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Doing Jewish — at shul

The shareholders of Judaism focus on the synagogue, Jewish education, kashrut -- and the earthly pressure of funding it all

I was unsurprisingly late for shul. And because I was rushing, I was caught behind two senior members of the congregation who were front of me on the makeshift path that led towards the entrance. The ladies were deep in conversation and there was little chance that I could manoeuvre around what seemed to be the latest models of titanium (or maybe graphite) walkers that they were sporting.

They were “tut-tutting” as they ambled and gestured towards the construction that had caused the need for the temporary path-way. “No progress since last week!” said the one shaking her head, clearly unimpressed. The other, agreeing with her said, “It’s quite remarkable. The builders must be paid by the hour.”

The background to this non event is that the synagogue is remodelling the area where it holds the Kiddush each week. There is no danger that either of these seniors were either funding the project, being asked to manage it, or were participating as bricklayers. Their involvement will more than likely be limited to attending the Kiddush where they will note of horror the poor behaviour of the children, the unacceptable quality of the herring and that sushi is a waste of community funds.

“It’s no wonder”, they will opine in a few weeks whilst basking in the sun and enjoying the new piazza, that shul fees (which they most likely don’t pay) are so expensive.

The reality is such. Shuls don’t have members, they have shareholders. Active ones. And whereas they might never actually pay for the shares, their expectations are massive.

In a quest to understand the challenges of managing a Shul “Company’s” shareholders, I asked our community chairman to name one thing he never hears from members.

He didn’t pause to breath before answering;

“Thank you! I never hear that.” Then he did (pause). And he said, “Or maybe it’s, How did you get the seating so right for yom tov?”

I could see he was about to launch into a list of other other unheard comments like;

“Wow, the air-con and shul temperature was so pleasant this year!”

But his voice had gone up an octave and he was clearly becoming hysterical. So I left before he broke down and sobbed from the overwhelming pressure of it all. I do feel a bit guilty about opening him up emotionally and then leaving him in the lurch.

I was going to ask the rabbi the same question. But I already knew what his answer would be;

“Things I never hear? Well that would be that the sermon was the perfect length, it was easy to hear you over my talking, and of course, your rebbetzin is so involved it is truly wonderful to see.”

He might even have ended with:

“It’s fantastic that you knew I had a head-cold and that you called me to find out how I was even though I passively-aggressively didn’t mention it because I wanted to test your love for me.”

The treasurer’s answer was exactly as I would have imagined;

“Where do I pay?”


“I can’t believe that I get such good value for money from my shul membership. You provide daily services, employ spiritual leaders, youth leaders, cleaning staff, you feed us at the Kiddush, provide goodies for our children, you invite guest speakers and make sure that the siddurim and facilities in the shul are well functioning. What is amazing is that most of you are volunteers. Gosh — we should be paying double!”

So here is the thing; I know that the “Anonymous Father” who wrote a blog for Times of Israel can “Do Jewish” on less than he was doing already doing Jewish. And whereas there was a decent amount in the piece that could be challenged, the article hit a real nerve. Not just for me, but for many Jews around the world. Those who prioritize Jewish education for their children, who want to keep kosher and who value being part of a community all are faced with the earthly pressure of funding it. The article touched a pressure point that is a painful one for most, and it’s no surprise that the global community responded accordingly.

What is important to note is that the same people who own the kosher supermarkets, who run the schools and who are employed at the Jewish day schools, largely face the same challenges as we all do. The same butchers who charge for the kosher meat that we complain about might well take issue with the cost of tuition.

As do those who run our shuls.

And whereas the “cost of being Jewish” is a subject that needs to be ventilated, we do need to be mindful of the fact that most within this ecosystem want nothing more than that which we all do.

The High Holidays are no joke. Not for the rabbi, not for his wife and not for the committee of the shul. It’s rough out there. Perhaps for the next few weeks at least we could try and cut them some slack, complain only half the amount that we normally do and try to understand that the construction site, like our titanium (or maybe graphite) walkers, won’t last forever.

About the Author
Howard Feldman is a lawyer, a physical commodity trader by industry and a writer by obsession. He is very active in the Jewish community and passionate about our world.
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