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.

22 thoughts on “Birth Of The Shteeble Hopper

  1. You took the words right out of my mouth, as it were. Travel back five months or so, and I had just made a similar resolution. I tried a bunch of synagogues, and “still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Am writing a column about it…let me know if you or anyone else reading this wants to be quoted (with or without attribution) about your dissatisfaction with the available options and what you think is missing…

  2. big up yourself. davening services need a revamp or summin or else communites are gona see less and less youngers turning up, it needs to appeal to us. bring on the music and spiritualism i say! i say i say! good luck on your travels.

  3. I just wish more people would show up to daven at shul period.
    Hopefully you find the kavannah your looking for. I think this generation sucks most of the Jews I know think they are too good to go daven because they were raised as spoiled brats there alte zaydes would have clobbered them.

  4. That was my new aim for the year infact, to go see diffrent shuls, but that was mainly to learn davening tunes. Im doing a little experimenting of bringing in my darbuka into my sefardi service (i havent yet) but im practicing it and it does sound good! Aswell as making my own tunes to the services. In israel this summer i was on a tour for a month we prayed every shabbat. I can tell you to make a good service you just need people with enthusiasm and put them anywhere you like-be it the desert or outside a petrol station and it will work. Another thing is knowing tunes!!! Well maybe its just me, but like the really good safardi tunes to prayers is the one everyone gets excited about.
    If all minyans fail, why not constructing your own? With a more meaningful style service? Add a little bit of talking in between, mediatation, instruments and what not…
    Good luck
    p.s the most important thing for a minyan to realise is not to make the davening routine and to have kavanah in everything they say-that way you are sure to find a service that rocks!

  5. Two things. Literacy and community.
    We must find a way to make Jewish literacy compelling. From most of what I’ve seen and read, synagogue attendance and affiliation are driven largely by the problem of continuity and the promise of an easy answer in training the kids to “graduate” at their bnai mitzvas. Once the kids have their party, it’s sayonara to shul.
    We also have to like each other better. Even if someone is actually curious enough or hungry enough to go to shul, chances are they will be judged away by some little regular clique for being too frum, too secular, too weird, too this or too that. We’ll never daven a custom-made service. Some old Yiddish story said it well. “Izzy goes to shul to talk to God. I go to shul to talk to Izzy.”
    I hope you all find your answers.

  6. I know how you feel. I’ve been on such missions to find the ultimate shul. But the truth is that its hard to find. Not because most shul’s are unexciting, but because my expectations were too high. Whoever said that shul is meant to be spiritually exciting? What I love about shuls, is the possibility of going to a shul anywhere in the world, and being able to TALK to people, make friends and contacts, and pray with fellow Jews. I find this brotherhood uplifting. I’m not seeking some meditative experience anymore.
    I totally agree with uberkvetcher in that I wish more Jews would go to Shul. Its so much fun when you’re travelling in other countries or cities, finding a shul and being able to check out the local Jews.
    I don’t mean to put you off your spiritual search, but I think you have to be modest about it. Most shuls aren’t all that ‘spiritual’, but if you can see the simple beauty of people coming together, then you might appreciate this ultra-important institution more.
    Mazel Tov.

  7. As i wrote in my post, i am not in fact looking for ‘the ultimate shul.’ While i lack the time and energy to create the ultimate shul (I also am a student in NYC so I don’t really have time, nor do I plan to be here forever to nurture it), I am going to try out as many shuls as I can, attemping to gather tidbits of what makes every shul grand. “See the beauty in every shul” if you will.
    I definitely like what you said about talking to people in shul. I enjoy services particularly when I am around people I love and am excited to spend time with before and afterward. When I feel a tension I almost can’t bear because I so badly want to squeeze a shabbat shalom to my friend E or A, that’s when I know I’m in good community.
    As for the London folks (looking for a place like kol zimrah in new york, which uses guitar and sometimes other instruments):
    Reform Chavurah: meets one fri and one sat a month. http://www.reformchavurah.org. uk
    also there is “shabbat shira” twice a month on fri nights at west london synagogue.
    for everyone else, if you are looking for an alternative minyan, definitely check out the havurah directory at http://www.havurah.org
    as for where i am starting, i will never announce the particular shul before i attend it, but you can bet the first few ones will be in new york city since that’s where i currently live. though i would love to make it to san diego one of these days!

  8. Thanks for the shuls!-ill check them out, even though im not reform, but praying is still praying wherever you are i guesse…But if anyone knows any pluralist or modern orthodox shuls?
    Its not about being modest in the case of my shul where most come for social reasons and not even half are praying. Aswell as the shul being disgustingly chovonist giving the women section less than a fith even of the room.
    Jos sorry about my use of Instant message language, kl=cool…which you probably knew.

  9. I reckon that assif (www.assif.org) is the coolest minyan in london-its an independent minyan, trad egalitrarian, with fab singing (no instruments) and a knowledgable and committed community Its part of the uk masorti movement, but kind of different to it too.
    http://www.kolnefeshmasorti.or g.uk is also pretty happening, and gloriously radical and eccentric, with iconoclast Rabbi Joel Levy, perhaps the best rabbi in the country.
    I have been to a lot of london shuls-I reckon these are the best, although the previous two reform ones mentioned are good, and I think yakar is also cool, if you want something more modern orthodox.
    There is also saatchi http://www.coolshul.org, which is again modern orthodox, and considers itself very cool, but I think its no longer cutting edge, and not really what it was.
    ps genuinely didn’t understand kl….am a bit of a luddite

  10. Thanks for writing about this topic, I’ve been in major turmoil over the shul thing, too. And I don’t feel like my expectations are super-high — I just want services that are traditional but meaningful and progressive, with people who actually CARE about what they’re saying/doing. So why is this so hard to find?? I guess the sad truth is that a lot of synagogues try so hard to please everyone that they can only provide a bland, spiritless experience at best, or an outrageously hypocritical one at worst. I have recently found a sincere, unpretentious, very friendly shul in St. Paul, but the actual services are still on the boring/un-adventurous end, so we’ll see how that goes.
    I’ve also been thinking that maybe if people like us keep going to services with OUR kavannah and OUR fresh ideas, something will be changed or influenced down the road. I mean, God put us in this world for a reason, right? Maybe we have to keep trying to be the difference we want to see in the world.

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