Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Warm and Welcoming Members-Only Shul Meeting

It was a tossup as to whether we would go to the special shul membership meeting last night. Hadn’t there been enough unpleasantness?

“But this is all there is, OK? When one of us dies (God forbid but nobody lives forever), these are the people who will help to bury them.”

Such is decision-making here. The most morbid scenario wins.

“But no running your mouth like you did the last time, and making a whole scene.”

“I promise,” I said and as usual was thinking, “except if...”

He gave me a sidelong glance as if to say “I know you have your fingers crossed behind your back but fine, we’ll go anyway.”

Well I guess they anticipated a ruckus because there were not one, but two security guards. They stood there flanking the doors as if expecting a riot.

And I was scared. Personally. This was such new ground for me. You have to know I did not even go to synagogue for many years. It was just too awful. All the judging eyes. The dynamics. The fear of not being good enough. The closeted nature of being less than fully Orthodox in a very strict community.

We moved near Magen David and I didn’t even know what to do about shul. It was my daughter who picked it.

There was no rabbi at the time, or they were between rabbis. I was fine with that. I tend to think we over-value them. 

The rabbi is not this magical figure, but we always seem to need a false god to worship. You need someone to do specific things, like say the prayers and read from the Torah. Supervise the food, and render halachic decisions. If you’re in the hospital, God forbid, a chaplain.

There is a difference between the rabbi and a rebbe, of course. The rebbe is a figure who is highly advanced in terms of their character development—he is not just learned. The rebbe is there for the people at all stages of life. He is a mystical and mythical figure.

The Lubavitcher rebbe, may he rest in peace,was my rebbe. I cry for the loss even now.

So we go to the meeting and being very security conscious I practically jump every time I hear the door creak open. But it is just other members, running late.

The shul president gave a relatively straightforward linear presentation as to the chronology of recent events and where we stand today. The rabbi simply didn’t want to stay there full-time; it seemed to me that he wanted to embark on a larger project, something connected to halachic reform, or modernization, or call it whatever you want. He didn’t want to lie to the people about his future plans. Kol HaKavod.

It was clear that they tried to keep him. I will say that for me, this would have been fine as how often do I go to shul and how involved am I in volunteering? Not much. 

And the rabbi and his wife were there for us when we needed them. They brought spirituality and community. Plus, anytime there was a concern about the safety or wellbeing of children, there was no question that the children came 100% first.

The leadership and selflessness displayed by the Board impressed me. I was raised to look out for myself. That is not what these people do. 

I remembered a line from the show “Transparent,” where the Israeli bodyguard is talking to the young American Jew who can’t understand how everyone in Israel spends three years in the army: “It’s about thinking about something larger than yourself.”

The people had an opportunity to ask questions and make comments, each in turn. There were clear ground rules: No shouting allowed; take your turn. All questions were encouraged and allowed. All rumors were listened to and addressed.

I though to myself more than once that you can’t take the people you love for granted; you can’t take your shul for granted; you can’t take for granted that the religious lessons you learned in school will be taught the same way somewhere else. It’s up to you to invest, not complain.

Our shul is one of those places that is really about the shul, not the rabbi. Our community is investing in a process of soul-searching.

Someone made an excellent comment. “The shul must decide if it is primarily a religious institution or a cultural one.” In other words, are we there to provide an Orthodox synagogue experience? Or are we there to provide a place for Sephardic kin to get together and shmooze?

I do not think you have to choose between the two. But I do think that you have to choose whether the shul is Orthodox or not (clearly yes, although the members may not practice fully; I don’t). And that the pulpit should not be a place to push anyone’s agendas—or build personal brands.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Creative Commons photo via Pixabay.