A Shul is Not a Gym

Screen capture: firstrepublic.com

By Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

If you do not go to your gym on a regular basis, and haven’t been there in a year or more, you might want to think about whether it is worth your while to continue to pay monthly dues and remain as a member.

Unfortunately, some people think about belonging to a synagogue the way they think about their membership in a gym.

You shouldn’t.

A more appropriate metaphor might be the way you think about an insurance policy. You pay a premium so it will be there for you when you need it. A synagogue community, along with its staff and clergy are there to help and offer assistance during difficult times, to offer comfort, support and needed services at a time of loss, as well as to celebrate happy times and other life cycle events.

But even the insurance analogy falls short, for a synagogue is much more than an insurance policy. It is a community. A sacred community where we come together to educate our children and to provide meaningful religious experiences. It is a place where we gather as adults to be challenged and to deepen our understanding and connection to our heritage. It is the fulcrum and anchor of our religious community, as we celebrate holidays together and find ways to express our commitment to observing Judaism. Through its vast array of speakers, programs and activities for every age, from toddlers all the way to empty nesters and senior citizens we connect to each other and to our people, in traditional and nontraditional ways.

Even if you never set foot in the synagogue, even if you never come to any of our services or programs, even if you never avail yourself of all that we offer, by being a member you support the Jewish community. You make it possible for others to partake of all that we provide, for a little more than the cost of most monthly cable tv bills.

At a time when Jews find themselves threatened by the dual edged threats of anti-Semitism on one hand, and assimilation and apathy on the other side, a synagogue combats both by promoting Jewish identity, education, pride and continuity.

The reality is – synagogues can exist only if members of the community support it by paying dues, even if they never or only infrequently use it. So if you don’t go to your gym, drop out. But don’t drop out of your synagogue, even if you don’t use it too often. You are allowing it to be open so others can.

Rabbi Weinblatt is the founding rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek of Potomac, Maryland and President of the JFNA Rabbinic Cabinet.