Other than during college, I’ve only ever gone to synagogue with my parents, aunt and uncle and cousins on the High Holidays. When the holidays appeared early on the calendar, and the weather was nice, we’d drive to my aunt and uncle’s house and walk the rest of the way to services. There’s something about walking to synagogue for the High Holidays with family that makes for great conversation, bonding and reflection on the past year. More often than not, these walks were the best part of my holiday celebration.
But for the past few years, these walks just weren’t enough. While my family has stayed loyal to the Conservative temple I grew up at, I’ve begun shifting and identifying closer to Reform. Instead of leaving synagogue feeling spiritually rejuvenated each year, I left feeling unfulfilled and truth-be-told, unhappy.
So this year, I decided to do something about it and bought tickets to a Reform synagogue in the city with a friend.
Now this might not sound like a big deal to you, but in a close-knit family of very like-minded thinkers (when we argue about politics, we argue about who likes the same candidate more) who enjoy being with each other constantly, this was a very rebellious act. Probably, the most rebellious act I’ve ever committed in my life.
Side note: This is probably a bit of an exaggeration as I don’t really have that many rebellious acts to compare it too. Probably the only other act of rebellion I’ve ever committed was spending a summer in Europe and refusing to call my parents while I was there—of course, I did let them know I’d landed safely.
So for the first time ever, I visited a Reform synagogue for High Holiday services. I’d already been warned to expect some major differences: organ music, more English, a heavier focus on tikkun olam, shorter services where people show up from start to finish (this part I was most looking forward to) and a less participatory congregation. While I was ready for these, there were other changes I wasn’t prepared for: a soloist performing a song from a musical, a haftorah portion read in English and a prayer book that opened left to right.
This might seem obvious to most, but I also found that whether you are at a Reform or Conservative synagogue, some things remain the same: in the end all the same prayers were said (even if some were in English), Jews will always congregate and chat in the aisles while the Torah makes the rounds and you will always be standing more than you are sitting.
What I liked about my experiences at a Reform synagogue (and what I had been seeking out), was that feeling of inclusiveness that had been lacking at my childhood synagogue. From the wonderful female rabbi on the bimah, to the presence of the female matriarchs in the prayers, to a surprise sermon from the new Israeli consul general to the Midwest, and the frequent mentions of support for the Jewish LGBTQ and interfaith communities, this was a place of welcoming. I felt proud to be Jewish.
Not to say that everything was just peachy. I definitely missed the feeling of hundreds of Jewish people praying together out loud in Hebrew, but mostly I missed the feeling of my family sitting next to me praying.
I’m not sure if this particular Reform synagogue is the right fit for me or if I even truly fit under the Reform umbrella. But I plan to keep trying to find my place. I’ve been told by others who faced similar Jewish soul searching moments that I’ll never find the perfect fit for me and that’s ok. At least I’m trying. And I’m still holding out that I can get my family on board with the switch.
In the meantime, I’m going to continue shul shopping.