A Sense of Belonging

I am not going to lie, the thing I look forward to most during any high holiday service is the sermon.  95% of the reason we chose the temple we belong to is the rabbi. There is something about a rabbi who really gets it.  It is not that he is just familiar with our town or what is going on in it but you may find him at our local Flywheel class or summer kick off party. Some people are turned off by that. They feel it is odd and weird to hang out with “the rabbi”. I get it. I mean I would definitely feel weird smoking a joint in front of him but I love that he is young,  passionate and “in the know”. It’s basically why I belong.

Today’s sermon, I believe, was in response to the New York Times article from yesterday about a new look at Bar Mitzvah’s.  Did you read it? Read it. Our rabbi says that our temple is going through a “change”. Where as he knows he cannot compete with Sunday soccer games and dance classes, he wants the temple to be an activity or “special” that is not in place of but in addition to all of our children’s other activities as well as a place for all of us to be more involved. His stats say that in the 1950’s enrollment in synagogues was 79%, today enrollment is 49%. It is a significant drop but a number I am sure any of us are  not surprised by. I grew up reform. My parents went to temple Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Passover. My grandparents went every Friday night. My great grand-parents basically lived there. You can see in the three short generations how much it has changed and how much we all have progressed. I left synagogue after my Bat Mitzvah. I remember saying in my speech “I will be continuing my studies after my Bat Mitzvah”. I never did and I knew it when I said it. I agree with the Times Article that temple has become a place for our children to become Bar/Bat Mitzvah’d and then a place we leave (many of us anyway). It is an assembly line. The rabbi asked an important question today. Why? Why are we here? Why do we spend all this money to come two times a year and not again until next year. Why? We complain that temple is so expensive yet we shell out the cash for the two days and repeat and repeat. Our country club and gym memberships cost more than temple. Why do we do it?

Well rabbi, I am going to answer you. Last year my father-in-law was very ill.  A close friend of his had Rosh Hashana services in his home. It was absolutely beautiful. It was tight-knit, warm, and refreshing. A woman spoke who I just met only a few hours before and she brought me to tears. Her sermon was breathtaking. She wasn’t a writer or a teacher or a philosopher. She was a normal person who told one of the most incredible sermons I have ever heard. I wish I had it to share. We all had lunch after and as we were leaving, my father-in-law’s friend, who ran the service, turned to me and said “see you don’t have to pay to go to temple, you can come here”.

I thought about that. A lot. It was true. I could have Zach home schooled in Hebrew. He is having his Bar Mitzvah in Israel anyway so what would be the difference? This is what would be the difference. The feeling. I can’t put my finger on it but there is something about sitting in synagogue that feels right. I am not sure if any of my friends would agree with me or not because we never talk about “temple” (I belong to the other one, lol) but even having a service  in the person’s house last year could not replace a service at shul. I am not religious, I do not have Shabbat every Friday night. You may think that makes me a bad Jew or not a Jew at all but I am Jewish. I was born Jewish and I was raised Jewish. My children are being raised Jewish and the synagogue is helping with that in more ways than you think. Although they may complain they have to go, I know that I chose a temple that will foster their beliefs and help them understand what it means to be Jewish. Not through sitting in Hebrew school but through the activities, mitzvahs and charitable events they encourage and teach when they come. Hebrew school is not what it used to be, I see it when I pick up Zach from Hebrew School. He is engaged and he is learning. Does this mean I will start to go more than twice a year? Hard to say. I may come to see a great speaker or support a charity but I can’t see myself coming every Friday night. I would love to see the temple move towards a more liberal movement where our children can design their own mitzvah programs and be part of tzedakah projects. I do believe this will help the parents become more  involved. But I am not so sure it will push me to come more after my boys have their Bar Mitzvah’s. I may always be a two or three-time a year member but it doesn’t make me less Jewish and it doesn’t make me uninterested. If you offer the class on Kabbalah, I may come. I am a believer. But if you offer the Yoga class, I probably will stick to PowerFlow.

Do you agree? Do you think if your temple started offering Yoga, Kabbalah and Scotch Tasting would you start to go more? Or do you think you will always be the 2 – 3 time a year member?

Share Your Thoughts

  1. Liby

    I totally agree with you. I am Jewish. I was born and raised in Israel. Growing up I went to temple once a year on Yom Kippur. We celebrate holidays by eating with family. I am married to a none Jew. My kids are raised with both our traditionS but most importantly to be good and kind people. Does that mAke me less Jewish? My kids speak Hebrew, but don’t go to Hebrew school. Did You know that last year when I called a temple in town I was refused to receive tickets to go to temple because I wasn’t a mEmbEr? Shame on the People that run temples here. Whatever happened to: open your doors to the house Of goD and accept all… It’s a business here which I don’t agree and don’t accept and Angry with “the system”. It’s a shaMe. 
    Liby (Lav’s mom)

    September 6, 2013 • 9:53 am •
  2. Danielle

    Great piece. My synagogue (Keneseth israel in elkins park, pa) is moving towards the more liberal, more modern way of educating our children. They actually aren’t even calling it “religious school” anymore, but JQuest, as in learning about judaism is a quest, an adventure, as opposed to a rigid learning experience. there’s a huge focus on individual meaning, which i love. they incorporate elective such as art, drama, book club, and of course music and prayer. i remember really hating hebrew/sunday school as a kid and i think a big part of that is because the way they taught it all. i really believe that that’s why there are so many people of our generation who have just eliminated judaism from their lives. it’s really important to me that i pass on a positive jewish experience to my kids. when they’re adults it’ll be their prerogative to make their own decisions about religion but i sincerely hope that their experiences as kids will be positive enough that they’ll want to continue to find meaning in judaism. believe me, i’m not a “super jew,” but as an adult and a parent i definitely appreciate the sense of belonging and community that our synagogue provides.

