Q. I have often wondered why my synagogue is so active and busy but not in a spiritual sense. I feel more spiritual in my garden. Is there something wrong with me?
A. Possibly. Maybe you miss the sense of sanctity that comes from sitting in shule and meditating or looking around you and seeing the spiritual potential in every part of the synagogue and indeed in everyone present.
But the fault can also be with your synagogue. If it makes busyness its top priority, is a mere community centre or concert hall and emphasises financial viability at the expense of piety, it has become a secular institution without religion.
The American theologian Eugene Borowitz said, “Secular Judaism, which could not dominate American Judaism under its own name, now may do so under the auspices of the synagogue… The average synagogue and the large synagogue organisations do not redeem this situation by the example of their own religiosity… The American Jew may belong, but he does not believe much… There are countless creative reasons for avoiding God.”
In your shule, does anyone secrete him- or herself in a corner and commune with their own heart, soul and mind, and God? Does anyone weep when they pray (indeed does anyone pray at all)? Does anyone cry out when they think of the pain of the world and say, “God, are Your ears closed and Your eyes averted?”
Is your congregation deathly silent when the cantor performs and the choir commences its well-rehearsed responses? Is the rabbi a mere MC who announces the page, a book or film reviewer who gives smooth ten-minute op-eds… or a passionate prophet who says, “Thus saith the Lord”?
Do they really let God into your synagogue or prefer to manage the world without the embarrassment of His presence?
Maybe you should stay in your garden after all.