Skip Navigation
October 13, 2015 | 30th Tishrei 5776
Home  /  Worship, Music and Spirituality  /  iWorship Wisdom Archives  /  Worship Change - Implementation  / 
Worship Change - Implementation
Includes discussions on:
  • Shabbat Morning Minyanim
  • High Holy Day Services
  • Healing Services
  • Union's Worship Initiatives

  1. Our Shabbat Committee is about to try an additional, shortened Friday night service once a month, with a view to encouraging more people to come to Friday night services. Specifically, we are thinking about a shortened 6:00 PM service that could be followed by a dinner that would then be followed by a full-length Friday night service for those congregants who prefer the later time. The idea would be to attract those people for whom the later service is less convenient given social evening plans for Friday night. We are also thinking of adding a 6 PM shortened family service.

  2. I joined a large urban congregation when the new rabbi came 26 years ago, with a mission to move it from classical Reform into the mainstream. As my teacher, he influenced me and others to the idea that we should be one congregation, so during his rabbinate we avoided fragmentation. The niche groups in the congregation might meet separately for Shabbat dinner before services, or for separate Oneg Shabbat, but everybody prayed together. When it was time again for a new rabbi, I served on the search committee and we told our candidates that the congregation expected change, but not upheaval.

    One of the changes the new clergy team introduced was a 6:00 PM Shabbat service, in addition to the 8:15 PM service. Based on my "training" I was afraid of fragmentation. What has happened instead is that we have anywhere from 40 to 75 people worshipping at 6:00, most of them people who had never attended at 8:15! Basically attendance at 8:15 is in the same 200-300 range it has always been. Different strokes for different folks!

    Another innovation was a change in the Shabbat morning pattern. We had had a 9:00 AM adult class, a 10:00 AM adult class, and 11:00 AM services -- in the chapel if there was no bar mitzvah, in the sanctuary if there was. The Shabbat morning experiment combined the 10:00 AM class with services, in a room that we call the Gallery (and use as one), but which is much more classroom/small social hall than a true worship space. On those Shabbat mornings when there was a bar mitzvah, that continued to be held in the sanctuary at 11.

    So what happened? We found that the 10 o'clock Torah students felt disenfranchised by the loss of their class; and the regular 11 o'clock worshipers felt disenfranchised by the loss of worshipping in a worship space. Many of them, even if they came at 10, would get up at 11 and go to the sanctuary, for what was to them a real Shabbat experience. After giving it a couple of months, all concerned with the decision agreed that we should go back to the former pattern.

    I would not be wasting the time of the readers of this list with a post that was/is strictly reportorial. The question is, what did we learn, what can others learn?

    • Not everything works, but some things do. So you have to keep trying. It is not incumbent on you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.
    • What works for some won't work for others. If you have enough critical mass to serve niches, and enough staff and/or lay leadership, it's only good business to do so.
    • Our two Shabbat services differ in more than just time -- and the difference is important. 6:00 PM is not only earlier, it's shorter, it's less formal, there's no Torah reading or sermon -- but a very brief d?var Torah. The smaller setting facilitates naming names for Mi Shebeirach and Kaddish and there is usually a time set aside for reflection on the week just ending. During this time anyone who wants to share is asked to tell what the best thing was that happened this week. The kids love it, but it's not just kids who participate.

    1332 members

  3. Almost 2 years ago we started an "alternative" Shabbat morning worship service. For several years we've had a very successful Shabbat morning Torah study (20-30 people each week) and some of us wanted to stay for worship services. But for a variety of reasons we did not feel comfortable in the main service. I suppose the biggest reason was the recent trend, noted here by others, that has the worship service was becoming more and more the property of the b?nei mitzvah families.

    A task force was created by the Ritual Committee and we met 2 or 3 times before settling on a group of 5 facilitators for the service. These lay leaders facilitate a communal worship service on those weeks when no rabbi is available. It is currently held in one of the larger classrooms, but will soon be held in a small sanctuary that is part of a planned building expansion. We gather around the reading table for the Torah service, and have developed our own custom for Shabbat worship, sometimes a bit different from what happens in the main service. The service is truly communal, parts that would normally be read by the leader are read instead by members of the group.

    Although there are weeks when we just have 10 or 12 people, we probably average about 20 people each week, and a handful of new people every month. Our congregation has a tradition of inviting students back to read Torah on the anniversary of their b?nei mitzvah. This is generally done on Friday night, but our communal service has created a new venue to encourage even more young Torah readers - particularly those who would be more comfortable with the small, less formal group.

