It seems nearly every quasi-affiliated Jew has been on the synagogue quest at some point in his life. And there are many factors that will go into making this match. Where are my friends? Who is the rabbi? How is the sermon? How often do I plan on going? Where is it geographically located? What are the dues? Where does my family go? Am I looking for Hebrew school? What is involved for bnei mitzvah?
But I’ve seen a huge chasm in what people are looking for and what they find, and when people begin learning about shul (which is Yiddish for synagogue) and prayer and what that all involves, they will often find themselves and their families in a huge quandary that even they themselves don’t really understand.
The way I see it, there are two ways to use shul.
#1: Shul is a place to come and be Jewish as a family. We come as a family. We sit as a family. How often we come depends on many things, but it’s a very important part of our Jewish expression to be there, in that Jewish space, doing Jewish things, as a Jewish family.
Also, it’s our Jewish community. With the rabbi/cantor as the leader, we, the flock (so to speak) are led, inspired, and are a family, supporting each other, attending one another’s simchas, and being Jewish together.
Having not grown up “using shul” in this way, I am not really qualified to determine what questions would be asked in this quest, so maybe you, my readers, can fill me in.
#2: Shul is a place to daven (pray). It is a place to talk to God. It is important not to bring young children who could disturb the main goal, which is to talk to God. Coming on time is important, because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to… talk to God.
The rabbi may or may not be my spiritual mentor; it’s OK if he’s not, because I can access spiritual mentors elsewhere. The other attendees may or may not be my Jewish community, which is OK, because I choose the shul based on my ability to pray effectively there. Those factors might include: do they start/end on time? Who leads the prayers – do I find it inspiring and a motivator to have more concentration in my prayers? Is there chit-chat during the service or do people understand why they are there? Is it slow or fast? Some people find that a faster clip makes it easier to concentrate and to remain a faithful (ha ha) attendee. Others find that a slower pace allows them to slow down and really get into it.
Is there a lot of singing? For some, it’s too long-winded (hello, ADHD). For others, it really sets their souls aloft, allowing them to be moved, sometimes even to tears, by the words and melodies. People tend to join in spontaneously and organically, with a layperson leading the service, as opposed to a designated, professional cantor, because everyone in the room is supposed to be talking to God, in his/her own conversation.
Many a family has been stuck because one member of the family is using shul in way #1 and the other, in way #2. Shuls, too, are often plagued by the rift, as some people bring young children to shul and others find it a distraction/annoyance. Some come early, others just for kiddush. Some want to pray, some come to schmooze. Is this a problem?
How do you use shul?