I belonged to a synagogue for twenty years. This year we made the decision not to rejoin. The reason? I was feeling less connected to a place that was putting control over choice. Concretely: Leadership would not permit the Shabbat morning prayer class I had attended for the past eight years to continue on a weekly basis. We could hold the class twice a month, but not every week.
Leadership's reason? "The main arena of the synagogue is the sanctuary. When other things are happening that takes attention away from that (even though the class was happening prior to services starting) it is a problem.” Like the Cantor said, "I went to a basketball game and everyone was talking or buying food. They weren't watching the game. That is what it is like here on Shabbat. Instead of people focusing on the main event they are distracted."
We did the process thing. I personally met with the rabbi. I explained why the weekly rhythm of coming together in prayer, Torah study, and story sharing was so important. I tried to convey that the ritualization of every week mattered in my life. I also said that as a member of the congregation I had a responsibility to give back. If there were additional ways I could volunteer, mentor or teach to contribute, I would do that but hoped we could continue our class.
Additionally, the twenty some people who attended the weekly class at 9 am met with the rabbi. They told their stories about how the Jewish teaching and sharing deeply impacted their lives. Men and women cried equally sharing the power the regular ritual had in their lives.
If it were a matter of money…of course we'd pay the salary of the teacher.
In the end, the clergy, and I'm not sure who else, decided NO.
They wanted more people to come to the sanctuary and not have too many side services or learning.
Holding so tightly is choking, not inviting.
I left. After much thought I couldn't reconcile being a member of a community that didn't reflect a core principle: Each person finds his/her connection to God in different ways. Congregations need to find a balance between the whole and the individual. I don't, I confess, like sitting in services from 10-12:30 Honestly instead of connecting me it bores me…for the most part.
However, the 9-10 learning experience mattered. Shouldn't there be space for the guy who likes sitting 10-12:30 and the lady who gets her religious high in one hour?
When we left I called the congregation’s office to let them know we wouldn't be sending our check. Ok, you are always welcome to come back. And that was the end of that. Really?
I was there for 20 years…at Hanukah we got a Xeroxed copy of a note from the clergy wishing us a happy Chanukah.
I wonder if there could have been another ending? What is the ritual that congregations use when folks walk? Would it make sense for someone in the congregation to come visit us? “I'd like to hear your story? We still will see you as part of the community. Are there ways that we can help you connect to other Jewish organizations? We will still send you yahrzeit info and other events. You will always be a member of our community…it will look different now but we are here for you. How can we support you on your next leg of your journey? Your story will remain with us and we are here for you” Or something right? Could they reinvent membership…like ok you don't pay 3000 dollars, but we are still connected to you.
Who is paying attention to the life stories of congregants?
What makes it hard for a congregation to allow the space for multiple entry points?
Where am I writing this blog? I'm sitting in the Apple Store in Suburban Square. Someone borrowed my power cord by accident and I have no power in my computer.
Do you think I could sit here and just charge my battery?"
The salesman said, "sit here and if you need anything just ask".
I just looked up and the lady in the blue shirt who is supposed to be selling stuff just smiled at me.
Really? Hello synagogues, what's it look like to make room for someone to sit for what they need, not just what you need.
Cyd Weissman is the Director, Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, for The Jewish Education Project where she leads a team to support the creation of Jewish learning environments that positively nurture the lives of learners. She blogs at LivingLomed.
This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York. Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership. They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals. We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.