I have learned of all sorts of alternatives to synagogue services for the High Holy Days. Recently, my attention was brought to country club communities that are live streaming their High Holy Day services to their residents on cable television. There are also multiple services that one can attend at different club houses and a variety of public venues. And these are services with great presentations and professional musicians. I am told that some of these services are really entertaining and very compelling.
So what do we have compared to these less expensive and often more entertaining options? The synagogue service offers something different. It offers a sense ofbelonging…belonging to a religious community. The people who come here support the work of the synagogue – not only during the holidays but for the entire year. And the support is not only for ritual, it’s support for education and Jewish culture and community. The people we sit with will be with us throughout the year. And the people we are with are all part of a community that in some way or another share in each other’s lives.
In a world where people are more and more disassociated, and community is more and more difficult to find, the synagogue is upholding something that our tradition believes is critical. Judaism is not lived a few days a week. Community is not created by major events. And holidays are not meaningful by having entertainment value. There needs to be something ongoing. There needs to be human connection that is reflective of the deep values of our tradition. And there needs to be a place to establish roots and express values.
In a few days we will gather again for Yom Kippur. There is something interesting that happens right after the blowing of the shofar at the end of the day. It is a moment of great relief. Our fast is done, our prayers complete and we hope that we have found some peace and our petitions were accepted. T’shuvah has been our goal.
What I find interesting is that we will immediately do the weekday ma’ariv (evening) service. And in the Amidah, the central prayer, we will pray for t’shuvah! What could we have possibly done? God knows we didn’t even have time to transgress! But there is something informative in this. T’shuvah is a constant process. It needs to be a regular practice. And its not the t’shuvah that says “I have transgressed, therefore forgive me.” Rather it’s a turning of attention, and intention, to our inner selves and challenging ourselves to be constantly moving towards our higher or highest selves, and connecting to that which is good and right, connecting to that which is of God. And no one can be there always, or even fully arrive there.
But our goal is to be moving towards this type of spiritual being and this type of ethical being. So we pray for that everyday. During the period of the High Holy Days it is with more direction and fervor, but it is always a part of our aspiration. And that too is why we need a synagogue; and hopefully a properly-attuned synagogue!
For those of you who understand and are members of our synagogue during these days of dwindling membership at so many places, I say thank you. You are keeping alive a place in your community that does great work. And more than that, you are affirming the institution that our people have depended on for its survival for two thousand years. May you be written and sealed for a good year.
May our synagogue be blessed with a year of deep learning, meaningful prayer, rich cultural expression, joy and compassionate support to all members of our community. It is so special to belong here.
Shabbat Shalom and see you in shul,
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l