By Rabbi Perry Tirschwell, Executive Director, NCYI
We live in an age when people seemingly only want to daven with people who are just like them. They are most comfortable going to daven in a place where the potato kugel has just the amount of salt they like and the chulent has the proper proportion of meat and potatoes. And, if there are membership dues required, people generally want to daven in the place with the lowest rates.
In today’s times, people tend to be satisfied davening in a place where these somewhat superficial needs are adequately met. They do not necessarily see the need to become involved in either an established or a fledgling shul if there is a minyan in their neighborhood that offers good company, good food, and good deals on membership fees.
If our davening and learning needs can be met by a shteibel or a local yeshiva, why would we join a large synagogue? Is the idea of becoming part of an established shul an outdated concept?
The answer is that in today’s day and age, we need shuls more than ever. Shuls enable our families to enjoy a spiritual haven that also offers an array of religious and social benefits that are virtually unparalleled.
We All Need a Rabbi. We all benefit immensely from a trained, learned, and experienced pastor who knows exactly what to say when we seek advice and when we encounter personal challenges. There is tremendous value in being able to turn to someone, day or night, when we face familial and communal challenges. There is no replacement for being able to interact with a professional rabbi, who has a keen understanding of the world in which we live.
Women Deserve a Religious Inspiration Too. Community shuls have a women’s section in which females can daven comfortably and they generally provide quality shiurim for women on a variety of important and insightful topics. They often provide a book club, women’s dancing on Simchat Torah, communal “pot luck” Shalosh Seudot meals, and multiple minyanim on Shabbat so that men can daven earlier and then come home, thereby enabling their wives to go to shul.
Value of Diversity. Our family’s lives are greatly enriched by interacting with people whose Avodat Hashem, service of G-d, is inspired by things that you may have not previously experienced in a profound way. Learning from others who may not be exactly like us is an important part of life, and one which lends itself to the greater exchange of ideas and information that contributes to our religious and spiritual growth.
Youth Programs. As parents, it is incumbent upon us to recognize that our children are the communal leaders of tomorrow. We must instill in them a sense of religious purpose and pride so that they are armed with the tools necessary to one day become contributing members of K’lal Yisrael. As such, shuls offer wonderful programming for our children, including Shabbos morning and afternoon groups, junior congregation, teen minyan, “Popsicles in the Park,” Oneg Shabbat programs, boys choirs, and Motzei Shabbat parent-child learning.
Sense of a Community. When you are part of a shul, you are part of a family comprised of wonderful people that go out of their way for each other in good times and bad. In a shul, you belong to a group of dedicated individuals who dream and create terrific things together for the betterment of the entire community, such as chesed committees, mikvaot, and eruvin.
Religious Inspiration. Belonging to a shul affords us the opportunity to be inspired religiously far beyond the standard minyanim and shiurim that are held on a regular basis. Scholars in residence programs, pre-selichot programs, and Shabbat Shuva and Shabbat Hagadol drashot are just some of the ways in which our shuls enable us to become better people and better Jews.
Social Programming. In addition to the religious and spiritual aspects that define our shuls, a synagogue also provides us a with venue for good, clean fun that we would not otherwise experience on our own, such as comedy nights, Missions to Israel, film festivals, Zumba, tennis tournaments, pro sports games, skeet shooting, and much more.
The National Council of Young Israel’s top priority is to serve its synagogues. This monthly e-newsletter is the first of many creative initiatives to help our shuls be the most inspiring, efficient, and cost effective they can be. We will highlight ideas and information that have the potential to greatly enhance Young Israel shuls across the United States and continue to serve as a resource for you whenever and wherever you need us.