    The confirmation class also decided that their gift to the congregation would be a Torah reading table for use at the communal service. A beautiful gift, it has helped turn a classroom into a sacred space. We are also in the process of putting together our own prayer service. It will be based primarily on Service I in Gates of Prayer, but we are using gender-neutral language and trying to include some alternative readings from which the facilitators can select each week.

    840 members

  4. After attending Shabbat morning services every week for many years, my husband and I became frustrated with the way b?nei mitzvah were taking over the service. The kids led more and more of the service, the parents gave longer and longer speeches extolling the athletic prowess of their children, etc.

    Rather than leave the congregation we loved, in 1995 we started a Shabbat morning minyan. In the long run it has worked, and it has gone pretty much the way we hoped, but of course there were a lot of kinks to work through.

    We started with 3 leaders who could read Torah, so each of us had to read on average once every 3 weeks (we are still doing that, although we have occasional volunteers who give us a break). We borrowed the gender-sensitive siddur from the regional UAHC office, but we soon had to get our own. The classroom we started in was too small and not at all an inspiring space, so we moved to our beautiful library. We have handled all our issues and now have a great group of regulars who feel at home in our community but would not have gone to the main service. On an average week, we have 20-25 adults, plus several wonderful children.

    1696 members

  5. Our Temple began a lay led minyan following Torah study on Shabbat mornings in response to the weekly b?nei mitzvah upstairs. Congregants felt uncomfortable attending services with the invited guests. Often, they were the only ones participating and felt very conspicuous. Over the years there have been many heated discussions over the fact that our Temple regulars are all downstairs. I for one have often complained that our children are supposed to be declaring their readiness to be counted in our congregation but their congregation is not present.

    We've also started to hold Rosh Chodesh services. There's definitely a receptive audience out there to doing things a little differently.

    600 members

  6. We've tried many new things over the last few years, including: a) in the summer, moving our 8 p.m. erev Shabbat service to 6:30, holding it outdoors when weather permits, making it casual dress, not reading Torah (which we normally do on Friday nights) and substituting text study for the sermon. b) Instituting quarterly Healing & Havdalah services. c) Creating a Healing Service for Yom Kippur afternoon. d) In general, moving toward shorter sermons and more participatory music.

    It's all worked to some degree. We'd like to see more people at the healing services, but everything has been well received. We know it's important when making changes to be consistent and not flit from one thing to another, to give something a chance to work. We're still working on it.

    595 members

  7. We've tried lots of things over the past four years. The most successful was having alternative lay-led services for the mornings of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. The alternative High Holy Day services have been wildly successful. Much of the credit for this goes to an especially gifted lay service leader.

    We haven?t had as much luck with making Saturday morning more about Shabbat and less focused on the b?nei mitzvah family. There just aren't that many people who care about Saturday morning worship that is not tied to a b?nei mitzvah. It would take a huge effort on the part of our clergy and lay leadership to make this happen...and it would take years.

    With the benefit of hindsight, if we were to attempt to make the same change again, I wouldn't waste energy pushing for small and ultimately, cosmetic changes without getting a better sense of the underlying commitment for major change. For example, we spent a lot of time and energy trying to get an aliyah for a community member (i.e. someone not associated with the b?nei mitzvah family). Even with verbal commitments to making this happen it does not unless we keep pushing on it. The underlying problem, I think, is that only a handful of people care about morning services on Shabbat. Most people care deeply about b?nei mitzvah ceremonies that are meaningful for individuals and families. We never got commitment from lay or clerical leadership for long-term work to change the community's values.

    about 1,000 members

  8. In the past few years, we've tried the following things: Saturday morning Shabbat services every week (before usually just when there were b'nei mitzvah, which was most Saturdays), Temple choir singing for Friday night services at least once a month (sometimes a small choir would sing at an additional service during a month), Healing service monthly at Havdalah. On the High Holy Days we divided morning services into two services: a family service (using a Conservative family-oriented prayer book, Tiku Shofar) and the regular service (using Gates of Repentance). Added lay led Torah study once or twice a month, and various adult educational discussions or classes on Shabbat morning before the scheduled service.

    Most of the changes worked. While the non-b'nei mitzvah Shabbat morning services are not attended by very many (and sometimes we don't make a minyan), it has become a regular part of our congregational life, as have, I think the Shabbat morning study groups.

