With the decline of organized religion over recent decades, the fall of community life at large and the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no secret that synagogues around the country have been struggling to reach the number of souls that they hope to engage.
The 2020 Pew study on Jewish Americans found that only 12% of American Jews report weekly attendance of religious services.
But I’m here to tell you that now – especially now – is the right time for us to get involved in a local synagogue.
“Wait, rabbi,” you might be saying. “But I’m not a religious Jew.”
I’m not suggesting that we all have to be “religious,” but being a Jew means we wrestle with, and are in a relationship with, the tradition. Our beliefs can be complex but our engagement should still be robust. Even for those who are skeptical of the spiritual aspects of Judaism, there are the moral dimensions of the tradition that offer guidance and stability in a world where those things are sorely lacking. As a people, we have so much to offer the world.
Of course, synagogues can always do better in operating and supporting the community. We have terrific synagogues in our community, despite their imperfections, and they would only be strengthened by our participation.
Whether you are Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Modern Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Sephardic, Centrist Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, JuBu, Hasidic or nondenominational – even if you have never bought into any of these – we have wonderful synagogues here in the Greater Phoenix area. There is a shul for you.
Here are some of the reasons why you should consider becoming a member if you’re not already:
1. The Power of Prayer
Prayer provides an opportunity to connect with the Divine, work toward spiritual refinement, achieve the meditative benefits and connect with community.
2. Life-Cycle Events
Being a member of a synagogue can help you to receive support and guidance around births, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, family conversions, saying kaddish in one’s year of mourning a family member and much more.
3. Pastoral Support
Our amazing clergy can be here for you and your family members in your time of distress and sickness, whether mental health or physical ailment.
4. Passing on the Tradition
Our children and grandchildren can receive all the religious education in the world but if they don’t see that we are committed to religious life, they won’t understand the value of their Judaism. It is upon us to be Jewish role models for today’s children.
5. Family Services
Synagogue pre-school is a great gift we can give to our children, as it connects our children to other kids, provides them with a quality start to their education and bonds our Jewish families together.
6. Chesed Committees
One of the most important and practical mitzvahs we can partake in is helping community members in need. By joining a synagogue chesed committee, you can
support the sick, welcome new members in the community, lead social action and much more.
7. Deepened Community
Yes, synagogues provide the potential for new friendships, but the benefit is more than that. A community of support beyond our closest friends is emotionally powerful and gives us the security and fulfillment we desperately need in these challenging times.
Each holiday adds something unique to our communal and spiritual lives. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we reflect and work to improve ourselves. On Pesach, we work toward liberation. During Hanukkah, we celebrate Jewish resiliency. On Shavuot, we celebrate the moral clarity of revelation from God. On Purim, we emphasize giving to the poor. The list goes on. Holidays are not designed to be spent alone.
Especially after spending so much time in isolation, it’s easy to think we can take on Judaism as a solo project. But in reality, Judaism has many dimensions. There is the existentialist, solitary spiritual journey but there is also the family unit, the local community and the united Jewish people. These four are interconnected and if we work on all of them, we as Jews can make an impact on the broader world.
Being a part of a Jewish community is not easy. It requires humility to be a member of a synagogue, because only 70% of the offerings might be exactly what we want. We must remember, though, that the other 30% might be meeting someone else’s needs. And compromise is necessary for us to receive the full benefits of being in a community with others. Hope to see you in shul! JN
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash and the author of more than 20 books on Jewish ethics.