It has often been said that observing Jewish rituals and customs is impossible without having a community to support you. I believe that to be true more so now than ever before, considering I spent the majority of this summer without my New York community. This is why it seems odd to me that synagogue membership is rapidly declining yet camp attendance and independent minyanim are on the rise. It’s understandable why camp attendance continues to go up; this summer I spent a wonderful month working at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia. The community was fun, warm, and allows individuals to express themselves spiritually and socially in many different ways. But, isn’t that why camps were built? I don’t believe they were built only because parents needed a place to dump their children for a summer. I think camps were created because Jewish parents know that their kids will be able to flourish intellectually, socially, and spiritually at a Jewish camp. Why then are more people not trying to re-create the “camp” experience in the synagogue?
In my opinion, synagogues could offer the same opportunities for children and adults year round that camps offer children in the summer. In fact, many synagogues built in the 50’s contain gymnasiums and swimming pools because they were intended to be the “J.C.C” before there was a “J.C.C”. Synagogues were built to be the spiritual center of the community and they are designed to reflect the ideals and philosophies of the members of that community. Hence, what came first the chicken or the synagogue?
We must ask the question, were synagogues built to fulfill the spiritual needs of the community, or is the synagogue supposed to instill a sense of spirituality to the people of the community? I believe it is the responsibility of the people living within that community to create a supportive environment for fellow Jewish families. This is the fundamental role of the Jewish people, to support one another in all that we do. Jewish law requires 10 people for any individual to read Torah or recite Kaddish for loved ones that have passed on. Even reciting the blessings after eating should be done in the presence of at least 3 people.
The founders of the Jewish faith recognized something very basic about human beings: Every person needs a friend, and every family needs a support system. Synagogues are merely stone and brick, but people are the foundation of the Jewish religion. Therefore, people need to smarten up and utilize a great tool that has already been built for them. The synagogue has the potential to be the spiritual, social, and intellectual center of your Jewish community, but only if you allow it. Hence, what came first the chicken or the synagogue? It was the Chicken!