The biggest surprise in walking away from my synagogue has been how liberating the past few months have felt. I didn’t expect that. While Ryan and I have adjusted to Friday nights without the pomp and circumstance of a (Reform) Torah service, we’ve both realized how much we treasure connecting with our own yiddishkeit without judgmental limitations placed upon us by clergy, other congregants, or institutional myopia, all things we fought against at Emanuel Congregation.
Many times I was told the things I expected from a liberal synagogue were too much to ask. Baloney. Here are the things I think anyone has a right to expect from their synagogue–and the things we’ll expect from our next spiritual home. If you think they’re too much to ask from a synagogue, maybe you’re stuck at a shul that doesn’t measure up. In which case the real question is why are you sticking around?
Dying shuls suffering from emergency budgets, inadequate membership numbers, and outdated development strategies circle the wagons and shut people out who don’t march in lockstep with the status quo. Emanuel certainly did that to us. Let them spiral into oblivion if that’s what they want. But you, should you be a fellow Jew, deserve a shul that treats you with love, respect, and inclusiveness.
In fact, anyone of any faith deserves that of the place where they make their spiritual home.
The next liberal synagogue that gets our money, our time, our friendship and love, and our congregational loyalty will give back to us these things that we never found at our last one:
- The ability to have an actual relationship with our rabbi that is marked by fairness, friendship, respect, compassion, and love.
- The ability to seek guidance from our rabbi without unnecessary or gratuitous judgment, closed-mindedness, or criticism.
- A rabbi who allows all congregants to hold their own spiritual truths about the nature of God.
- A rabbi who respects the emotional aspects of Judaism, prayer, and liturgy, including emotionally and personally connecting with God.
- A rabbi who respects the beliefs of non-Jewish visitors at worship services and who would never stand on the bimah and tell them why their faiths are “wrong.”
- A rabbi who speaks form the bimah to congregants and fellow clergy with love, compassion, friendship, and fairness.
- Welcome and respect for Jews and Jewish families of all types, all colors, and all sexualities.
- Respect for Jews-by-choice, their right to define their own identities, and their key impact on Judaism both historically and in the present day.
- Holiday and educational programming throughout the year that consistently encompasses all types of Jews including most especially adult Jews, single Jews, and Jews without children.
- An honest and open board of directors that shares its minutes, decisions, and activities regularly and widely with all members of the congregation.
- A regularly updated and current website offering full and open information about the congregation.
- A timely e-newsletter with similarly comprehensive information and resources.
- A celebration of Shabbat and the worship service as central elements of congregational life.
- A requirement for board members to attend worship services and participate in the religious life of the community.
- Leadership that embraces innovative solutions and open-minded discussion, and that shuns leadership cliques and institutional secrecy.
- Leadership that understands throwing a member with a problem on a committee is not a problem-solving strategy.
- A congregation that understands they deserve all of these things.
- And a rabbi who actually believes in God wouldn’t hurt, either.
Because for $2,500 a year, you deserve a hell of a lot more than a ticket to High Holy Day services and a shitty oneg.
No, really, you do.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.