Why Go To Synagogue?

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Revolving Door

     The vast majority of American Jews attend religious services three days a year. In on New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and out on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Only about 8% of Jews visit a synagogue (Greek for assembly) on Saturday, (Shabbat).

   Those who seldom come to weekly services usually argue that religion is a business, that they are atheists, that they know no Hebrew, that the procedures are boring, that they have no time, that they have better things to do, etc. etc. etc.

     By depriving themselves of the enjoyment of Sabbath services these Jews are making a major mistake. The fact is that there are eight reasons to attend on Saturday morning.

     The first reason is the sermons. Come to Temple Beth Tzedek on any Saturday morning. You will hear Rabbi Perry Netter deliver a great sermon or an exceptional sermon each week. If you come one week you will be back the next week just to hear the next sermon.

     The second reason for attending is that we read a segment of the Torah, which is indeed a remarkable experience each week. Some say that the Torah is antiquated and has nothing to do with American life today. The truth is that the Torah reflects the common experiences of mankind and is also a history as well as a philosophical treatise. Last Friday on Kol Nidre evening, Rabbi Netter showed how the story of Jacob and Esau is relevant today, as are almost all the events depicted in the Torah. If you are an atheist you will be happy to enjoy Torah reading just because you are human. That suffices.

   A third reason for attending on Saturday morning is that we sing together. Hardly any of us would want to sing solo in public. Singing together is an opportunity to sing publicly without embarrassment. Moreover, singing together brings us closer together and lifts the spirit from the mundane to the sacred. Try it, you will love it.

     The fourth reason for attending on Shabbat morning is the time we spend in the synagogue takes us away from the daily routine, from work, from financial problems, from pressures of all kinds, from telephones, television, the internet, and other everyday conditions. For a short time we are insulated from our daily worries as we need not answer the mail, be harassed by customers, face ugly bosses, or put up with all kinds of anxieties of daily life. While “in shul” we can forget about all that and feel protected within the walls with their stained glass windows and the symbols of our faith.

     A fifth reason for attending on Saturday morning is communion. Literally “uniting together” with all the other Jews we meet there. We are so few that we hardly meet other Jews during the workweek. On Saturday morning we meet a room full of other Jews who pray together, feel together, and enjoy each other's company. We belong, we are valued, we are supported, and we know that if we are ever in need, there are those who will listen and help.

     A sixth reason for attending on Saturday morning is the opportunity to learn something. We have been called “the people of the book.” Which book? We may have read many a book about baseball, cooking, self improvement, or car maintenance. On Saturday morning we have a chance to read and learn about our history, our community, our heritage, and our future. And that is the seventh reason for attending. Show our children where they belong, where they came from, and where they can go. Surely, even the revolving door Jews do not want to see American Judaism to come to an end. By attending synagogue on Saturday morning, we let our children know what is important in life and that it is not television.

    Finally, there is one more reason to visit “shul” on Saturday morning. By going there, we tell those who murdered our families in Europe that we are still here, that the killers have lost, that we live and will always live, Am Yisroel Chai and Shalom.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The German Jews in America (2014).

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