Metro Views: Three days a year

Metro Views Three days

bored jews synagogue 248 88 (photo credit: )
bored jews synagogue 248 88
(photo credit: )
My Conservative shul, like many others, has a core group of lovely people who show up every Shabbat, participate in Torah study and stay for a Kiddush luncheon. People know each other, their family histories, pet tales, job woes, home-repair horror stories - the kinds of things that haimish people know about people they see and schmooze with each week. My shul - in Cliffside Park, New Jersey - is like many other Conservative and Reform synagogues around the US. It was crowded for a good part of the High Holy Days. I recognized a lot of people and was happy to see them, but although I am the rebbetzin, I don't know the majority of them. These are the people who are pejoratively known as the "three-day-a-year Jews," the ones who come for part of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur because they feel obliged. They are easy to spot. They look embarrassed, bored. The liturgy is foreign to them - and not only because it is in a different language. They don't know the prayers, the tunes, and probably cannot name the people sitting in front of them. They don't know the rhythm of the service, so they tend to check their watches without a clue about when the endless services will conclude, or tend to leave the sanctuary at some of the more inappropriate times. Many rabbis, including ours, have offered classes on "synagogue skills" and a guide to the holidays to help these occasional worshipers prepare and become comfortable. Most classes were cancelled for lack of interest, or because the people who signed up were the very ones who had no need to; they were the Shabbat morning regulars. Why people are willing to show up for three days of boredom is beyond me. How can this strange and mind-numbing experience possibly feel spiritual? If anything, it is more likely to seem rather menacing. Prayers (in English translations) speak about judgment, the seal on the book of life, who shall live and who shall die. Yikes. If this is your sole experience with synagogue, how can you sit through all this doom and gloom and come back for more the following year? THIS YEAR I did something radical. I sat next to a lovely 30-year-old woman whom I have known superficially for nearly 20 years, and whom I see in shul each year, during at least one of the three days. She seemed relieved at my presence - a familiar face to break the stultifying monotony of the morning. "I am glad to see you and glad you came to shul," I told her. "But please don't come on these three days. Come on a Shabbat. Come for Tu Bishvat. Come for Purim. Come on three days that will be interesting, fun, much shorter, give us the chance to speak, give you the opportunity to learn to be comfortable among us." For all who still come three days a year, we are sorry that you are bored, that we are merely passing acquaintances who do not sing with you, or enjoy a pleasant meal with you. We know there is every likelihood that your discomfort ultimately will override any sense of Jewish obligation, and the holidays will not draw (or drag) you to shul. The rabbis will not be happy to hear someone suggest that Jews skip services on the haggim. But sooner or later, these Jews will skip more than the haggim; they will skip Judaism itself. They will be lost to us, and we will be lost to them. Before that happens, we should encourage them to give us another chance. If they are only going to come three days a year, pick any three different days to join us. May we all have a new year whose sweetness is based on respect for each other.