Why Join a Synagogue?

Rabbi Rachel Smookler

Now that we have successfully sold our beloved building on St. Paul Blvd and have been welcomed and embraced by the Temple Brith Kodesh community, it has forced me to look through different lenses at the question “why is synagogue membership important?”

I would like to share with you an incredible ritual that took place on the morning of our last Shabbat that we celebrated in our beloved sanctuary.

At the end of the Torah service, before putting the Torah scroll in the ark, I asked everyone to stand up and create a circle around the entire sanctuary. There wasn’t an empty space. As members young and old, long-time members and newly affiliated members stood side by side, tears stained our faces as we watched the Torah and all of her crowns being passed from congregant to congregant as we sang niggunim. And then something spontaneous happened. I saw how strongly identified we all were with our building, our sacred space. And it was right then that I asked that everyone take a step away from the walls of the sanctuary. “This is Temple Beth David,” I said. “We, are Beth David, Congregation Beth David. We are still standing.” All of us understood, at that very moment, the importance of what it means to be strengthened by community and belonging.

In my role as Rabbi, I am constantly blown away by the support that our members give to one another. Through all of life’s challenges, I have learned that it isn’t only the Rabbi that is there for congregants. Belonging to a synagogue, in my experience, means that your community is surrounding you, to uphold you in times of need, to celebrate joyous moments with you and to engage deeply in topics about God and about the meaning of life.

Our community, in its transition, has had a really extraordinary opportunity to collaborate with other Temple communities. These collaborations have not only made us stronger, but we now have an even wider network of support as we have been given the gift of being able to meet and get to know Rabbis and members of other synagogues, here, in Rochester.

As a Rabbi, each day, I have the opportunity, the gift, to see the power of belonging to a synagogue community. Whether I am walking through the door of the Jewish home to visit a congregant, and I notice that other congregants are there, helping and volunteering, or tutoring a b’nei mitzvah student, I always see that mystical connection that pulses from one Jew to the next. An invisible thread that pulls at us and encourages us to be there for another in joy and sadness. In health and illness. When you are a member of synagogue, all of these things are possible! Shana Tovah u’Metukah! May you have a healthy and sweet year and may you feel the support and embrace of your community.

Rabbi Rachel Smookler
Temple Beth David