Birth Of The Shteeble Hopper
I had a thought the other day. Seeing as I am so fed up with what the organized Jewish community currently provides in terms of Shabbat services, perhaps I should rebel. “I’ll show them,” I thought. “I will stop attending Shabbat services. That’ll show everyone that they better clean up their act and make davening better. Hah!”
But after thinking this one through, I decided that most likely no one of “them” (members of “the organized Jewish community,” which is a weird thought in itself since I am a Jewish professional) would notice if I stopped going to services. And my boycott of attending services probably would not have much of an effect on the quality of the services. I go to so few “organized” places for davening as it is; my presence would likely go unnoticed. My original idea was something along the lines of: “I just can’t handle the close to lack of spiritually, communally, and musically meaningful services. I’m going to cut out of the scene until it improves.” It is just not reasonable to think that one person’s taking those actions would have those results.
Over the years, especially since leaving college, I have found that I rarely have one favorite place to attend services. Usually I can tell you where is the best place in each category: with instruments, without instruments, within ten blocks of my apt, lay led, rabbi led, etc. For the most part, my highest davening experiences have been intentional or unintentional blends or “best of” formats. (And, selfishly, most have been informal gatherings in someone’s apartment or local parks.)
I am thus faced with two challenges. One: a deficiency in places to daven, and Two: A continuous search for which elements make a meaningful davening experience. How do I plan to respond to these challenges?
One theme of my life lately is to look for the anti-venom within the venom. Just as in nature, where many of the solutions can be found by turning the problems on their heads, so in life I try to look for the answers from within the questions. Further, my frustration with the situation has escalated to such a point that drastic action will be the only solution.
Instead of moping around and complaining about the davening options, I am going to embark on a personal research mission. Starting in September, I am going to daven at a different minyan or synagogue at least two Shabbatot per month. Though I already know that I will be disappointed in many of the options, I hope to use this opportunity to see through what usually frustrates me toward the good in every community. Each time I will write my personal reflections on each davening experience.
This way, instead of spending time complaining about the lack of options, I can use my time doing what I love: collecting the “best of” everything.
The focus will shift, ranging from my preferences in davening styles to seating to rabbinic and lay involvement.
I hope that by my reflections on Jewschool.com will inspire others to think deeply about their communities, where they would like to daven, and what makes a meaningful davening experience. Ideally people who read these postings will take time to add their thoughts, whether they be general opinions or additional reflections on davening in these places.
The Shteeble Hopper welcomes suggestions of communities she should visit, as well as areas of focus for each of her individual minyan visits.