A few years ago, in a hilarious episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the comedian Larry David bought scalpers’ tickets to his congregation’s High Holy Day services, and was kicked out when his subterfuge was discovered. Nothing that dramatic happened to a friend of mine who wished to attend services last year, but he also had an unpleasant experience with a large congregation.
My friend, who moved to Westchester several years ago, is not a regular shul-goer, but had always gone to High Holy Day services in the city. In his first year in the suburbs, he called a large local Conservative congregation — his denominational preference — and was told that he could have tickets that year at a nominal fee, but if he wished to attend the following year he would have to join the congregation. He was out of the country the following year, so when he returned the year after that, he phoned to ask if he might pay a more substantial fee for his seats this time but not yet become a congregation member. He had not made up his mind about membership. The response he received was a snappish, “You cannot come here again without joining,” and a loud click of the receiver. One or two other large synagogues in his area also informed him in no uncertain terms that he had to be a member to get tickets.
Special to the Jewish Week
“Synagogues Should Be More Welcoming”
The Jewish Week
That sounds terrible. In fact, the whole process of buying tickets to the High Holy Days services probably seems strange and alien to most Christians. After all, it’s not like we have to buy tickets to get seats at Christmas or Easter services in a church (although I must admit, I haven’t commemorated either event or worshiped in a church setting for many years). And yet, the synagogue model raises funds in a very different manner than the church and purchasing an annual membership to a synagogue as well as buying tickets for special events like Passover or the High Holy Days is perfectly normal and reasonable.
But what about the situation described by Klagsbrun? Is this what God really intended? Is this how a synagogue welcomes a Jew into its midst for worship and to honor God? If the person in question had held a membership to the synagogue, it wouldn’t be a problem. But just as some Christians only attend church on Easter, some Jews only go to shul for the High Holidays. No one bars the door to the “annual Christian” but why should a “three day a year Jew” not be able to worship because of lack of “membership?”
Of course, there are always options.
Put off by those responses he called the local Chabad office, ordinarily a sect foreign to his liberal religious and social outlooks. The rabbi who answered the phone greeted him cordially and invited him to attend all the holiday services with no payment. When he did, he received a warm welcome from the rabbi and his assistant. And when he became ill and did not show up for Yom Kippur, the rabbi later called his home to inquire after him. Although my friend missed the more intellectual atmosphere of a Conservative synagogue, he enjoyed the enthusiasm and inclusiveness of the Chabad service. Needlessly to say, he sent an unsolicited check to Chabad after the holidays. It was the money he had offered to pay for tickets to the large suburban synagogue.
No, this isn’t my advertisement for the Chabad and that also was not Klagbrun’s intent when writing her article. For many Reform and Conservative Jews, entering the world of the Chabad is about as comfortable as a visit to the surface of the Moon without the benefit of a spacesuit. A large number of Jews consider the Chabad “cult-like, with its mysticism, messianism, and adulation of the Rebbe” (so if you as a Christian have issues with the Chabad, you’re not alone). But they are doing one thing right. They are welcoming the so-called “three days a year” Jew into their midst the way (forgive me if this next part offends you) that a church would welcome an errant Christian, seeker, or wandering atheist through their doors.
Klagsbrun suggests that it is time for “synagogues to rethink some of their policies, add flexibility, reach out to the unaffiliated, and then take more pride than ever in what a religious New Year really means.” I don’t often go out of my way to be critical of Judaism, but I am also aware that no people group and no religious faith is perfect or has the corner market on righteousness. To my way of thinking, the “welcomeness” of the church (whatever faults it may possess) is generally more aligned with the will and wisdom of God and the spirit of the Messiah than the examples of the synagogue Klagsbrun brings forth. And yet, even during some of Judaism’s darkest hours, God’s response to His “straying sheep” is not condemnation, but compassion.
By the time Moses returned to the scene, his people had hit an all-time low. They worshipped idols, spoke slanderously of each other, and had wandered very far from the path of their forefathers. Perhaps he should have told them off, saying, “Repent, sinners, lest you perish altogether!”
But he didn’t. Instead, he told them how G-d cared for them and felt their suffering, how He would bring about miracles, freedom and a wondrous future out of His love for them.
As for rebuke, Moses saved that for G-d. “Why have you mistreated your people?!” he demanded.
If you don’t like the other guy’s lifestyle, do him a favor, lend him a hand. Once you’ve brought a few miracles into his life, then you can urge him to chuck his bad habits.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I am sometimes treated to a view of our local Reform and Chabad synagogues, their members, and their Rabbis, as seen through my wife’s eyes and experiences. No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Some of the events that occur within the Chabad are less than attractive or appealing. And yet to read words of wisdom and beauty that are inspired by the Rebbe are a joy that reminds me of the grace of Jesus. As I mentioned in yesterday’s “morning meditation”, God is writing on all our hearts and there is something of the Divine in each of us. Rather than rebuking our neighbor for his shortcomings, we should show our love and grace, even as God has shown love, grace, and mercy to us.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16 (ESV)