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The ESP of the
Jewish Way of Life
 
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Ethics Spirituality Peoplehood
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Ask Gil
Dear Readers: I LOVE READING YOUR EMAIL!!!! SO, if you'd like to say something about this website, the Email of the Week column or have a different Jewish issue/question on your mind please send it in. I am always looking for emails for future columns and a book I am writing (you will remain anonymous, of course). So, please email me at GilMann@BeingJewish.org just click on the blue letters. I look forward to your emails! 

Thanks,
Gil


 

Dear Readers,

These columns began on my area of America Online, called:  Judaism Today:  Where Do I Fit?   People anonymously sent me E-Mail, and I began to choose one for a public response in my Jewish E-Mail of the Week column. The column has become quite popular and is now syndicated internationally in many Jewish papers and websites.  I hope you find they help you as you think about the Ethics, Spirituality and Peoplehood components of the Jewish way of Life.  I welcome your comments... see the end of the column.

Gil

PS  Teachers and others, feel free to copy my columns and forward them or use them as you see fit.  Please see the friendly copyright notice at the end.

How to Choose the Right Synagogue

 

Dear Gil:

I became a Jew in my early 30's. At the time, I was a feisty Italian-American girl who was looking desperately for some spiritual meaning and community in my life. I "discovered" Judaism after a couple of years of "service-hopping," attending varying religious services from Buddhist to Methodist to (the official religion of my family), Catholic.

It was when I met my (very secular) Jewish husband that I began to study Judaism. Wow! I understand that in Kabbalah there are references to "Lost souls" who were meant to be Jewish - I must be one of them.

Judaism fits like a glove. I feel as though I was never a gentile (although, I'm somewhat painfully reminded at family gatherings when Granny takes it personally when I don't eat her clam chowder. "You used to love it! What's the matter?") Anyway, my husband and I are trying to make up our minds about which synagogue to attend.

Ironically, after having attended only Conservative congregations since my conversion, I must have had an impact on my husband's religious views since he is now leaning toward Conservative. I, on the other hand, am for the first time in my life considering a Reform temple! The bottom line is (and I hate admitting this) convenience. We live minutes from the largest Reform temple in our area. Most of our friends are satisfied members there and when I think of schlepping 20 minutes two times a week for religious school, well, you get the scenario

As I told my husband, if we don't like it, we can always change. He feels that it's harder to "trade up" to Conservative once you've belonged to a Reform congregation. We've attended services at both, and like both. What do you think?

R

Dear R:

Your question is shared by many, Jews by birth and Jews by choice. Deciding to join one synagogue vs. another is driven by personal preferences. From your letter I would say that at least five criteria are important to you.

Two of them are what brought you to Judaism in the first place, a search for spirituality and community. So I would start by saying to choose the synagogue where you feel those needs are best met. Specifically, what do you think of the services, the music, the rabbi and the congregation. Do the clergy inspire or move you? Are people welcoming and warm? Are people singing, participating etc? I'd also check out what adult classes are offered and if people actually attend. Similarly, you should see what kind of "kindness" committees they have...like food shelf projects, helping the sick/elderly etc.

You also indicated that schooling for your children is a factor. Visit the schools, meet the principals, observe some classes and talk with other parents. What's the thrust of the school's curriculum? I am not big on schools that just teach skills (like Hebrew reading and prayer or Torah chanting.) More important in my view, is teaching kids Jewish values: in other words “WHY” they should be Jewish, as opposed to just "how."

Also, I need to be candid -- Religious and Hebrew schools are sadly famous for their behavior problems. Are the kids learning or just goofing around? Related to this, do the kids get to know their rabbi? Is the rabbi good with kids?

You also cite convenience. This is a worthy consideration and you need not apologize. Ideally, you will find a synagogue that you will use often. Distance and time will impact your usage...and your kids too when its time for youth group/plays etc. Hopefully, you will not be like a person who told me after switching synagogues that the second synagogue was closer to his home and he'd rather live closer to the synagogue he was not attending.

Finally, what about theology and movements? I have waited till now, because I believe one can find the things above in any of the movements. Personally, I happily attend synagogues of all the four main movements of Judaism (I am now adding Reconstructionist and Orthodox to this discussion.)

There are things in each movement that I like and dislike. I do not buy your husband's argument however about "trading up or down" from one movement to another. I don't view any movement as "down." Each has a different theology and I appreciate the merit in each of them. Here's a website with some nice short explanations of the differences: www.jewfaq.org/movements.htm.

If you want of course, you can join more than one shul. In the final analysis I would say, rather than making a decision based on what movement a synagogue is affiliated with, chose a place where you and your family can call home. Hope this helps you find that home.

Shana Tovah!

Gil




A FRIENDLY COPYRIGHT NOTICE
© Copyright Gil Mann

These columns can be found at www.beingjewish.org.  Not only do I give you permissions to copy these Jewish Email columns...I HOPE YOU WILL and that you share them with others!  All I ask is that you never charge anyone for them and that you also include this little copyright notice.  Thank You!
Ask Gil
Dear Readers: I LOVE READING YOUR EMAIL!!!! SO, if you'd like to say something about this website, the Email of the Week column or have a different Jewish issue/question on your mind please send it in. I am always looking for emails for future columns and a book I am writing (you will remain anonymous, of course). So, please email me at GilMann@BeingJewish.org just click on the blue letters. I look forward to your emails! 

Thanks,
Gil

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