For some people it takes five minutes. For others, it might take almost an hour, yet we all have the same thing in common, we are all shul walkers. Regardless of your opinion on the halachic aspect of driving to synagogue on Shabbat, walking to synagogue is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t matter if you live in a town with very few Jews, or if you are living in one of the Jewish epicenters of the world. Both have their own special beauties and are enjoyable in their own ways.
For those who walk 2-3 miles or even more every Shabbat, my respect for them is very high. It does not matter if you walk to the only synagogue in town, or if you pass by multiple synagogues on your walk to your preferred one. First of all, walking for 30 minutes+ is a good way to stay physically sound. What is more important is that it’s a great way to build relationships. Whether you walk to shul with your child, spouse, sibling or friend it helps relationships grow in positive ways. Spending some quality time with someone close to you without having to worry about them checking their cellphone or being easily distracted really helps you get closer to them. You can discuss how each of your weeks were, what you are most looking forward to during the next week or best of all, something Torah related! If you spend that much time walking to the closest or only shul in your town it shows how dedicated you are to being part of a full service in a shul. If you bypass other synagogues to walk that far to shul, it shows how dedicated you are to that specific synagogue, which should lead other people there to appreciate you being there even more.
My last one and a half years of college, I had an approximately 3 mile walk to the only shul in the entire city. Most of the time, I would do the walks with at least one of my friends and it was really a great time to talk and enjoy one another’s company. Also when you have such a long walk you are more than likely going to pass by other Jews, giving you an opportunity to wish them a Shabbat Shalom and invite them to go with you to synagogue in the future.
I have also experienced living in neighborhoods with choices of what shul to go to and it is a great experience as well. Last year I lived in one of the highest concentrated Jewish areas in Los Angeles. My walk to shul was literally less than a couple of minutes. I could see the synagogue from my bedroom and vice versa. While my walk to shul was short, I did a lot of walking to other people’s homes in the area. It is impossible to walk one block in that neighborhood without seeing dozens of other Jews walking around and it is a great feeling getting to say Shabbat Shalom to each Jew that you walk by.
I currently am living about 1 mile from the closest shul, which takes between 15-20 minutes to walk, depending on how slow I am walking. If I end up walking to shul by myself I set this time as a time to reflect on how the past week has been and to relax my thoughts. I am in a state of peace even with cars speeding by me at 50 miles per hour. If I am walking with a family member, or join up with a fellow shul goer, I spend that time building a closer relationship and discussing matters ranging from sports and politics to Torah and Judaism today.
While Shabbat in entirety is a great time to separate yourself from the modern world and truly live in the moment, one of the best times to do this is walking to and from shul. Whether if it is just on Saturday morning, or if it is also on Friday and Saturday afternoons/nights, these walks really give you a time of the week to just stop and reflect. I would suggest, if possible, everyone try it. If there is a family member or friend with whom you would like to get closer to, a simple walk to synagogue is a great way to enhance that beautiful relationship.