Wednesday, November 07, 2018


Start with Al & Larry explain Conservative Jewish practice.

Based on my personal experience, I would say that one of the main differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is that, among the Orthodox, the sense of community is based on observance, whereas, among the non-Orthodox, the sense of community is based on attendance.  The Orthodox feel that they're part of a community because they all observe the same mitzvot (commandments), such as reciting b'rachot (blessings) before and after eating.  Many of us non-Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, derive our sense of community from attending synagogue on a regular basis, even though many go to shul mostly on Shabbat (Sabbath), rarely on weekdays (even if it's a holiday).  This explains why many non-Orthodox Jews show up in shul with very young children in tow, whereas in some, but certainly not all, Orthodox communities, it's common for women with young children, or even women who don't need to stay home to care for family members, to observe Shabbat and holidays at home and rarely be seen in synagogue.

But what happens if non-Orthodox Jews can't find a synagogue that suits them?  Sometimes, in keeping with a long-standing Jewish tradition :) , they simply start another one.

In our particular neighborhood of "outer-borough," and in some relatively-nearby areas, several small Jewish prayer-and/or-social/study/activist groups have sprung up in recent years.  Some are actually small congregations, others are neighborhood groups, while still others were created with the intention of attracting Jews from a number of neighboring areas.  Most are limited in how often they can run services or other Jewish activities because of the cost of renting space.  As a consequence, some of their events take place in people's houses or in the apartments of those with adequate space to host a minyan or more.

Since we know people in one of these groups, we have benefited from being included in their mailing list, er, listserve--we have attended numerous Kabbalat Shabbat services followed by pot-luck dinners, and a few other Jewish events, all within walking distance.  (I'm sorry to say that the most recent event was a service honoring the memories of the murdered Jews of Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue.)

Some members of these independent Jewish groups may feel uncomfortable attending a mainstream synagogue because they are members of the LGBTQI community.  This is a shame, because they wouldn't be the only LGBTQI members of our Conservative congregation, which also frequently hosts LGBTQI-community activities.

Some other members of these groups make my participation in their activities a literal mixed blessing.  Among the fine folks with whom we've been saying Kabbalat Shabbat are some who are not halachically Jewish (that is, they aren't Jews according to halachah/Jewish religious law, since they have non-Jewish mothers and have not converted to Judaism) and/or who have non-Jewish spouses or partners, which is rather awkward for the Conservative Jew that I am.  As my husband puts it, this is a classic "Don't ask, don't tell" situation.

There's also the major detail that almost none of the folks involved in these groups takes days off from work to observe Jewish holidays, so it's rare to have an event sponsored by any of these groups on a holiday that occurs on a weekday.

Yet the fact of the matter is that many members of our Conservative congregation either live in apartments too small to host more than a few guests--we're in that group--and/or are too old to do a lot of cooking.  Consequently, it's been a long time since we've had anything resembling a Judaism-related social life outside of the synagogue building itself.  Recently, we were invited to Shabbat dinner at a larger apartment, and sat around singing z'mirot (Sabbath songs) with at least five other people for over an hour.  It's been literally years since we've done that!

So we're ignoring all the details and enjoying what there is.  We'll take our sense of community with whomever we can find it.  And if some of my readers (if I still have any), particularly my more-observant ones, think that some of us non-Orthodox Jews are reinventing the wheel, you're probably right, but I don't care.



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