Home March 2023 Letters- "A Response to What My Synagogue Means to Me"

Letters- “A Response to What My Synagogue Means to Me”

The journey to find your spiritual home.

    I read with interest the letter from Ruth Anne Koenick in your February edition, subtitled “Finding your spiritual home.” I sincerely hope that the readers of your publication found theirs.  My attempt to find a synagogue in Central New Jersey over 35 years ago was very difficult due to circumstances that I would like to relate.  Perhaps it will encourage changes to those synagogues whose recruitment practices still reflect my experience (which was similar when I came to Las Vegas eight years ago).

After moving to Old Bridge as newlyweds (by Route 9 and Old Mill Road), my wife and I began to research and inquire about membership at various synagogues. It was not an easy task since there were over a dozen or so within a 15-minute drive between Perth Amboy and Marlboro. Although I had been brought up “old time” Conservative, we did not rule out Orthodox or Reform shuls in our search to find a “spiritual home” where we could become part of connected community.

There were a number of commonalities that became clear as we attended services: Everyone we spoke to at EVERY place we went claimed to have “a warm and welcoming congregation” —but that turned out not to be the case!  We were invited back for Shabbat lunch by families at two Orthodox shuls – but not at others when saying we had driven there. At every Reform and Conservative synagogue where we asked to be put on their mailing list to receive their monthly bulletins or information, only two agreed!  The others either did not print a monthly bulletin or stated “Our mailings about events are only sent to members.” After only attending one service, how were we expected to know if their synagogue was the place we wanted to join without more information? I guess their dues were not high enough to support the cost of mailings to non members.

Perhaps my experience was different than most since I did not automatically join the synagogue closest to me in distance or culturally similar to the one in which I grew up.  We actually joined one that had the softest cushions to sit on since my wife had become pregnant and we wanted to become members before the birth of our first child—which was a terrible way to make a decision, but it turned out to be a good one.  In the words of Ms. Koenick, “I wish for all our young Jewish families to find the comfort of being part of a synagogue that I have found.” I also wish that synagogue leadership will not assume that someone attending a service for the first time will automatically assume they will be joining just because they happened to attend that day.

Respectfully, Bruce A. Kesselman


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