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A Jew Without a Synagogue – Tablet Magazine

Just a few weeks ago, I returned to our previous temple for the bar mitzvah of a pricey pal’s son. It had been seven years since I’d left that synagogue.

I had been equally wanting forward to attending and worrying about it. Would members we had left behind still recognize me? Would the clergy take a look at me angrily? Would individuals assume that I shouldn’t even be there?

However I also had missed the synagogue in some ways. I used to be wanting ahead to singing the acquainted tunes, wanting up on the superbly painted dome over the sanctuary, and hoping to feel some peace.

It was unattainable to know which feeling would dominate, I assumed, as I drove over.


Leaving my synagogue hadn’t been a simple choice. For me, rising up in a Conservative synagogue with an Orthodox rabbi, my experience being Jewish had not been constructive. I’d hated that girls and women have been handled like second-class residents. I hated that at residence, though we lit the Sabbath candles and had a nice Friday night time dinner and celebrated the most important holidays, we didn’t apply the best way the temple did, so I was always confused about my Jewishness. Hebrew faculty was a nightmare.

It had taken till I was approach into maturity to know what I needed for me.

My husband had grown up in a Reform Jewish residence, actively involved in his native Reform synagogue, a place he felt was a refuge from the world he was dwelling in. Once we obtained married, we agreed we might solely be a part of a Reform synagogue and lift our youngsters that approach. That’s once we discovered our synagogue. We have been members for over 20 years.

Once we left, it was more my concept than his. The cost of the synagogue had gone up dramatically and our first baby was on the brink of enter school. I knew how the temple felt about giving lowered dues—it was frowned upon; revenue and financial info were given to a few individuals in leadership positions to determine the rate, and I knew there was a risk that our funds might be uncovered to other members.

At that time, I had not been feeling near the synagogue in a long time. It wasn’t simply the cash. When my younger daughter had completed her bat mitzvah, for example, she refused to return to Hebrew faculty. I’d contacted the rabbi for help, however he had refused to satisfy together with her, saying that I should simply pressure her to go, or search help from the junior rabbi on employees. That had made me bristle. My daughter was a member of the temple and will have been seen by her clergy at any time we requested.

I had additionally experienced cruelty from a few of the members—people who claimed their Jewishness was crucial factor of their lives but who didn’t behave that approach.

My husband had not been as keen to go away. He felt the strain his mother had left on him a few years back when she’d died. Her motto had been to all the time belong to a synagogue and do good. He had additionally had more success than me with a few of the temple activities.

But he agreed with me that this synagogue wasn’t where we ought to be anymore, so we left as gracefully as we might. The rabbi referred to as my husband and warned him if we left, there can be no one to bury us once we died. With that statement, we each knew it actually was time to go.

For a whereas, we didn’t do anything about on the lookout for a synagogue. I wasn’t feeling untethered, however relatively free from paying that big sum every month, free from the indifference of a few of the members and employees. We still practiced our Judaism at residence. We celebrated all the holidays with meals and continued our Passover Seders. On the Excessive Holidays, we didn’t work, and we might take walks alongside a canal nearby and speak about our objectives for the yr. On Yom Kippur, we made positive to apologize to individuals we had harm. And we’d go to my mother and father’ synagogue to take heed to a lecture my father, an lively congregant there, provides every year. For us, Judaism had all the time been less about actual providers and extra about tikkun olam, social motion, grownup schooling, and recognizing the holidays in our own method.

But then I discovered myself starting to need to find a new Jewish group to belong to. My husband had turned all the best way around. He had begun to really feel he didn’t want a group that we paid into and had a stake in. He was volunteering, giving of himself to the bigger group in entire other methods, and felt at peace. For me, joining a synagogue meant that I might actively be concerned in a Jewish group. There aren’t a ton of different nonsynagogue options for Jews in our area, and synagogue life was what I felt extra snug with when it comes to finding group.

We had pals who had left the temple a few years after us, they usually actually needed to seek out a place, too. But all of us knew our decisions for a Reform synagogue have been limited. There’s a large Conservative synagogue solely a couple of miles from our home, however we ruled it out—additionally too expensive and in addition Conservative.

I needed a small, socially acutely aware, Reform, lively synagogue. You’d assume it will be straightforward to seek out. The place I stay, the place there’s a decent-size Jewish group, it isn’t.

So I needed to contemplate locations that didn’t essentially examine all my bins. I assumed that may be OK as a result of a minimum of I might get a few of the issues I needed.

I visited a small Conservative temple about a 15-minute drive from my residence. While I appreciated the temple director and the few members she introduced me to, she admitted the synagogue was actually filled with members a lot older than me, of their 60s and 70s. (I am in my early 50s.) And while they might love for individuals to return in and develop the packages I was concerned about, that they had nobody really spearheading them at the moment. My pal, who was additionally looking, came with me, and then she went to providers there. Individuals have been nice, she stated after she had gone, however they have been all older.

