I looked through my high school yearbook and made a Jew count. (A Jew count is when you look through a list of names and pick out the Jewish ones.) Since I knew personally every one of my Jewish classmates, and the majority of my total 498 classmates, my count was probably accurate to the person.
Of the 39 Jewish kids in my class, myself included, all but one or two belonged to a synagogue. Most belonged to the Temple of Aaron, a Conservative “mega-shul” in St. Paul, Minnesota. A few belonged to Mount Zion, a Reform “mega-shul,” also in St. Paul.
In the Midwest, the majority of adults Jews are members of a synagogue. But in Connecticut, only a minority of adults Jews belong to a synagogue. While several explanations have been put forward to explain this difference, I would like to point to one of them.
In some Jewish communities there is an expectation of belonging. Sure, many adults in their college years and first few years thereafter went to shul on their parents’ tickets, but even singles under 30 were shul members. Upon meeting another Jew from elsewhere in the Metropolitan area, it was not considered impolite to ask, “What shul do you belong to?”
Whether or not one is “religious” or “observant” in any sense of the word, belonging to a synagogue is an important affirmation of one’s Jewish identity, and even more, a concrete act of support for the continuity of Judaism and the fulfillment of our mission. Belonging is something that everyone should do.
Therefore I want to propose that each of us, when we meet other Jews in the community, ask, “What shul do you belong to?” I’m not suggesting that we offer lectures on why they should belong. I’m simply positing that by asking the question we create the idea that there is an expectation for Jews to belong.
This is also an opportunity to invite others to visit BEKI. Fortunately, we in the Greater New Haven area are blessed with a number of fine synagogue communities, so someone can find the place right for them. Even if they are not interested in joining BEKI, they ought to be joining somewhere else. So please ask politely, “What shul do you belong to?”
© Jon-Jay Tilsen, July 1997