Posts Tagged 'synagogue'

The Shul You Go to and the 27 You Don’t Go to

one jew stranded on an island, two synagoguesThere’s an old joke about a Jew stranded on a desert island who builds two synagogues (shuls) — one he goes to, and one to not go to.  Nu, Jews like to kvetch, and despite the tremendous quality control in the traditional prayer service, a popular question to ask this time of year is “where do you go to daven (pray)?”

Though about 95% of congregations in Jerusalem by my rough estimate would qualify for what I would consider to be a traditional prayer service, people are very picky about where they pray.  During my first Yom Kippur in Israel, I was pretty stumped about what to do.  I didn’t have a membership anywhere, but the thing is, I didn’t need one.  That was freeing, comforting, but also a bit threatening.  There are shuls everywhere, and on Yom Kippur, all of Jerusalem stops in its tracks and pours into them.

I stayed over at friend’s house in the eclectic neighborhood in Nachlaot.  She knew that the service at the Inbal Hotel would have its doors open to all visitors, so we went there for Kol Nidre.  It was by far not the closest option, so during the walk over, I was able to appreciate the silent streets and all the other people, most of whom were dressed in white, off to their shul of choice.

The next morning and throughout the day was an adventure in finding a shul that matched my brand new Artscroll machzor.  In addition to struggling to bridge the discrepancy between my prayer book designed for a North American congregation, I was also trying to figure out what the prayers were saying, doing, and where the world the congregation was at, because it was my first time at an Orthodox minyan for the holiday.

I’ve had all sorts of various Yom Kippur adventures in the two years since then, and I just have to believe that despite the social pressure to find the “right” place to daven, I’ve been in the right place, where I needed to be, having the experience that I needed to have.

Despite all of the similarities between the prayer services at all of the Yom Kippur services I’ve been to here, it’s still striking how different the feel can be.  And that, I think, is why such an emphasis is placed on where to go.  We are a people who toil, squabble, and fuss over details.  The six books of the Talmud, expounded upon in 60 tractates of Gemara, and expounded upon in additional commentary, explore the how of Judaism.

Having coming from communities in the United States, where the choices of congregations were limited to one or two, or at best a few, not to mention the tremendous membership fees, I initially didn’t understand the scope of synagogues in Jerusalem.  To me, you picked a place, and you prayed!  But by visiting different synagogues on Shabbat throughout the year, I gradually began to feel that some places were less welcoming, some blasted in the heat in the winter, some places blew through the prayers so fast I nearly got whiplash, and some were longer than synagogues in the U.S. (I didn’t move here for that!), and I too was developing my list of shuls I don’t go to.

One of the things I appreciate about coming to Israel is giving up some of the luxury of choice.  I found something as simple as buying laundry detergent in the United States to be exhausting.  Instead, I gained the opportunity to choose from a variety of congregations in which to pray.

When overwhelmed by variety or pressure to find the “perfect” place, I think it’s important to remember that while pulling apart differences with a fine-tooth comb, there is a big picture.  No matter where I pray, I can start with:

מה טובו אוהליך יעקב, משכנותך ישראל – במדבר כ’ד, ה

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel. (Numbers: 24: 5)

This prayer, as part of the series of morning blessings, is a reference to “tents of learning and prayer”.  This “tent” can also be the Jewish home, by the way. This verse is the first sentence of a paragraph which expresses reverence for the synagogue, which takes the place of the Holy Temple.  The great thing about a tent, though, is that you can put it up yourself, or with the help of some friends, and you can take it wherever you may go.

May we be blessed with the ability to connect to God from our “tent”, wherever we may be.



Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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