So we checked that one off our listing.

I also went to Rosh Hashanah providers at a synagogue that operated out of a church, it was so small. There, we might simply afford the nominal dues, however it was virtually half an hour drive from us. I knew we might find excuses not to go. It was slightly extra lively and had a younger membership than the last place, however the distance was a issue. I needed to take that place off the listing, too.

Then a good friend’s father died. Our pal was a member at that final synagogue, and the cantor came to do the service. She was pretty, and my husband and I instantly thought we should always be a part of. It might have been because our previous rabbi’s words haunted us—we might have no one to bury us when the time got here. However regardless that we discussed it, we by no means did take the plunge.

I also seemed into a Reconstructionist synagogue solely a few miles away. It had a superb fame all around: Hebrew faculty, household oriented, plenty of social motion, tons of areas to become involved. Though I didn’t notably need to be a Reconstructionist, I used to be excited once I noticed all their actions and committees in the packet they despatched me. Perhaps that’s where we have been meant to be.

But then the pricing came in and we noticed, once more, that we couldn’t afford to go there. I used to be unhappy, but I had to let it go. We have been in our seventh yr straight of paying for a youngster in school. We had no extra cash to provide.

Our buddies wound up joining a Reform synagogue about 20 minutes away. I do know of it, and my pal praised that they already had a social action committee, something she knew I needed. That they had favored the service they attended—individuals have been good and pleasant and it felt relaxed.

Ought to I contemplate it, I questioned. The space, once more, was a problem for me. I didn’t need to be a part of somewhere I knew I might never go. Our previous synagogue had been about 15 to 20 minutes away, all the time in dangerous visitors, in the midst of a small city close by. It had not been pleasant to get there, but, I reminded myself, I had for the essential things. The household Hanukkah candle lighting. Hebrew faculty. The Purim carnival. The spaghetti fundraising dinner my daughter’s youth group put on annually. That had undoubtedly been a spotlight.

It’s straightforward to reminisce concerning the belongings you like and miss about a place seven years later. It makes it look like it wasn’t so dangerous. However it had gotten dangerous and I have no hassle remembering those dangerous elements.

Some of my associates who are still members tell me it’s a lot better now. The previous rabbi with the infectious smile and management over the synagogue retired. The new rabbi is far more flexible, far more trendy in his considering. Hmm, I assumed.

But then I reminded myself of a few of the individuals there who had harm us so badly. People who stated they have been our pals however truly weren’t. And I remembered the feeling of a pecking order on the synagogue—where the totally different households stood based mostly on the time and cash they gave. And I needed no part of that.

Earlier than that bar mitzvah I attended, I had been both not sure about going back to the synagogue and searching ahead to it. That day, I sat next to a woman of round 13. She and I rose once we have been alleged to and sat once we have been purported to. I enjoyed studying the phrases in Hebrew that I both know by coronary heart and know by no means. I learn a few of the prayers, typically skipping the word God in them, enthusiastic about my Jewishness. Calm washed over me because the familiar tunes performed, and on the similar time, I used to be anxious for the occasion to be over. I needed to go back to who I was—a Jew with no synagogue, no strain, besides what I put on myself.

I recognized a former good friend as she sat on the bimah, a board member officially there for the bar mitzvah, however I don’t assume she noticed me. I might have been comfortable to speak to her. A couple of different members let me in the door. I vaguely—solely very vaguely—recognized them, they usually obviously didn’t recognize me. I was each sad and relieved at the similar time.

It’s been a few weeks since that bar mitzvah. My initial feelings of calmness and a few craving went away inside a day or so. I nonetheless don’t assume that synagogue is the appropriate match for my household. I might not be welcomed back and I don’t need to return.

I proceed to assume exhausting about my Jewish id. I really feel extra Jewish than ever. I feel close to my religion and tradition. I’m wanting ahead to Rosh Hashanah; annually, my mother and father make a vacation dinner that we attend, along with my sister, her husband, and household. My mom makes a household calendar with footage from the previous yr and upcoming occasions for the following yr. Everybody gets excited to see it. I deliver my vacation challahs that I make by hand yearly. On Yom Kippur, my husband and I’ll spend quiet time together speaking about our mistakes this yr, forgiving one another. And I’ll speak to other individuals I harm and ask them to forgive me. We’ll go hear my father’s speak. So we’ll observe the vacations in our personal method. I simply don’t feel the must be at a service.

I’m nonetheless questioning if I ever will probably be affiliated again. And I’m still positive my Jewishness is admittedly all mine, and no one can define it for me. Not a synagogue. Not different individuals. Just me. And that’s the best way it ought to be.


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