I own several books on converting to Judaism, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with dozens of different rabbis, not to mention that nearly all of my friends are Jewish. I have a veritable encyclopedia of Jewish folks in my life and they all have opinions about shuls. One of the things I love about chatting with Jews is the throwing around of opinions. Sometimes these discussions look, feel and sound like friendly banter. At other times these discussions look, feel and sound like an all-out verbal war. It’s one of the things I love about Jews. There is no better discussion, war or banter, than the discussion about shuls.
The majority of these conversations go a bit like this, “You don’t have a synagogue yet? Come to mine, you’ll love it!” Whenever someone tells me that they love their synagogue and insist I have to check it out-I check it out. It may seem strange that I’m three months away from conversion and don’t have a home synagogue yet. I will admit that it is quite strange and incredibly daunting. I will join the Jewish people and have my conversion ceremony before Rosh Hashanah. In that time I need to find a synagogue to call my own. As it turns out, I love the rabbis that have been my teachers and mentors. They do amazing work and they’ve been nothing short of amazing. If I were to fast-forward my life to marriage and babies the synagogue these rabbis work in would be Synagogue Heaven. I’m 31 years old, but a few years away from the gay chuppah. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing shul-it’s just missing a lot of the necessities on my Shul Shopping List.
-Close to/relatively close to home or close to a subway line that is close to home
-A feeling of welcome and openness
-Diversity and Inclusiveness
-Real Outreach and involvement in the community
-Active and Vibrant community
-Spiritually challenging and inspiring
-A sense of awe and wonder about Judaism
-Young Adults (20s-30s) Actively Engaged in Synagogue Life
-Worship that is participatory rather than observatory
-Inspirational music I can sing to
-etc., etc., etc.
It’s a tough list, I’ll be the first to admit. A lot of people have told me that I shouldn’t expect to find everything I want in a synagogue and everything on this list in one place. I’m a stubborn person, I intend to find it. Since I published this list on my website I’ve received several invitations to visit synagogues. I haven’t been disappointed yet. I find that when people are really jazzed about their synagogues it shines through and the synagogue delivers.
Last week I visited a synagogue on the Upper West Side(which doesn’t fulfil item #1 on my list) and was sincerely shocked that I was in a synagogue. Having spent years in Baptist churches I was almost floored that this conservative synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side would break out into a hora during L’cha Dodi. Even more floored that there were a dozen black faces present not including my own. This synagogue is not in my neighborhood, in fact it is a 45 minute subway ride and 20 minute walk from where I’m at in Brooklyn. You can’t judge a synagogue from one visit, I like to do at least 3 visits at one synagogue to make sure I’m judging it correctly. The fact of the matter is, synagogues, like people, change over time. It’s helpful to have a list, though. One synagogue down and hundreds more in NYC. Oy vey!