Should I leave my synagogue?
It’s a question that has been weighing heavily on my mind. In the short term, I’m staying because my daughter Abby is very involved with the synagogue youth group, so I’m continuing my membership at least through her senior year of high school (which starts in a week). My son Eytan is a freshman in high school, but his connection to Judaism is much more tenuous. I could argue that keeping my membership maintains a pathway to Judaism for him. But what is my synagogue membership doing for me? And what am I doing to stay involved in my synagogue?
Abby and Eytan attended the synagogue preschool, went to Sunday school and Hebrew School, and became b’nai mitzvah all at our current synagogue. I was an active volunteer in the preschool and religious school and enrolled in several adult education classes which I thoroughly enjoyed. I met many of my current friends through my synagogue and it truly was my home.
The years that the kids became bar/bat mitzvah was a whirlwind of Shabbat services, parties, ushering for friends, and helping prepare Kiddush lunches. I felt like I was always doing something in the synagogue and I had a great time doing it. No regrets.
And then there was a subtle shift. I know I changed—a lot—due to a divorce and a relapse of a chronic illness. All of a sudden my stress levels went off the charts and my financial situation became very shaky. My friends were very supportive but the synagogue, as an institution, was much less so. Eytan’s bar mitzvah was a minefield of “must-dos” when getting out of bed felt like a big accomplishment. I almost came to blows with the b’nai mitzvah coordinator over the “parent aliyah” which is a tradition in our synagogue. In hindsight, that might have been the first crack in my relationship with the synagogue. I felt that I hadn’t been heard, my previous contributions not valued, and my situation glossed over by the synagogue leadership.
I now only go to Shabbat services when a friend’s child is becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. I find services exhausting instead of uplifting. I still attend on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but I’m afraid I’m joining the majority of American Jews who are dis-engaged from synagogue life. I fully own up to my contribution to this fractured relationship. If I want to be engaged in synagogue life, it’s there. I just need to walk in the door and get over whatever is holding me back.
But I can’t do it. I don’t feel entirely welcome and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my frustration at my own physical and financial limitations. Maybe it’s because the leadership never acknowledged what was a very painful and difficult time for me. The volunteer group that arranges meals and transportation for congregants who are sick never reached out to me. The rabbi or cantor didn’t call or email. Thus, I feel let down and perhaps betrayed. An institution that I had enthusiastically and whole-heartedly supported for many years dropped the ball.
I understand the importance of the synagogue as an institution for the Jewish people, but it’s growing less important for me as a Jewish person. I don’t need to be a member like I did when the kids were in religious school and becoming b’nai mitzvah. Right now, I don’t have a good reason to stay. I’m torn between my sense of obligation and my dissatisfaction.
If I leave, I’ll still have my friends. If I leave, I’ll still be Jewish. If I leave, I can still observe Shabbat. But will there be something else I’ll miss?