Thursday, October 30, 2008


STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) is an organization dedicated to working with synagogues to find new ways to fulfill our visions as congregations. One of their (most successful) initiatives is called Synaplex - the name is cross between "Synagogue" and "Multiplex."

The idea is simple - on Shabbat, offer a wide range of activities. Prayer is certainly part the day, but, alternative activities can be, too. Everything from the expected (Torah study) to the experimental (Jewish meditation) to some radically "out of the box" idea is possible. Some synagogues do this weekly, some dedicate an occasional (often monthly) Shabbat to be their "Synaplex Shabbat." The thinking goes that one-size doesn't fit all, especially in religion. By offering a wide range of activities, it allows a community to come together on Shabbat, but still gives room for people to observe Shabbat in a way which best suits them.

Some synagogues have a fully communal component (e.g. everyone prays - perhaps in a shortened service) before other activities begin. Some allow for multiple activities to be going on throughout the day. But, all of the Synaplex congregations are dedicated to finding new expressions for Shabbat, and new ways to draw members in the synagogue.

There's a lot more details at their website, and I encourage you to check it out. But, based on what you read there, or what I've already told you, I'd love to hear your thoughts: do you like this idea? Do you think it could work here at CBA? Do you have any reservations about it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Shopping on Shabbat

On one of my Rabbinic e-lists, I recently read a post from a colleague with an interesting problem. His Social Committee wants to have a New York City Shopping Day (bus trip into the city, followed by a day primarily focused on shopping), and because of logistics, they insist that it be on Shabbat.

The Rabbi was writing to ask us how we would respond to that. I wrote a response, but I'm interested to hear what all of you think, too. I'll post my response here in a little bit, but I wanted to wait to give others a chance, first.

So - comment away. If you were that Rabbi, what would you do?

Friday, October 24, 2008

And the Task Force is off...

I really need to get in the swing of things with blogging - I keep waiting to have enough time to write a good entry, but I never seem to have the time I need! I think that the trick is to just do it - no more excuses!

Anyway, our Task Force had our first Shabbat together last week, and it was (to me, and to others I heard from) a great start. Services were lovely, and the learning/discussion afterwards was top-notch.

As a Rabbi, I've studied Shabbat more than a little, and I'm pretty familiar with the "core" texts about Shabbat, especially the ones which come from the Torah. But, this time, we tried to look at those texts in-and-of-themselves - without seeing them through the lens of 2000 years of Rabbinic interpretation. It was a mini-revelation, to be honest.

The Shabbat that our ancestors lived was very different from ours - the Torah focusses almost exclusively on the "thou shall nots" of Shabbat, and talks very little, if at all, about what to do. Nothing about prayer, nothing about spirituality, nothing about reflection, or time for ourselves. Just restrictions on our actions.

I wonder what it was like in practice. Did our ancestors see Shabbat as a restrictive, even unpleasant day? One which they had to observe, but didn't like to? Or, was it more peaceful and pastoral? Did they like the chance to sit in or near their homes, doing nothing of substance, or did they find it boring?

Maybe more importantly, how would we feel about that? Would we like an occasional day (as often as once a week?) when we are to do nothing but just be? Hang out, relax, chat, eat a bit. No TV, no phones, no work, no travel. I have to admit - with two young kids, that kind of day sounds like heaven to me. Although, I'm not 100% sure I could handle it weekly, just like that. How does it sound to you?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Success without Numbers

We often equate the "success" of an event with the number of people who show up - I'm certainly guilty of this myself. But, a few recent Shabbat experiences have reminded me that, even without a large turnout, Shabbat services (as well as plenty of other events) can be a wonderful, successful experience. Let me tell you about one of them.

Recently, we had a 9:00 Torah Study Shabbat. At the study, we only had 4 people show up, which was clearly fewer than I'd want! But, we had a good laugh about the ratio of food to people, loaded our plates up with bagels and lox, chatted warmly for a bit, and then got down to studying that week's portion.

And, I have to tell you, the study was lovely - reading about Moses' last days, we had a wide-ranging discussion about leadership, old-age, passing the torch and so much more. It was intellectually stimulating, as well as emotionally touching (I'm speaking for myself, but I think that others there would agree). I remember thinking "this is what Torah study should be - making the text come alive as something relevant and moving for us."

We had a few more people show up for the service at 10:30, and the weather was so nice that we grabbed some folding chairs and headed over to the lawn for services. We made a circle under the shade of the big tree by the Hillel library, and just prayed - no formality, very little "choreography." Just a group of people working their way through the siddur with sincerity, a vague ability to stay in tune and a great deal of happiness.

Don't get me wrong - I love big crowds, and when I think we're going to get one, I care very much about making sure that the arrangements are all right, and everything goes smoothly. But, there is something to be said for a group of people, coming together on a Saturday morning, to do their best to create a sense of kedusha (holiness) among them. I'm still a little sad that more people weren't there to share the experience, but I know that there will be many such Shabbatot in our future. In the mean time, I'm thankful for the one we had.