    P.s. – this is not intended to be snarky, just a correction…it’s “reform” not “reformed.”

    September 6, 2013 • 10:03 am •
  3. leslie shapiro

    am…..its REFORM not REFORM with an ED!!  reformed would be for a former drug addict!! just fyi!!

    September 6, 2013 • 10:06 am •
  4. Love the new template amy!  
    I am jewish, but I don’t belong to any temple. My husband is catholic (hense carruba) and we just never thought temple was a big deal. I did join the tenafly jcc when dylan was a baby and i hated it. hated the people the place and the fact that as a working mom, i paid all this money and couldn’t use the place on Saturdays. Dylan’s not being bar mitzvah’ed so I didn’t feel the need to join a temple. We do the three big days here at the house (just had a big rosh dinner) but its more about the history and family and coming togther for us.  I do think of myself as a jew, maybe not a deluxe or an ultra or even a premium, just a plain old jew. I’m proud of being jewish and i just do what’s best for me.  

    September 6, 2013 • 11:32 am •
  5. Amy

    Thanks Liby, Kristy, Leslie and Danielle for commenting! I fixed the “reform”. This is what happens when you write your own blog and you are your own editor. I can’t seem to do both! LOL. Libby – I understand your frustration with being shutout of temple to pray due to being a non-member. It must be a tough call for the temples as I am assuming the only reasoning behind their decision is if nobody had to pay to pray once or twice a year, they would not have many members. It still doesn’t make it right. I just have to think that is why. Kristy -I agree you have to do what works for you! There are no rules and the people who judge have their own issues, believe me.
    Danielle – WOW! I really hope the changes that are taking place at my temple are the things you discussed. I do believe it makes it an “adventure as opposed to a rigid learning experience”. Time will tell but it seems like your synagogue has opened their eyes to what so many of us want our kids to experience. A place for them to learn about Judaism without them kicking and screaming the whole way there.

    September 6, 2013 • 1:50 pm •
  6. Lisa

    Great artiCle! Really enjoy Reading all your blogS!

    September 6, 2013 • 3:51 pm •
  7. Sage

    Sorry for tHe caps. Not yelling. Damn iphone 5. 

    Great article Amy. Chart the rise in violeNt crime Vs enrollment. PatteRn? We’ve lost the sense of purpose, belonging and most of all true friendship. When my son dieD in July (31) unexpectedly, I DiscoverEd the importance oF belonging. The outpouring was SIncEre and Heartfelt for me, but far more important my Other sons. As always, insightful and provoking. A goof topic of disCussion with my BFFs this weekend. You know who they are! Wtf – my life is < 140 characters and now all caps…,

    September 6, 2013 • 4:43 pm •
  8. Danielle

    Laughing at the editing error because my typos are generally due to the fact that the font is usually too small. Either need to face the music and get reading glasses or just enlarge the font size on my phone / email already!

    September 6, 2013 • 7:44 pm •
  9. I totally agree with you. I was a High-Holiday-only temple goer. I still consider myself to be reformed. But a funny thing happened. As my son had to go to mandatory services,  I really started to enjoy them.  I love the rabbis at my temple, and that is why I continue to be a member. Now that my son had his bar mitzvah almost a year ago, I try to take him to services once a month. He fights me each time. But I wanted to give him the foundation I never got as a child, so that he can make his own decisions as an adult. I hear now the trend is for home-tutoring for bar mitzvahs. My son would have hated that more than he (says) he hated Hebrew school. At least he was there with his friends. And he did develop a wonderful relationship with the rabbi. All good. The bottom line is that religion is personal, and if one has a Jewish feeling in their heart, that’s enough. It doesn’t matter how you practice. At least, that’s my humble opinion. 

    September 9, 2013 • 9:06 am •
  10. ki

    So, I’m not sure how I found this blog but it was interesting to read! I’m a hairstylist in an area where there is a big jewish community.  And with the holidays starting last week, I thought about something I think of every year.  I try not to judge  but I’m always a little dissappointed in the number of jewish people who only go to temple for high holy days. Now, I’m Christian so I don’t know all of the specifics of the religion (and God knows us Christians have some of the same issues!) but I like learning new things.  In Christianity (cant speak for catholicism) members tithe in addition to weekly offerings, however, anyone is welcome any day, even on days like Easter Sunday (our high holy day?!). I do see the frustration of wanting to go to temple on, say,  Rosh Hashanah but not being able to buy a ticket but for those who are actually paying to be a member, why not go more? We are able to devote so much of our time to dinner at nice restaurants with friends, fly wheel and soul cycle but not temple or church? I’m definitely not the most church going person but I try to push myself to go and you now what? I actually like it when I get there! And if I didn’t,  I would find one that I did like.  I do believe that it’s not all about going to temple/church and faith does start in our hearts. But I cringe when someone sits down to have their hair done for the “holiday” but says I can’t wait for it to be over.  My question is, then why go? I won’t keep rattling but I will end with this…what if God could only devote a few days out of the year for us?  Have a good night and an easy fast to all celebrating:-)

    September 9, 2013 • 10:24 pm •
  11. Danielle

    Nicely said, and true. When I was a kid (even a young adult) and would complain about going to services, my mom would say, “find something beautiful about the service and focus on that…whether it’s the music or the vocals or the stained glass window…just find something to appreciate and it won’t feel so bad.” She was right! And now, as an adult who has had a lot more experience in the world than my 19 year old self, the prayers and words have a lot more meaning too.

    September 9, 2013 • 10:37 pm •