Why not rent a Rabbi?

We live in a time where we can hire the services of anyone or anything we need to fill a gap. Instead of investing in synagogue dues, we have the ability to just rent a Rabbi for our weddings or even our funerals.

In order to raise our children and live with values that respect the importance of the needs of others, we have to make a commitment to a community. It is near impossible to go to services twice a year and ignore all other activities and yet still maintain a strong sense of Jewish community worth. Our ability to understand our heritage requires the responsibility of acknowledging that we belong to something greater than ourselves.

The problem of declining synagogue membership is fuelled by outdated models where the never-ending cycle of repetition does not offer enough creativity, flexibility or inspiration. How do we show the relevance of community life in a world where increasing numbers of families simply opt out due to lack of interest.

We all know that without growth and movement, we become stagnant and sterile and it is up to us to find a way to re-imagine our communities and teach them to show their worth. A community synagogue is a jack of all trades. It is there at the most important times of our lives, to celebrate a birth, bar mitzvah, wedding, death. The random committees that want you to volunteer your time become relevant when you are sick and the “chicken-soup group” bring your family food. The Religious School is there for our children reinforcing the Judaism they learn at home and helping prepare them for their Bnai Mitzvah. The support systems in place in our synagogues, are never more visible than when we need them.

Synagogue life is changing. People striving for more are learning how our Jewish values are not outdated.  Interpretation of our traditional prayers to show their relevance to modern day life allows us a form of meditation in a world where we are bombarded with constant noise, demands and chaos.

Belonging to a community regardless of the level of observance, fills a gaping need in our lives. We can call it a temple, synagogue or shul but it doesn’t really matter. To gain this sense of belonging, we join a house of worship. Traditionally it was because it’s what our parents did, or maybe, because we need to have membership in order to belong to the burial fund. The reasons we used to join are prosaic, nowadays we are looking for a reasons not to abandon the tradition of membership.

As the disparity in wealth becomes more blatant, living in a bubble of self-importance and irrelevance is becoming less appealing. People are seeking out meaningful social action projects that engage us with changing the world around us. Working with others, for the benefit of others, we can find meaning, and practice our Judaism in exciting ways. Repairing the world as a community  through the strength of numbers is a spiritual and empowering experience.

Synagogues fill three distinct roles in our lives, a place of prayer, a place of gathering and a place of learning. And along with all other memberships we may have, the more you use it, the more valuable an investment it becomes. Our temples, once thought of primarily as a place of prayer, are now showing creativity in their teaching. To learn and live Jewish values every day is to enhance one’s life.

Congregational life allows us to strengthen our High Holy Days prayers and celebrations, with adult education and Torah study. Offering family activities and outings, book clubs, visiting scholars and many other options, we gain from our traditional activities some of which are re-imagined as inspiration for our children. Sleepover in the sukkah, Havdalah by candlelight, Shabbat in the park.

With the new take on spirituality and its individual relevance, communities are seeking to engage with us. Prayer is both a personal and communal activity. Most of our official prayers use the term “we” and that alone shows how important the community is in Judaism. We belong to something greater than our individual families, we are motivated by the need to connect to others. We are praying not just for ourselves but for the good and welfare of the community as a whole, along with the wider world.

As a place of gathering, our temples serve as “community centers” with family events, communal holidays, celebrations, and weekly activities. This focal point for Jewish social interaction brings us together, to further strengthen our roots and traditions, functioning as a place to socialize and experience a sense of commonality.

We are “the people of the book”, study and education have always been fundamental values in Judaism. Our Jewish ethics stand up well to the demands and immediacy of modern society. This backdrop to our history and traditions encourages us to pass our heritage on to our children. Creative multi-generational programming has brought our Jewish learning into the 21st century.  Family programs show their relevance to our modern lives.

Joining a community is one of the most powerful actions we can take for the continuity of our culture and the future of our faith. By making your temple a home from home, you are teaching your children that belonging to a synagogue, is an integral part of who they are. In a time of social irrelevance, Jewish community values help guide our future generations towards meaning in their own lives.

About the Author
Abi Taylor-Abt is an outstanding Jewish Educator and Curriculum Developer who has worked in the field of Jewish Primary and Secondary Educational Curriculum Development for over twenty years. She is the author of Lessons in Jewish Learning - a grab and go curriculum for communities and Jewish schools. Originally from London, Abi spent time living in Israel, South Africa, England and the United States. After working in Boise, Idaho, Abi spent 5 years in Israel for the second time whilst her children served in the army. She is currently Director of Education for Yachad a combined educational endeavour between the conservative congregation of Beth Shalom and the reform community of Temple Emanu-El in Michigan, USA. A 2018 recipient of the Klein/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Abi is also awaiting the video version of her recent ELI Talk Detroit Speaker Fellowship.