It was a Neitz (sunrise) minyan in the Old City. I was the second person to arrive in a Shul which had about 250 seats, for a weekday Neitz minyan of what would be 50 people. A random selection would give me about an 80% probability of not taking someone else’s regular seat. Unfortunately I made the decision to try to select a good seat and I violated one of the cardinal rules of seating in a strange place, the “Aisle Rule”.
The “Aisle Rule” says that you should not choose an aisle seat when you’re a guest in a Shul. I thought of the rule when I was a guest for Shabbos in the 5 Towns on Long Island. When walking into the Shul on Friday Night, my host said we can sit anywhere because there were no fixed seats on Friday Nights, except for the aisle seats, because the more involved members sat in the aisle seats. Having been involved in assigning seats in my Shul for many years, I could verify that people definitely preferred aisle seats and when you’re a guest, it makes sense not to take a more preferred seat.
So why did I violate the “aisle rule” on this Tuesday morning in the Old City? Because like most people who violate the rule, I wanted a more comfortable aisle seat. Right after putting on my Tallis and Tefillin a man walked in the Shul and as he got closer it became clear I was sitting in his seat. I asked “Is this your seat?”. He nodded yes. I asked “Where is an available seat?” and he pointed to the aisle seat in front of him. He was very nice about it and I was not in the least bit offended.
Then I made my second mistake and instead of taking the seat he pointed to, I moved back a few rows to a different aisle seat and sure enough, that turned out to be somebody else’s seat. So I moved again, this time to a mid-row seat and everything was fine. It wasn’t embarrassing, just a little disrupting having to move twice at an early Shacharis. I have no complaints about the Shul or it’s regular daveners, and I have only myself to blame for violating my own rule.