    Having the choir singing more often at Friday night services is definitely a big plus and well received, especially as we have a cantorial soloist at this time and hope to engage a cantor within a few years.

    The split High Holy Day services were adopted as a necessity to deal with the worship space problem, and the absence of a meaningful worship service for elementary school age children. It's nice to have families together at a morning service, but for some families, it's hard to choose when there are both young children and teens.

    The healing service was around for a while, but has been discontinued due to the attendance dropped. I can't really say why there was lack of interest. Perhaps the time - a monthly Havdalah service - was not ideal. Perhaps those in need of healing wanted to be part of a more congregational service, drawing from the congregation as a whole, rather than just a small group. I think I'd recommend worship opportunities such as a healing service more a part of a "regular" service than a separate service.

    440 members

  9. At our congregation several worship initiatives were undertaken this year: Rosh Chodesh services once a month; early morning services two weekday mornings per week; and a 6pm brief Kabbalat Shabbat service one Friday a month (not replacing the 8pm service, but offering an alternative to folks who would prefer to have services before dinner.)

    Rosh Chodesh has not developed a following perhaps the irregularity has something to do with it. Perhaps the fact that our attempts to worship outside (in view of the sky) have been disturbed by religious school pick-up traffic. The congregation will probably give it up and perhaps a study group or a chavurah will pick it up if they care to.

    Weekday morning services have played with times and found that the limited following can't come up with a time that works for all who are interested (folks are leaving and beginning work commutes or getting children off to school). It has such a small following that it will likely be dropped as well. The three who go enjoy it, but that doesn't constitute a congregational service.

    The brief 6pm Kabbalat Shabbat service has been well received. It happens just once a month. Our clergy (rabbi and cantor) are willing to continue it, but will take turns leading it and the 8pm service so that both are not there for both services on that evening. We are interested to see what the reception is when the 8pm crowd realizes that since the rabbi did the 6pm service, he will not be there for the 8pm service on that night. Until now he has been doing both since it was initially an experiment.

    A change that has been successful and is several years old is weekday Minchah service at 5:30 PM Mon. through Thurs. It does not have a big following, but a regular one. It is lay led at this time.

    650 members

  10. One of our first projects is to improve the participation level in the music of the service. We have no cantor, but a cantorial soloist leads the music with her guitar. We found that by pitching the music to a lower key, people are able to join in more easily.

    We are also planning to have some pre-service music sessions to go over the prayers and songs that will be used in the service. We provide transliteration for the Hebrew selections. The process is indeed lengthy and the amount of Hebrew in the service is a main area of contention. For every person in the congregation who would like more Hebrew in the service, there is a counterpart proclaiming "too much Hebrew. "

    I know our committee's study will help us come to a consensus based on a better understanding, but the next step is to bring the rest of the congregation along. I think that adult education is a major partner. We are about two thirds of the way through our first adult education Hebrew class. It has been a major success with over 30 attendees. I see more people than before pointing to the Hebrew text as we read from the siddur.

    250 members

  11. To help increase attendance at worship and revitalize the services, we significantly increased the size and scope of our Worship Committee, so that many opinions could be heard. Towards this end and other aspects of long-range planning at the Temple, we also went through a series of "close-enough" focus groups.

    We implement our new policy this weekend. Instead of 6PM and 8PM services on Friday, we will now try 8PM on Friday and 10AM on Saturday. We are working earnestly on new melodies and variations on the liturgy. We are targeting "approximately one hour" for worship services.

    357 members

  12. At our Temple, the rabbi and I agreed to present the UAHC Worship Initiatives as described. We began with a pre-session meeting where the rabbi asked our Ritual committee a number of thought provoking questions about what would make worship successful and then asked the committee members to consider whether we were experiencing successful worship at our Temple. The upshot of this discussion was then asking our committee whether they would be willing to engage in the UAHC Worship initiative for Ritual/Worship committees. Our members agreed.

    We have now completed the first 2 sessions. The meetings have been fascinating. It has been particularly interesting to hear the different views on prayer issues. The rabbi and I have been very encouraged because basically everyone has been willing to open up. Our committee is rather large. We generally have 15 people present at each committee meeting. To have 15 voices all expressing opinions and feelings is challenging. At the conclusion of each meeting, the rabbi hands out the reading for the next meeting.

    At the past meeting, following the study session, the cantor proposed making some changes in our Shabbat music. So clearly, the Cantor and our committee are willing to make change while we are in the process of study.

