If You Only Go Twice a Year…

Of course, looking around a packed room at this time of year, you can’t help but think about people who only attend synagogue twice a year. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being judgmental, which is especially ironic given the nature of the High Holy Days – trying to connect to our best selves and commit to making real, positive changes in our lives.

I found myself looking at the unfamiliar faces this year and feeling sorry for the experience they were having. Trapped in a room where no amount of air conditioning could combat the heat of hundreds of bodies, sitting (and standing, and sitting again ad nauseum) through a service that may or may not have been familiar to them, reading liturgy that is often humbling if not downright accusatory (“we have sinned” and “we are not worthy”). I wanted to stop proceedings, even for just a minute, and explain that on most weeks, there is room enough for people to change seats during the service so they can sit nearer (or further) from the action, or to just sit with friends and enjoy their closeness during prayer; On most Shabbats, the service clips along and the text is one of unbridled joy and rest; During the year, there is a “relaxed formality” in the room, where we are cognizant of the prayers we are saying, but laid back about kids coming and going, people coming in wearing shorts or sandals, and so on.

But there was no way to do that, and I wonder if it would have helped even if I had.

I was reminded, however, of a quote by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf, in his book “The One Hour Purim Primer.”.

The upshot is: if you are going to be a twice a year Jew, please please PLEASE make those two times a year be Purim and Simchat Torah. Come when there is joy, and celebration; when you are likely to walk away with a positive experience that will make you want to return more often.

“For Jewish kids whose parents only take them to synagogue twice a year, I would like to cast a vote in favor of those two days being Purim and Simchat Torah, not Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When children – and adults – immerse themselves in the celebration of Purim one of the most important lessons they learn is that Jewish life incorporates the gamut of human emotional experience. Singing and dancing, costumes, fun and all around merrymaking are as integral to Judaism as charity, prayer and fasting. “

You can read the quote in it’s original context here.