Why Do(n’t) You Go To Shul?

I once had a colleague that said- tongue and cheek- the reason he became a Rabbi was to make the service seem faster- since it always seems to progress more quickly when one is on the Bima.

True, it does. But I quite like it in the pews as well, where I don’t have to do anything but relax, reflect and pray.

What do you like? Do you like to come into the synagogue on a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday? Do you prefer the shorter weekday service or longer more lyrical Shabbat experience?

What kind of meaning do these experiences bring you and if you don’t find yourself in the synagogue to pray often, what is your connection here?

“Going to shul” used to mean attending services on Saturday morning ( the long service)  But now it can mean a whole variety of things, as mentioned above.

No matter your shul connection, I’m interested in what keeps you in and what keeps you out?

I am interested in why people attend services on a regular basis and also why they don’t.

So let me know. How’s your Jewish life going? How’s your synagogue connection? Why DO you come to shul or Why DON’T you?

We are here to help you become more engaged with the community and find ways to say yes to connection, spiritual life, prayer and study.

I’d love to hear from many of you so we can begin this important discussion and continue to build and sustain our vibrant Beth El community.

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Hazzan Asa Fradkin is the hazzan at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. He is a native of Baltimore.

5 comments

Walter Schimmerling

A good question that, in good Jewish style, deserves to be answered with another question, or more. I was in shul last night, where were you? As a matter of fact, where were Rabbi Harris and Rabbi Werbin? Where were any of the Beth El staff or any members of the Beth El Board of Directors, including any of the 7 Vice Presidents? Where were any of the teachers or students of our “religious” school? I used to do my regular turn to complement a weekday minyan until one day when, with 200 people in the building, there were not enough people to make up a minyan in the Swoff chapel. At that point, I gave up on going to shul.

I do come to services for Yahrzeit, more often than I’d like, and I come to services on major holidays. I have enjoyed the Shir Yachad musical service, for which you deserve a lot of credit. I am probably too ignorant and not enthusiastic enough to participate in Saturday morning services. But, on evening services, led admirably by congregation members in the absence of the clergy and the nomenklatura, it is difficult to follow the well-meaning platitudes and the Oriental groveling in the prayer book by rote and to sing melodies that are often different from what I grew up with. So, in the prayer book,I pick and choose what I can meaningfully consider and make that part of my prayers.

Going to shul would be a lot more appealing if it were more of a learning and more of a thoughtful occasion, and less of a churchgoing experience, and if it weren’t restricted to Saturday mornings. It would also be helpful if the people who we honor with office and title in our congregation would show up every once in a while.

Asa Fradkin

Walter, you pose some interesting questions and they deserve a thoughtful response. Let’s have coffee and get to know each other better

Interesting that you brought up the discussion. The April Hearing Men’s Voices discussed why we belong to a synagogue. Responses varied, but many found the sense of community (whether at services or activities) as an important reason.

Asa Fradkin

Thanks Howie, I am not surprised to hear that. Just finished Letters to my Palestinian Friends and in it, Yossi Klein HaLevi explores how the Jewish peoplehood is equally strong a force as our religious beliefs.

Peter Cohen

Nice comments Asa. Well-written and thought-provoking:

“So let me know. How’s your Jewish life going? How’s your synagogue connection? Why DO you come to shul or Why DON’T you?
We are here to help you become more engaged with the community and find ways to say yes to connection, spiritual life, prayer and study.
I’d love to hear from many of you so we can begin this important discussion and continue to build and sustain our vibrant Beth El community…”

I appreciate this, especially as an outlier on the graph of Beth El attendance and commitment. What do you say, using your template above,
to a congregant who is ill (I don’t mean physically) and is often confused ?

Talmud teaches I should love my daughter more than myself and I do. Somehow…..I wish I could sing to her. It could be Jewish music or
or it could be Seal or it could be Louis Armstrong.

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