I invited a former synagogue member – a wonderful and very pleasant person – to rejoin the synagogue after a few years away. She said she had thought about it and wondered, “How would being a member make my life better or different?”
I thought about her question a lot, and even as a congregational rabbi, I admit that I struggled. Eventually, my answer was along these lines: It depends on what you mean by “better.”
If you mean physically healthier, it won’t. Join a gym.
If you mean more physically beautiful, it won’t. Go to Nordstrom’s or a make-up artist.
If you mean richer, it won’t. Get a higher-paying job.
If you mean more mentally stable, it won’t. Go to a therapist.
If you mean more knowledgeable, it won’t. Take a class at your local community college.
The list goes on: If you mean ____, then go ____.
But here’s what joining a synagogue will do.
Being part of a synagogue allows you to be part of a larger community – of your people.
Being part of a synagogue means promulgating values that you and your tradition hold dear.
Being part of a community is like ensuring that your room is still there even after you go away to college. You can always come home. And even if you don’t show up, we are still here.
Being part of a community teaches future generations that being a Jew matters, even if you aren’t a power user of the synagogue at the moment.
Being part of a community means that there will always be High Holidays services for you and the community.
It means that you always have a place to turn when you are in need.
It means that there is always Torah in your community
It means that you have a spiritual home.
It means that your values are played out through social justice
It means that you have a place to go to sing Mi Shebeirach when you or someone you know is in pain.
It means that Israel has an advocate in the community.
It means that you take responsibility for the next generation, like the previous one did for yours.
It’s not about money, because everyone can join regardless of wealth or lack thereof. It’s about demonstrating a commitment to community.
We live in a world that speaks of consumer values: “What do I get if I pay?” Judaism is a people/religion/nation/culture/ethnicity/more that transcends that question, asking instead, “What will being part of a community do for our world, for all people, for our people, for our community?” That’s how I think, and it’s how I want my children to think.
If this is how you want to think, come home – and if not, well, home will still be here for you if you ever decide you do want to come home.
(Oh, and one last thing: Judaism, synagogue, and community can make you feel more beautiful because you feel better about yourself when you are spiritually centered. You will feel richer because you will have enriched your life and those of others. You will feel smarter because you will be able to partake in 5,000 years of Jewish knowledge. You will be more mentally stable because you will have adjusted the balance of the mind, body, spirit. Of course, all this presupposes that not only do you join, but you also come and connect.)
So that’s my answer. The shofar’s in your court.