    335 members

  13. Curiously, William Bridges--the great guru in change management--uses the Israelites wandering in the wilderness as the "story" to exemplify his observations about how people respond to changes. It's a perfect analogy, and everyone "gets it" right away. I've been on a campaign for some time now in my own congregation to get the leadership to take advantage of all this knowledge that's out there about how to introduce change and assure its success. We've found it useful on at least a couple of occasions.

  14. If you are interested in change, you may want to check out the Web site for the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE). Despite its name, ECE does work with congregations in all aspects of synagogue life, using learning/education as part of its change process. Some of what the ECE does includes William Bridges' ideas. I've used some of this in helping to work on our congregation's Shabbat morning worship change. (
    1250 families

  15. [Jim makes] outstanding points with respect to resistance to change and the crutch of Biblical and textual literalism. I deal with similar issues every day in the community I serve, not only with rigid traditional Jews who exercise their "Yetzer Ha Nya Nya" with respect to innovations within our movement, but with a calcifying literalism within the Christian Evangelical and Muslim communities.

    To this litany, I wish to add another--the tyranny of minhag. "Why should we change our ways in the Wilderness? We always did it this way in Egypt?" "That Moses has no dignity and decorum; I told him there should have been flowers and boutonnieres for the Priests during investiture.!" "Why do we have to have all this Hebrew? We were perfectly comfortable doing the sacrifices in Egyptian!" "Junior congregation?. Not when my children have Hounds and Jackals tournaments every Saturday morning! We've been doing this for generations!"

    (Rabbi) Burt

  16. I recommend a book that Rabbi Dan Judson and I recently edited called The Rituals and Practices of a Jewish Life: A Personal Handbook for Spiritual Renewal. It is available from Jewish Lights Publishing and contains chapters written on the various rituals that members of the Reform movement are now grappling with and embracing. What is most moving are the personal stories related to the adoption and adaptation of these rituals as well as guidance as to where to start the ritual process and how to continue. If anyone would like to discuss the book with me, feel free to e-mail me privately, as well.
    Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

  17. We have two minyanim daily: 7:30 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. The Shacharit started by demand a few years ago and is the most Jewish flavored service. Simple Nussach (Daily) and Tallit and T'fillin for some. Rabbis and myself (cantor) deliver a short d'var Torah Monday and Thursday and Rosh Chodesh as well on all of the occasions the Torah is read. I myself enjoy coming for that service, the Shacharit, and being with a group of people who want to be there together.

  18. Jan 2006 Digest 012

                …Our rabbinic leadership notes declining attendance at services and seeks to revitalize worship to attract Jews to Judaism, Jewish values, and Jewish lifestyles. Although we have an ancient, learned heritage, the task of our clergy is to make it relevant to the current generation--adults and especially youth. Survival, as our history demonstrates, requires that we adapt our core values to contemporary styles in order to keep our faith vital and meaningful. In every culture is which we have lived, we have adapted elements of surrounding non-Jewish religious and secular traditions to synthesize our heritage anew within our larger cultural contexts.

                Thus it is not surprising that we should talk about gospel music, rock, jazz, and all varieties of popular music. They dominate North American culture. Christian music and services in progressive Israeli congregations utilize folk and popular tunes--almost exclusively.

                Popular styles attract because they entertain; they are accessible, attractive, participatory.

                There is nothing wrong with entertainment…But popular and serious arts have very different purposes. Popular arts lead us away from reality; they appeal to our need to escape or to fantasize a world where justice and virtue prevail; they demand little from us intellectually. Popular music clothes texts in tuneful melodies and provide a steady beat to which we can dance and clap. They don't puzzle us with complex reality; they make us feel good. The paintings of Thomas Kinkade fit the model well--as does the music of our popular Jewish songwriters. At our URJ camps, our youth sing these melodies joyfully, and they bond with one another; they do not understand the meanings and implications of the texts. There is nothing wrong with popular arts, and those who produce them are often knowledgeable, sincere individuals!

                Serious arts lead us into reality--not away from it. Tennessee Williams and Bernard Malamud demand more from us than Harry Potter or a Harlequin romance. Our religion is not simplistic, and it challenges us continually; our sacred texts and liturgy are learned--we are a people of the Book. Serious composers of Jewish music utilize our traditions--the heritage of cantillation, missinai melodies, and nusach ha-tefillah--the prayer modes. They lead us into the texts and hence into the tensions and ambiguities of daily life; they demand that the text come first rather than the tunes; they insist that if worship is to have meaning, we must take seriously the texts themselves, not a sugary musical setting in which the tune masks rather than interprets and reveals the meanings.

