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.