrassed to do so. Finally about two-thirty that afternoon the judge ordered a 15-minute recess. The jury filed off to our little room for coffee and small talk. After a few minutes the judge’s bailiff came into the room, looked me right in the eye and asked if there was anything she could get us.

Without thinking I rose from my chair and asked her to tell the judge that I was Jewish and that Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, starts at sundown and I was wondering if she could let us go an hour early so I could make it home before sundown.
The bailiff looked at me with confusion. She told me she’d ask, but she didn’t think the judge would let us out early because she is known for sticking to a tight schedule. The minutes ticked by until finally the bailiff came back and told us the judge was ready to reconvene in the courtroom. We went back to the jury box and sat down. The judge looked at the jury and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to continue for another 75 minutes and then promptly adjourn for the day at 4:00 p.m. She explained that one of the jury members needed to get home by sundown for religious reasons. She went on to tell us that the individual in question should remind her next week too, just in case she forgot.

When the clock struck four the judge stopped the proceedings, told us to report back on Monday “promptly” at 8:30 a.m. and dismissed us for the day. As I walked by the judge’s bench she looked down at me, smiled and softly whispered, “Good Shabbos, Mr. Hyatt.”
Good Shabbos indeed! The kugel was mighty tasty that night!

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