                Desperate for attendance and involvement, we make services entertaining.

                Our generation and our Movement are losing the core of our Jewish heritage.

                The underlying problem is not popular music. Rather it is a nearly-total loss of significance for the texts of our liturgy and worship. Worse, it is the loss of faith in the existence of a personal God, without Whom recitation of the liturgy is almost a complete waste of time. And our rabbinic leadership itself is torn by the difficulty of believing in a loving, personal God after Auschwitz. Does a healing service have much meaning if we appeal to an impersonal universal force? To Whom or what do we address our worship? To ourselves? To gravitational and electrical forces? What does it actually mean to love God? And what does it mean--really mean--to say Baruch Atah?

                I do not argue for theological purity and faith statements; I myself struggle with God concepts; I do not understand my Creator; I too question, and submit, and challenge. Maybe we are alone in a cold, hostile universe. I cannot answers the questions I just asked. There are no honest and easy answers to ultimate questions about our human reality. But Judaism is founded upon concepts of God and human responsibilities to Her. If worship is to be meaningful, if we are to attract and retain Jews to Judaism, then we must take seriously the texts--not the tunes--of our liturgy. And we must ask and discuss difficult God-questions.

                We have not done so. 

                Our rabbinic leadership has not done so.

                Our listserv has more often dealt with mechanics of worship than with its essence.

                In desperation we adorn the shell of our faith, but we ignore its dying core.

                We desperately need Reform!

  19. Jan 2006 Digest 012

                Perhaps it is because I am a child of the late '60s/early '70s folk music generation, I have to say that many of the Jewish folk melodies were exactly what made Jewish worship and text accessible to me. They are, in part, what spurred me to engage, to study, and to continue to explore and teach. When I teach I actually use a great deal of music as an introduction or component of a lesson that is dealing with text or liturgy.

                Just as some of the "German beer garden" melodies of earlier generations were good and some not, so too it is with the music of the current generation. Some of it, especially those songs that offer English interpretation along with the Hebrew text, truly do make people think. Moreover, if people are engaged, energized, and feeling a connection after a service filled with music, they are more likely to come back and study the texts and liturgy.

                We need to offer multiple gateways, and always work to follow each entry with more open doorways and opportunities to deepen the engagement.

  20. Jan 2006 Digest 012

                I want to weigh in on the discussion about music enhancement to our services. I just completed chairing a task force at [our congregation] reviewing how our congregation worships. What sets Reform worship apart from the remaining forms of Judaism is its use of music to enhance our services, and it is this music that has changed over the years, from the red hymnal with church-like songs ("God Is in His Holy Temple") with huge pipe organs which we still use, to the use of modern instruments to convey an uplifted spirit to our congregants.

                What our Task Force found was that we want to review the new “Mishkan” prayer book to see how it will meet our needs, but more so we found that music is the differentiator in the Reform Movement. While the use of more than one musical instrument that forms a band presents a different sound than we heard in the past, it relates to the use of both hands and feet on our pipe organ sounding out a high pitched sound with one hand, a bass with the other and additional levels by the use of both feet with two levels of pedals.

                We have now established another task force to review how we sing. We think we may want to engage a song leader to help us musically because we know there is a tremendous amount of wonderful, uplifting melodies that can enhance our service to bring members’ spirits up, rather than the use of many tired songs used for years. Our rabbi admits she knows what she wants but is not musically inclined.

                In our congregation, we offer "Rock Shabbat" (Rock is from [the name of our temple], not [from] rock n roll), once a month. It is only one part of how we worship, but it brings people to our chapel. Is it a show? No, not to us. Is it entertainment? No, because we read from the prayer book along with our enhanced music. We are worshiping as we do every week with text and music.

                I feel good about what we are doing. Our members walk out of services with a smile every week because they are spiritually fulfilled not entertained.  I welcome the possibility of URJ resources helping us with the music we want.

  21. Jan 2006 Digest 012

                There have been several references to "declining attendance"--So I want to mention that our experience has been the opposite. Our attendance has been increasing.

                We are offering this year, on an experimental basis, two services every Friday and most Saturdays. We are a large congregation, but the trend is up, not down.

