Every so often it is important to lighten up and take in some well written humor. Lou has met the test in spades…Enjoy…David A. Noebel
Many know the old joke about the Jew stranded on a desert island. When he is finally discovered after many years, his rescuers find that he has constructed two synagogues. “One, I go to. The other? The other I would never set foot in.” Such is the attitude of most American Jews. They don’t know what they are missing.
In our little shtetl of Squirrel Hill in the eastern part of Pittsburgh, my family has the opposite situation. There are about 10 synagogues in our neighborhood—and we belong to four of them. Not only that: We set foot in all of them, even those to which we don’t belong.
Why pay for multiple synagogue memberships? One has a fabulous musical Friday night service, while another finishes early but still includes an inspiring Torah commentary. One is a kind of co-op with no rabbi and run by the congregants. Yet another has a super thumbprint cookie as part of its postservice repast.
The total tab for the memberships isn’t as onerous as might be expected: The reduced rate for an affiliate member—and who doesn’t love a deal?—is usually somewhere between $180 and $360 a year. My mother likes to joke that we are like social members at a country club where we can pray but we can’t golf.
One of the best perks is that if I decide to have a lazy Saturday morning and skip synagogue, each rabbi assumes that I’m at one of the other synagogues.
The truth is that there are things about every denomination of Judaism that I like and want to support.
Reform services eliminate much repetition, incorporate more English and use instruments, all of which make for a most moving prayer experience. Orthodox services usually have Torah commentaries that delve a bit deeper as the congregation is more Jewishly literate. The Lubavitcher service starts blessedly late at 10 a.m. and features a singing psychiatrist offering the weekly Torah commentary. Conservative services are a bit less formal, allowing me to sit with my daughters and to chat occasionally with other congregants during the service. Some are there to talk to God; I’m there to talk to Finkelstein.
I have friends at each shul—I’m happy to see them, but not every week, which also puts off the day when they finally get sick of my stories. When my political conservatism comes out during informal discussions after services, the reactions range from agreement at the Orthodox synagogue to stupefied curiosity at my Reform Congregation.
The multiple memberships were helpful when I once gave a weekly commentary at a synagogue that the rabbi found too controversial. I spoke about the false gods of many Jews, among them the Democratic Party platform. He insisted that synagogue wasn’t the place for contentious topics, and that there were other synagogue options for those that wanted to relate that week’s Bible reading to what was currently going on in the world. No hard feelings; I still make occasional contributions to the shul where I was shown the door.
One of the joys of traveling is seeing how other people worship. On vacation my daughter and I visited a shul in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands that had sand on the floor to represent either the Israelite journey through the desert or a homage to the congregants’ Marrano Jewish ancestors who used sand to muffle the sounds of their secret prayer services during the Spanish Inquisition. They lived as Catholics publicly, but returned to their Judaism in their basements.
We happened to attend this Caribbean synagogue when the head of the women’s club was having an adult bat mitzvah. The highlight came during her speech, when she surveyed the crowd, appeared to do a mental calculation and announced: “Family hold back!” The lox was delicious, and the whole experience was so great—how could we not join for the off-island rate of $72 a year?
So if you are traveling to the ’burgh and looking for that special something from your synagogue experience: Ask and I’ll set you up. Just not during services. I’ll be busy talking to Finkelstein.
Mr. Weiss is a carpet salesman in Pittsburgh.