An op- ed letter written by Rabbi Pesach Scheiner with help from his brother in law,
Rabbi Ben-Zion Chanowitz, Monticello, NY.
Many large Temples have doormen who usher in the congregants during the High Holidays. The crowd is overflowing, and in order to insure an orderly entrance and exit, guards are needed. There is also another reason for this formality – the Temple wants to make sure that nobody enters the synagogue without paying for their seat.
Once during the High Holidays, Edward, a non-Jewish employee had to speak to his boss, Jacob Greenberg. Edward walked into the front door of the Temple and was immediately stopped and asked for his seat ticket. Edward patiently explained that he did not come to pray, he merely had to pass a message to Mr. Greenberg. The doorman sighed. “I’ll let you in this one time, but don’t let me catch you praying there!!!” O.K., I may have over-dramatized but I got your attention.
With all due respect to the business of the synagogue, a synagogue is not a business, it’s a place of worship to the Almighty! Synagogues are meant to serve the Jewish community. Every Jewish person does have a place in the synagogue regardless of their ability to pay. At the same time each person should see it as their privilege to support and invest in the synagogue expenses.
There are some people who have become estranged from their synagogue. A synagogue is similar to a family gathering. If we do not frequent our parents’ or relatives’ homes, family gatherings can leave us feeling estranged. This feeling is not because our home rejects us — how could it, it’s our home, we belong there! It’s only because we convince ourselves that we may feel uncomfortable there that we begin to doubt whether we belong. So too, with our Shule. A Shule is a community project made specifically for each and every one of us. So, of course, we all should feel comfortable there and of course we have a seat waiting for us at our Shule.
Now goes the hard part, what will happen when we walk into the synagogue? Most of us have a list of perceived difficulties, so let me burst these bubbles:
1. I do not read Hebrew – Nowadays most synagogues have prayer books with English translation, and by the way, G-d is multi-lingual.
2. I do not know what to say and when to stand or sit – let me share a secret with you, many of the regulars during the High Holidays don’t either know what to do, so just follow them. You will appear to be just as experienced as the rest, and besides, during the High Holidays, most synagogues offer an extra dose of coaching. Our synagogue has a paginator, various people announcing what to do and the reciting of various prayers in unison – in English as well as Hebrew.
3. Somebody once told me not to sit in their seat, or somebody once looked at my clothing in a snobbish way, or how can I sit in such close proximity to Mr. So and So – well, guess what, that somebody has stopped coming to the synagogue/moved to another area/ forgot what they were upset about/never meant it to begin with. And besides, why should I feel uncomfortable in my house, let them feel uncomfortable. Last but not least, we’ve grown up, so it is time to make up.
4. I feel like a hypocrite – After all I haven’t gone to the synagogue for years, so why should I come now, what will my friends say? Tell them that being a “flip-flop” is popular nowadays. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have been called flip-flops. – So I decided to be in vogue. And besides, isn’t it high time for a change, especially since we are getting older, so we need to put our relationship with G-d in order.
5. I haven’t yet paid for a seat. – Come first and pay later, so you won’t feel like a shnorrer. Either way come first (even if you can’t pay this year.)
6. I don’t know anyone there. – Why not invite your friends to join you – the more the merrier. After all, if you have a seat in the synagogue – doesn’t you friend have one too?
So this year – just do it – and believe me you will feel at home, it’s satisfaction guaranteed.
Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year. Hoping that your seat will be occupied this year. Please join us this year at Lubavitch of Boulder County- www.chabadofboulder.com.
Rabbi Pesach Scheiner, Lubavitch of Boulder County