“And Moses gathered all of the congregation together” (Exodus 35:1)
Unlike other colleagues who sought employment in Jewish organizations I chose early on to be a part of a Synagogue and Temple. I believed then as I do now in community, even in a time when institutions are either ignored, criticized, or simply abandoned. Places of worship are not alone in this regard. Civic organizations are also in the decline. Our hi-tech society has facilitated such disregard and at times, disrespect.
Some of my colleagues have even become “rent-a-rabbis.” Performing on the fly Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, weddings, and funerals and more! What had been heartfelt community experiences are now commodities to be secured. This is the price we often pay for living in a commercial market-oriented society. Our hi-tech streaming services have not helped much either. So many can simply turn on the tube and switch it on or off to any broadcast they wish. There is a difference between viewing a community and being in community.
And yet, when emergencies come up, such as the horrible Tree of life murders, non-members who contribute nothing by way of time or resources knew where to go, where to sit in a sanctuary they did not help to create, one which is situated beneath the lighting that they have not paid for, nor of the vacuuming and cleanup that sustains a sanctuary as a place of holiness. The same is true when other needs are to be fulfilled by a congregation or by a rabbi. I deeply understand how annoyed some members must feel when a funeral is asked for and when the services are secured for a nominal contribution. The nonmembers get the same dedication and compassion as members who have for decades supported the synagogue. It is hard for such members to feel anything but resentment. We are stuck between enhancing the temple structure and advocating for the compassion and the charity that it houses. We would look terrible were we to turn people away. It would be a betrayal of the holiness we are to embrace.
Some time ago, someone in the general community asked my counsel and my time which in good measure is the synagogue’s time. Curiously, the individual said, “You’re my rabbi!” How that ownership was declared is puzzling to me as it came from someone who had not ventured into the Temple for years, not for a service, not for study, and not for charitable participation in the community. I hope that you would know that I limit my response to one of acknowledgement, a small smile for what was meant as a compliment.
As for the members, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that a synagogue is not merely Bricks and Mortar, furniture and lighting and heat for its members. No matter how beautiful or how endowed, a synagogue is only as strong as the mission it upholds by those who are “the Jews in the pews!” A synagogue is called by three names; Bet Midrash – a House of study,
Bet Tefilla – a House of prayer, Bet Knesset – a House of gathering. These three are the pillars of what synagogue life is all about. Without it, we have an edifice complex, worshipping stone and mortar, forgetting what it was built to
contain. Without it, we have created a museum and not a Temple. You may notice that the Hebrew letters KufKuf – precede the name of synagogues. It stands for Kehila K’dosha, a holy congregation, for as scripture records, “Unless the Lord builds the House, its builders toil in vain!” (Psalm 127)
Yossi Liebowitz, Rabbi