Sunday, September 21, 2008

Who Uses a Synagogue?

I live in Modiin, a medium-sized town which currently has over 80 thousand residents. It's slated to be the fourth largest city in Israel, behind Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. It's supposed to eventually have 250 thousand residents.

There are synagogues in town. The Israeli government mandates a minimum number synagogue space for a given population. One of the older synagogues in town is my synagogue. It was intended as a Sfardi-Ashkenazi synagogue, to hold one service for everyone. There was a basement designated as a reception room. For a while, all was well. Then people moved into the neighborhood. The synagogue overflowed. No problem. We split the basement into a separate service. The Ashkenazim were the smaller group, so we got the basement. Excellent. We have a space. They have a space. All was well.

People raised money to build an ark, buy a Torah-reading table, and benches for the men's section. The women's section uses plastic keter chairs. Still, all is well.

We have a makeshift mehitza - a translucent curtain that hangs from a piece of wire.

We have 40-50 families who pray at our shul (Yiddish for synagogue). On a regular Sabbath morning, we have two minyanim (services), one at 6:45am and one at 8:30am. On Friday nights, the men's section is packed, but far from overflowing. When there is a Bar Mitzva, the guests generally find seats in the men's section, but the women's section often becomes quite zoo-like. This is mainly because the chairs move easily. Most of the Bar Mitzva's in our shul are of neighborhood families who are not members of our shul. That's fine. We welcome every Jew.

The worst is Yom Kippur. We are a synagogue. It is the high holy days. We do not turn Jews away from a synagogue on Yom Kippur. We do not tell old ladies that they cannot sit down because they haven't reserved seats. I know there are places that do that, but it goes against everything I believe in.

So each year, the crowds get worse. Those of us who do pay for seats can't get to them. I'm told that the men's section is just fine, but for those of us who are banned from that section by virtue of our gender... getting into the synagogue on Rosh Hashana morning and Yom Kippur evenings is simply horrendous.

Which is why I get a little irked when non-religious people say that synagogues won't serve the majority of Modiin residents. Actually, if there are literally one hundred people trying to shove into my synagogue beyond the number already packed in by design, then take a count. The majority is speaking loud and clear.

*Bonus points to anyone outside of my family who can explain why the picture is relevant.


DrSavta said...

Yes, excellent post! And wow! you found it!

Bethami said...

Hear Hear. I expect to see a lot more posts categorized under "synagogue" in the coming months and looking forward.

Leora said...

I like the blue thistle photo. I took some photos of blue thistle when I was up at Banias.

I didn't realize Modiin was supposed to get that big. I liked the giant pizza.

JJ said...

Yeah, Yom Kippur is a tight squeeze at our synagogue, too. Usually I can't even get inside on that night so I just stand outside with the overflow.

Anonymous said...

Re: the globe thistle (kipodan), is your shul perchance Kipodan/Ashkenazi & Sephardi, in the Kipodan neighborhood, on Kipodan street?

Leah Goodman said...

10 points to Yosef Asher!
You win a free link to the blog of your choice in my blogroll!

Anonymous said...

The funny thing is, I kind of like the idea of a multi-purpose community centre/shul centre type of building. I think if that idea had been presented in a more, um, "encompassing all people" way, a lot could have been accomplished.

It's not right that people who pay don't get to sit (especially when they're carrying water glass shelves around in their bellies), and it's not right that little old ladies who didn't think/know to pay for seats should have to stand. There has to be a better solution.

Leah Goodman said...

Alissa - absolutely - the better solution is that we need more space. We need more shuls and bigger shuls, and we need auditoriums opened for people to pray in, and we just need more space.

Telling little old ladies who want to pray that they can't sit down in a synagogue on Yom Kippur is out of the question.