My Dream Synagogue

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Here are things my dream Growth Oriented Shul would provide that normal shuls today do not:

  • Qiddush after leining, before mussaf, combined with a devar Torah or text learning. Our attention spans have shrunk. Rather than fight it, and ending up with people who come late, talk, walk out for Kiddush Club, we build the service around this limitation. It requires hitting the history books and finding out how the yeshivos in Lithuania did it when they broke for morning seder between leining and mussaf — there is ample halachic precedent.
  • Short vort before Barekhu on the meaning of the words of the upcoming davening. Have a new kavanah for some part of the siddur each week!
  • Chessed programming — something that involves some subset of the membership hands-on (not fundraising) in an at least weekly basis. Shuls provide both Torah and Avodah, why not be a full Judaism Center and provide opportunities for Gemilus Chassadim too? At least if the shul sponsors something, there is a different atmosphere about what a shul and Yahadus are.
  • Mussar Ve’adim — one for each gender, although given the Ahavas Yisrael Project‘s presence in Passaic, the men’s va’ad would be more critical. The idea isn’t just to have a chaburah in a mussar sefer, but to have a group that actually works together on their middos. (AishDas set up a few groups that meet weekly going through the ve’adim and doing the exercises in Alei Shur vol II.)
  • Along similar lines as the ve’adim — a Teshuvah Workshop with a wider audience every Elul. Speakers giving actual techniques for change. Rather than being all motivated and well intended, if we’re having a good year, on Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, but not having a strategy to actually get anywhere. (And then we wonder why our list of things to fix is the same year after year…)
  • The membership agreement would include an ethics and dina demalkhusa clauses. In the “Shomerei Shabbos” type shuls of 70 years ago, those who were fighting upstream to retain their Shabbos observance created a supporting atmosphere by creating synagogues in in which only shomerei Shabbos could retain full membership in the shul. We need something similar to shore up what’s weak in today’s observance.

    This is largely unenforceable, as we’re not going to have accountants check people’s books. But it combines with the chessed programming and the ve’adim. I realize both of those programs would in the real world be limited in population; but to the majority of the membership, they make a statement. There is secondary involvement — helping out once, donating money, just reading about it in the shul email — that make an impact on everyone, they set a culture. As would knowing this is in the by-laws / membership agreement.

And your thoughts...?

  1. Would you have said the same of Aish Kodesh? Or is their something about my more Tenuas haMussar oriented idea of a Growth Oriented Shul that would be particularly unpopular.

    In any case… I would prefer the right peer group over popularity. As long as we are big enough to raise the money to cover the bills and reliably have a minyan.

    • Actually, the requirements aren’t all that high. It has to be someone who would like to think they’re more interested in growth, but not necessarily someone who is driven enough by the idea to actually invest effort.

      And I think Aish Kodesh in Woodmere or West Side Institutional prove the basic point that enough people feel a spiritual thirst that there are many areas where I shul like mine might get enough people to operate.

      I agree it wouldn’t be the most popular shul in town, but then, shuls aren’t for profit. The point is to provide religious services, not to be popular or bring in the most money. A shul should really should only be concerned with being lucrative enough to stay open.

      Looking at my bullet items in order:

      Shabbos/YT morning service changes:
      The qiddush wouldn’t add time to one’s Shabbos morning commitment, and if your shul already has a pre-mussaf derashah and post-mussaf qiddush, it would be shorter. And in any case, it is an easier morning for someone with a 21st cent attention span to have a 7th inning stretch, not harder. On the other hand, I then add about 10 min to Shacharis. But that’s within normal week-to-week variation.

      Chessed & Middah programming:
      The shul would have a group that does chessed as a shul function, and offer a va’ad or two and a Teshuvah workship. But there is no obligation to participate. It would be like saying that adding a shiur that 3 people attend every Wed evening would dissuade people from davening in that shul.

      Membership agreement:
      The only real added requirement is agreeing to follow halakhah (including dina demalkhusa) in fiscal matters. But as pointed out in my blog post, I am under no illusion that it is actually enforceable in all but the most egregious situations.