To encourage a strong synagogue life, hit the books – together

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I have seen many attempts to “rejuvenate synagogue life” in my 20 years as a rabbi. Recent articles on the subject have suggested “thinking like an entrepreneur” and using new digital platforms to reach the faithful.

But personally, I have always found the answer at hand, in our tradition and our texts.

I find that when we give people the opportunity to form a deeper connection with Judaism, they take hold of it.

Follow Jewish adult education.

For far too many of us, Jewish education ends in adolescence. Exactly in the age of intellectual maturity, when we are able to explore and understand the most complex, beautiful, and noble parts of our tradition, we often disengage. At Park Avenue Synagogue, we’ve been using the world-class Melton program for over a decade, taking hundreds of devotees on a journey to the source of our heritage.

And here is the part that every rabbi in America wants to hear: We have seen time and again that after engaging in high level learning in a community, students become more involved members of the synagogue, and in many cases, assume leadership roles. Our adult learning manager is a Melton graduate, as are the members of our executive and travel committees.

Giving people access to a community in which to explore ideas binds them to that community. It’s not just about learning about Shabbat or what happened to the Jews who left Spain in the 15th century; it’s making friendships in class and going out for lunch, signing up for trips together, and volunteering to sit on committees together.

Today, as we are increasingly polarized as a nation and as a people, the ability to engage in civil discourse is more important than ever. The Talmud provides a model for this: the ethics of disagreement, for exploring divergent points of view with respect. Thus, learning together is also a workshop for getting out of our echo chambers and talking to each other in a substantial way.

Ten years ago, David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University, wrote that higher education is the gateway to a more tolerant world – that “the most ambitious means of connecting societies across the world. world goes through education “.

It is the same at the microcosmic level.

We started out with a small cohort of learners and now hundreds of Melton graduates in our congregation are signing up for our conferences and opportunities to visit places of Jewish interest. It powers our travel program like nothing else.

The community study revives the notion of “democracy of the townships” that de Tocqueville so admired in American society. When we learn together, we practice communication, conviviality, reason, collaboration, consensus.

Ki karov elecha hadavar meod (It’s within your reach) – tells us Deuteronomy. Tapping into our power as People of the Book is all we need to do, if we’re doing it together.

At Park Avenue Synagogue, Jewish learning classes for adults have had a domino effect, providing our members with the literacy, tools and understanding needed to be Jews more deeply connected and, by extension, more deeply connected to their own. synagogue.

The writer is a rabbi at the Park Avenue synagogue and lives in New York.


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