Finding my Perfect Synagogue . . . No Place Will be Perfect

Why the Search?

My husband and I were members of our local Reform synagogue for several years. The Rabbi was nice, warm and even officiated at our beautiful wedding, but I felt something wasn't right. I felt like a square peg in a round hole. With the support of my husband, I embarked on a search for a new spiritual home.

Photo by David Lisbona
Photo by David Lisbona

The Search

I started with synagogues I'd heard about or passed on my way to work. The biggest obstacle was shoring up the courage to attend services in a new place on my own without a friend or my husband by my side. I walked into every new synagogue with the confidence that I could be comfortable anywhere due to my familiarity with the liturgy. In many congregations, page numbers aren't announced, in others, I was given a prayer book that was open to the correct page even though I arrived in the middle of the service. I also wasn't afraid to ask someone or glanced over shoulders to find the page number. Eventually, I got so familiar with the service, I didn't need a page number, but could find where they were in the service on my own.

I learned a lot about myself and Judaism (which I thought I already knew lots about) and discovered a whole other world. Most importantly, I learned what I wanted the Saturday morning Sabbath service to do for me.

  1. To be resouled - a weekly grounding, where the worries of the previous week are no longer overwhelming. At least for a day, I can put those worries aside and usually face those concerns with a new perspective the next day.
  2. Lay leadership is where it's at! I hear very spirited prayer recitation from lay leaders/readers. It's as if these impassioned leaders are channeling their ancestors.
  3. Well researched interpretation(s) on the portion of the week usually called a d'var Torah - a word of Torah, or a drash - short for Midrash, instead of a sermon. Many synagogues in my geographic area have scholars, academics, or just very interested members in their environs who share their knowledge, expertise, and insights, and often relate the ancient texts to modern day living, their personal lives, or current events.
  4. Community -- This is the intent of the Saturday Shabbat service. Praying in spirited community, with a quorum or people, helps me to resoul.

By attending weekly Sabbath services, I met lots of people, attended a free class where I learned how to chant sacred texts, and learned lots about the Jewish community and synagogues in the metropolitan area where we reside.


Discovery

Each new congregation was an adventure and had its own little surprises. I saw subtle variations in liturgy and heard different melodies to familiar prayers while becoming reacquainted with the traditional Saturday morning service.

Visits consisted of, but were not limited to congregations that are affiliated with specific denominations and some that don't ally themselves with a particular movement. I've gone to Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Renewal, and a couple of Minyanim, (traditional egalitarian Sabbath services are completely lay led, there is no paid clergy, administration, or permanent building).

When I left my old shul, my Rabbi warned me that "no place will be perfect." Then I read, The Match Up: Looking for her Perfect Shul by Esther Kustanowitz which appeared in TheJewishWeek.com, where she talks about her search for a synagogue on the upper west side of Manhattan. I knew I wasn't alone.

My search lasted for more than a year old; it was by no means complete. We joined a local old shul in our city and have become active members. Again, no place is perfect, but it's working for us.

Being Called to the Torah

Your Search

If you're searching for a synagogue to join in your area, the best place to start is by talking to people you know. If they're not Jewish, they may know someone who is. There is nothing like word of mouth recommendations. Many of the places I've visited were recommendations from people. If you don't know anyone or are too shy to ask, you can also search the web by putting the name of your city and synagogues into a search engine.

Revisit synagogues. Search their websites and find out if anything has changed. They may be different during the summer or during a life cycle event like a bar/bat mitzvah then they are other times of the year.

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Comments 2 comments

N Lefkowitz 8 years ago

I appreciated the hard and dedicated work of the author in her quest for a perfect synagogue. Perhaps, she's quite right in that one place may not be the answer, for as she changes, as we all do, the synagogue just might need to change too. Perhaps our old way of thinking of belonging to one synagogue is outmoded and synagogues should become part of a cooperative so that we can be a member in two places or more for one price. Times are changing and membership options probably need to change too.

Thanks,NL (Woburn)


LAB 8 years ago

I admire the openness with which your search has been conducted, and will continue to be conducted. As an observer of other religions, I have observed that openness to all modes of worship within a religion is not always a feature. I think it's healthy, and, hopefully, can breed a spirit of openness in others.

LAB in Q-town

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