I read a blog post by a friend and very talented colleague of mine, Cyd Weissman, titled, “Surprisingly East to Quit My Synagogue” with disbelief. Perhaps I could have understood the response of her clergy if it was 2000 and not 2013. But while I try to be respectful of my fellow klei kodesh (clergy), their response to Cyd’s request is incomprehensible to me. And I say this as a former congregational rabbi who, already in the mid-1980s, was working in congregation that already had multiple happenings on Shabbat morning.
I’m only going to list three reasons why I find their response so baffling:
- In 2002 – 2003, the organization that I led at the time, STAR (Synagogues Transformation and Renewal), launched its Synaplex™ Initiative, thanks to the generosity and support of the Schusterman, Steinhardt and Samuel Bronfman Foundations. One of the goals of Synaplex™ was to create multiple programmatic entry points within the mission of the congregation so that people could express and explore their Jewish selves on their terms. While STAR is no longer in existence, the Synaplex™ Initiative, which we estimate was adopted in some form by well over 200 congregations (perhaps it was closer to 250), continues to exist in various iterations. These congregations are characterized by multiple, concurrent and diverse Jewish experiences during Shabbat that speak with relevance to individual interests.
- The clergy at Cyd’s congregation seem unconcerned about human development and growth. One of the ideas we stressed throughSynaplex™ was that regardless of where people are at a particular moment in time, they grow and develop from a psychosocial and spiritual perspective. If synagogues do not grow with their members, then their members will grow out of them, as Cyd’s situation makes clear.
- Finally, if we take the notion of being created in God’s image seriously, then clergy should not try to remake people in their image, but facilitate the process of people becoming their own authentic Jewish selves. I am not implying that synagogues should be a place where “anything goes.” In fact, knowing your mission is essential so that doesn’t happen. But what I am suggesting is that individuals have the right to find their own Godly image, and not have it imposed by others, regardless of title and position.
I hope that the leadership of the congregation will reconsider its stance. I am sure that their efforts where well intentioned, but their logic is flawed.