                The important and provocative questions raised by John about the relationship of people to God and the experiential role of ritual and worship are addressed in the "act" of the services themselves.

                The different services are offered to provide each individual a choice on how best to allow them to gain what they need at the moment and "in the moment."

                We offer an "adult" service at 6:30 p.m. on the evenings where we have a "Shabbat Rocks." We offer a Shabbat that is all traditional song…early once a month. We offer separate Healing Services. In any congregation where there are people suffering there is a chance to have an intimate service offered in a way that does address the exact issue--for them--of how to gain comfort in their suffering from others and from God as they experience and need it.

                Many of the frustrations about addressing questions about "who is God" today are addressed outside of the ritual context.

                The challenge of an authentic Jewish heritage is also in my view not primarily a ritual issue. It is an enormously important question--one that doesn't have a simple answer. We are working on it through a variety of programs.


  22. Jan 2006 Digest 013

                …In my opinion, the answers to [John’s] questions address the heart and soul of Reform Judaism in particular and Judaism in general. The answers to these questions will determine Judaism's destiny. The population studies of Judaism demonstrate a decline or a stagnation. At best, these studies demonstrate a very small increase, but the increase will not occur in America; it will take place in Israel. The reduction in the Jewish population has affected the membership in the temples and the attendance of the religious service, the only unique activity that warrants a religion.

                …John…says "we must ask and discuss difficult God-questions." Moreover, "Our rabbinic leadership has not done so." I concur with John, but I add that we, the rank and file, have not offered the God-questions or answers either.

                I suggest that we have dumped these issues into the laps of our rabbis, claiming that we are "too dumb" or "too busy" to do so. Well, the rabbis have not solved the issue of declining membership and participation, especially among our adolescents and young adults. And we modern Jewish congregants have depended on the temporary beneficence of Gentile spouses who convert or who consent to have their children raised as Jews. If the rabbis will not solve the problem, it is up to us to initiate the discovery of the solutions.

                Many Reform Jews are not interested in theology. They come to the temple for the primary purpose of enjoying community. Great! But we do not know what percentage of congregants forms this segment. No one has asked them. Some want a spiritual healing and others want miraculous healing.

                How many congregants want or even believe in either form of healing? No one knows, because no one bothers to ask them. These questions are left in the hands of the rabbinate which does not ask. How many people attend the services because of traditional music and really hate contemporary music, and how many people really hate the old melodies yet thrive on the contemporary music? How many Jews don't go to services because they cannot forgive God for the Holocaust and other theodictic catastrophes? How many want to pray but don't know how? How many people want "mindless" entertainment and how many of them use the entertaining melodies to have a spiritual experience? Nobody knows because nobody asks! How many people are embarrassed by faith? Nobody knows!

                I believe many, not a few, but many people who read this post will be angry about my chutzpah. Questioning the rabbis? How dare him. But some of these Reform Jews want Judaism to be only a feel good and entertaining experience. I will not criticize their goal because I cannot. It is their right to want this form of Judaism. However, I suggest that Judaism will rapidly disappear if it can only offer "a good time." Pop culture is very temporary.

                On the other hand, a purely theologically oriented religion that does not produce real pleasure is also doomed.

                So, I welcome the new music as an experiment. But if we don't start talking to one another and asking the important questions, Reform is doomed. (It will have been a magnificent response to Orthodoxy, but it could not solve the problems of a modern secular civilization.)

                Personally, the problems of progressive Judaism in Israel, Zionism, a new liturgy, new books about Talmud and midrash are not at the top of my list, and they should not be at the top of the list of our rabbis and the rabbinical leadership. The number one problem confronting them and us is the declining number of Jews in the Temple. That is the ghost at the dinner table and the invisible elephant in the room.

                So if contemporary music appears to be effective, prove it by counting the house--not once but every week. Measure the demography. How many older people and how many younger ones attend? Talk to them and ask their opinion. And when you have analyzed the music, maybe it will be wise to investigate the value of God in the temple. Who knows? Maybe we have neglected Her or we have not been able to understand Him?


    525 families
  23. Jan 2006 Digest 014

                I recently read…the accusation that attendance is down in the liberal movements as a result of the lessened element of responsibility (e.g. prayer is a responsibility)--when prayer, or service attendance is no longer a responsibility, then we seek a spiritual "good time", as John suggests.

