The Benefits of Membership


ryan hospital bed

UPDATE (3/26/18): In almost a decade and a half, I have never taken down a post on my blog and I won’t start now. I think it’s important to know where you’ve been if you want to really know where you’re going. But before you read this, I want you to know the anger and accusations in this long-ago post no longer reflect my current thoughts and feelings about Emanuel Congregation. Where there was anger, there is love and peace. It took me too long to get there. You really should read my teshuvah.


I do believe it says something fundamental about a congregation when a member of the membership committee decides not to renew their membership. Yet that’s my story as the traditional July 1st synagogue membership renewal date approaches. I wish I could say I hadn’t seen it coming.

But really, it’s been obvious for a long time for anyone paying attention. Which unfortunately doesn’t account for the leadership of my outgoing synagogue. I don’t think I need to make any finer point about the leadership and diversity problems at Emanuel Congregation. I covered that pretty well back in March and April (see This People and Impure.) The gist being that how the synagogue thinks it comes across and how it really comes across to rank-and-file members are two entirely different things–the latter being much less attractive than the former.

This is what’s relevant here. When I walked angrily out of Shabbat morning services three months ago, that really was the last time I set foot in the building. Ironically–or stereotypically–enough, the night I chanted Torah (my faux bar mitzvah) was the last time Ryan or I attended services there. We finally tired of the very well-known lousy attitude of Emanuel’s head rabbi and decided, like many congregants before us, that we’d had enough.

So after more than three-and-a-half years of regularly attending Friday night services and missing, at most, half a dozen Fridays in all that time, for the past three months, we’ve both been consistently absent. Not absent from a burgeoning and enormous regular crowd of worshipers, mind you, but absent from a weekly group of at most 20 people. So it isn’t as if our lack of attendance could possibly go unnoticed.

Neither the rabbi nor other leadership ever reached out to us.

Hold that thought and marry this to it. During our absence, about a month ago Ryan was rushed to the hospital via ambulance with chest pains (that we now know were due to a very stressful former work situation that he has now replaced with a new and awesome job.) I rushed up Lake Shore Drive from work as he panicked on the phone with me waiting for the paramedics to arrive. He sat in the hospital long enough for fellow congregants to visit us, and our Facebook walls were completely blown up with messages of concern from many others.

Neither the rabbi nor other leadership ever reached out to us.

This week, our membership renewal form arrived in the mail with accompanying literature telling us all of the ways that Emanuel would be a spiritual and congregational benefit to us as long as we continued to pay a couple of hundreds dollars a month for the privilege.

There are many things I could say here, but I think the above few paragraphs speak loudly enough for themselves. Although it’s worth noting that everyone deserves a synagogue–and a rabbi–that might actually notice if they lived or died. In the end, it’s clear all we ever were to Emanuel leadership was a budget item and nothing more.

You won’t be surprised to learn the renewal form went in the trash.

To new beginnings.

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What do you think?