Elicia Brown, in her Sept. 14 column, “Free Range Jew,” recounts her adventures as she takes her family from synagogue to synagogue during the High Holy Days rather than commit to attending one synagogue and missing out on an adventure.
Brown admits that she is not a regular attendee at synagogue and apparently sees little reason to find one place to call her spiritual home, at least at this stage in her family life. She has a congregation where she has paid her membership but the idea of “belonging” seems to her as a vestige of a past century.
I will be in a synagogue, however, during the High Holy Days, just one synagogue, because that is the best place I know to get the most out of this season of the year.
I don’t feel that Brown “stiffed” five synagogues on the holidays. I think that she has cheated herself and her family too. These Days of Awe are (contrary to popular opinion) not about showing up in shul. Rosh HaShanah is about reflecting on the passing of time, how we have wasted it and how we can do better in the year ahead. Yom Kippur is not about a big sermon but rather about looking at our lives and making amends for the damage we have left behind. This is the season when we look in our prayer books and we don’t just read the words; we use them as if they were a mirror, reflecting back to us how we look compared to the ideals that they promote.
Can you do this in an unfamiliar synagogue? Maybe. Can you do this if you are changing synagogues several times a day? Unlikely.
In the end, I think that Brown did not “cheat on rabbis” as she claims. She has cheated herself.
Synagogues are open 365 days a year. On these days at the beginning of the year, we need to find a spot in just one of them so we can find what we are really searching for. Or as we rabbis like to say: maybe if we stop all our running, what we seek will finally be able to catch up with us from behind.
Boynton Beach, Fla.
Editor’s Note: For the full text of this response, see Opinions on our website.
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