                OTOH, I see no difference between "Friday Night Live" or whatever the rock service is called, and the classical Reform service of Hamburg c.1820--both use the latest in popular standards to draw people, people who hopefully continue to come for a whole slew of reasons--both high and low. If the service doesn't "do it" for me, I might not come back to have that one meaningful conversation or to hear that one meaningful sermon.

                Those of us who love to pray will find a place. If we're in a small town, our choice of synagogue will more likely be motivated by the connections we are able to make than by the style of the service.

                The problem is when there is a glut of options. Kal veChomer when among those options are activities that aren't religious ones. The Israeli Movement (along with the Masorti Movement, the Israeli cognate of Conservative) ran an ad campaign about five years ago: "There's more than one way to be Jewish". That includes a lot of ways that aren't synagogue.

  24. Jan 2006 Digest 014

                RE: “There's more than one way to be Jewish. That includes a lot of ways that aren't synagogue.”

                A very valid observation that may be more valid in Israel than in the U.S. Even with the relatively low level of synagogue affiliation, the synagogue has certainly supplanted the other kinds of Jewish organizations that used to foster identification. Look what's happened to Bnai Brith, to take just one example. Look at the outreach from Federations to the synagogue world--as they recognize where the bodies are, if not the dollars. Fifty years ago, Federation was my point of Jewish identification--today it's an adjunct for helping fulfill the mitzvah of tikkun olam, which I learned about in shul.

                There is more than a little truth in the old story that Finkelstein comes to temple to talk to God, and Kaufman comes to talk to Finkelstein. While [another listserv participant] may complain that there aren't enough Finkelsteins, and we're not doing enough to stimulate more, our Rock Shabbatot seem, from the reports of this list, to be pulling in the Kaufmans. (In T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, it is said of the martyred Thomas a Becket, This above all is the greatest treason--to do the right thing for the wrong reason. (I think I have that right--it's been fifty years since I read it.) Certainly that point of view is non-Jewish--as [I was] taught…, never scorn the inferior motivation, im lo lishma, ba lishma. (That which may not begin for the sake of God comes to be for the sake of God.)

                So at one level we may say, Whatever works. This contradicts what I implied in an earlier post on this thread, in expressing my discomfort with the gospel choir. Hey, who said I have to be consistent? Since nothing in theology can be proven, we have to live with ambiguity…

  25. Jun 2006 Digest 101

                I know my position regarding the attendance of the Shavuot (or any) religious service requires "rethinking the holy day and its religious service" is extreme. I also reject the notion that a top down support is the vital ingredient in producing effective religious services and programs.

                In general, we humans know what's good for us, and we vote with our feet. If we believe an idea, an object or an activity is likely lead to growth, survival or pleasure, we will adopt that idea, acquire that object or engage in that activity. And if we believe an idea, an object or and activity is likely to lead to destruction, death or pain, we will avoid it.

                That's the way we were created. We go to the movie because we believe it will be beneficial and we avoid jumping out of tall buildings because we believe it will be harmful. We avoid our religious services in droves, because we believe it is either not beneficial or it is harmful or both. Unless we can convince ourselves through real experience (not rhetoric) that celebrating the Shavuot holy day can promote growth, survival and the experience of pleasure, we will continue to avoid it. This does not require top down support. It requires rethinking the holy day, so that it is easily identified as a source of growth, survival and the experiencing of pleasure. It would be wonderful if we can find these benefits through a re-interpretation of the Tradition. But if we can't?

                The American Jewish population is not growing, or it is growing more slowly than the American and the Muslim populations, or it is actually diminishing. Again, I return to the extreme, although this time in the form of a question. Which is better? The conservation of the rabbinical Tradition and no Jews, or more Jews and a modification of the Tradition? I think you can guess my choice…


    525 units
  26. Oct 2006 Digest 156

                We sing Adler's Ha motizi lechem before cutting the challah. I knew Mr. Adler because he used to live here; I remember him being at services once and commenting lightly on the fact that the words “humbly said” are often changed to “joyfully said” and I see that Shireinu lists both options.

                What our Rabbi instituted were these words:  “ our joyful prayer is humbly said...”

                I actually like the combination.... and it works....and now it's easier to remember which words to sing. Often the congregation wouldn't know what to sing, so this kind of cleared it up!


    75 families

URJ logo

Donate Now



Multimedia Icon Multimedia:  Photos  |  Videos  |  Podcasts  |  Webinars
Bookmark and Share About Us  |  Careers  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright Union for Reform Judaism 2015.  All Rights Reserved