Thursday, November 18, 2010

Synagogue Shopping Season

I was at my synagogue the other day with Daughter and since Daughter is now five feet one (I think she grew twelve inches in the last two years) one of the older ladies I know there asked me, "Have you booked her Bat Mitzvah date yet?"

I looked chagrined. Every good Jewish mother knows she's supposed to book the date with the synagogue at two years out and I'm at one year and nine months. What's the problem?

Is it that I'm afraid that instead of having a Bar Mitzvahzilla, like my son started morphing into around the time period of his Bar Mitzvah, I'll have quite the Bat Mitzvahzilla on my hands? Am I afraid I'll have to change the name of the blog? Or maybe that I'll have to start a new blog just to keep track of her varying demands (a kids' table shaped like an 'R'? Really? Her name in lights?)

Here's the real problem: I'm not sure my synagogue is going to exist in September of 2012.

There's this strange thing that happens in the Jewish community in Phoenix and, for all I know, in the Jewish communities all over this country: Sometime each summer the Jewish community goes synagogue shopping. Since synagogue dues are traditionally due before the high holidays which tend to fall in September and October, around August a synagogue fair is held to showcase new synagogues, old synagogues, and changed synagogues. 

In a community like Phoenix, where there are now fifty-five synagogues and many people who don't affilitate at all, sometimes it feels like, well, synagogue shopping season. Like there just might be a newer, more exciting place elsewhere, a younger, more exciting Rabbi, or lower dues. And, of course, there are valid reasons to leave a place of worship, like fees, like the Rabbi, like for spiritual fulfillment.

But what happened during this past summer was that a lot of people left the place that we belong to, threatening its existence.

Husband and I are a little dull-witted about this kind of stuff. It's not that we're massively spiritually fulfilled by our congregation, it's just that we have a relationship with them that, after thirteen years, feels right. It feels like home. And when we're there - even if we don't understand a word of the Hebrew - it reminds us of the services we grew up with and the Judaism of our parents.

I still live with this one nightmare from soon after our move to Arizona, when I was fourteen. My dad died suddenly at age 48 of a massive heart attack and we were unconnected to the Jewish community. We had no community to lean on for support nor a Rabbi to help us or to eulogize our father. The rabbi who showed up at his funeral - was he on a rotation list for the unaffiliated? - came and went swiftly, almost forgetting my dad's name in the middle of the service. That will never happen to my children and what happened to my father will never happen to my mother. The child of fourteen is now fifty and has changed all of that.

So I guess I'd better just have a little faith and book the Bat Mitzvah date. And get ready for Bat Mitzvahzilla.

Do you tend to change your house of worship frequently, if you go to one? Do you have any clear motivating reason why you do or don't belong to one? In your religion do you have a choice about where you worship? Ever had a kid grow this quickly?


  1. we went to the same synagogue growing up and my parents are still there 40 years later (!).

    Im not a shopper so much as a too sporadic atttender who vows to get better when her daughter is in sunday school.

    I think more than anything I long for a havurah.

  2. Never heard of this. If I went, which I don't, I'd stick to one... I like the comfortable old shoe of getting to know people. Actually, since we never go we are debating dropping our membership when my son leaves for college next year. Hmmm.

  3. Fascinating. I have never thought about this - the fact that some people might go house-of-worship shopping the way they would car shopping.

    It seems to me that once you feel comfortable in a particular environment - in so personal a "space" as spiritual belonging - you wouldn't want to rock the boat.


    As for Bat Mitzvahzilla. Good luck. Even if you tweak the title and need to rebrand, we'll keep reading.


  4. SInce you're already such an excellent shopper but are not in need of a new temple as of now, maybe you could provide concierge temple shopping services to those in need. Good luck with the big day!

  5. Miz, I do have a havurah, though we never go to synagogue as one of our events! And, while we formed out of my synagogue, people moved on, so now we're a freelance havurah, so to speak!

  6. Karen, you're doing better than a lot of people I know, who immediately drop the membership the day after the Bar Mitzvah!

  7. BLW, we're kind of cautious and fearful about burning bridges too. There was a time when we actually joined MORE than one because of various logistical things going on at the time, but ultimately ours just feels like home so those dropped away and here we are.

    And "Bat Mitzvahzilla?" I shudder.

  8. Lisa, great idea for a shopaholic! I could just match up each person to their perfect Rabbi, perfect denomination, perfect fee structure, right?

  9. It's interesting that so many people have left your synagogue. Have there been many changes recently?

    We go to an extremely old Methodist Church. Generations of families attend services (not out family, though), and not very many new people join.

    It was hard to be accepted (we're finally making progress after five years), so I wouldn't want to leave now that we are finally being accepted!

    Good luck with scheduling the bat mitzvah date. I bet it's hard to acknowledge/accept your daughter has already reached this stage.

  10. I grew up going to the same church in which I was baptized as an infant. As for Husband, his family switched synagogues along with dozens of others after some sort of falling out with the rabbi.

    Now we're an interfaith couple living in a largely evangelical Christian town without any congregation to call our own. As the December holidays approach and we now have a kid who's old enough to understand some of the basics of religion (not to mention be very interested in opportunities for present getting), it's clear that we have some deep thinking to do.

    For your sake, I hope your congregation survives the upcoming shopping seasons and that your daughter is able to make her Bat Mitzvah in the place where you have come to feel at home.

  11. Mrs. Mayhem, I think it must be that they didn't make changes perhaps, or took a few steps backwards with the bad economy.

    Love what you said about your Methodist church as a multi-year process just to being accepted! About eight years into belonging to our place we'd go to a meet and greet for new members (to welcome THEM) and the older members thought we were there as prospective members! I guess we don't have a memorable enough presence!

  12. Kristen, that "falling out with the Rabbi" thing can be a big factor over here too, though not the situation with my synagogue specifically. But there's always someone, probably in any group, who has a problem with someone else. I've had problems with Rabbis, they just weren't the ones at my synagogue.

    When we moved to Phoenix in the 70s, for fun on the weekends we'd go to tent revivals! That's how evangelical it was here (and how little I knew about Judaism - oops.)

    And with the boys, when you feel overwhelmed you can always let them explain the season to you. When he was little my son decided that reindeer were wildebeest. He had watched Lion King too much!

  13. I LOVE the idea of concierge services for synagogue shopping! That is hilarious! I had no idea this whole synagogue shopping existed. Wow. I learned something. I suppose it works the same in the Christian community- just without the dues. I have seen some churches suddenly considered "old fashioned" and all the hip young couples move to a hip church and the old one suffers. You already know the issues I am having with my own personal religion, so I won't air it here again.. BUT... interestingly enough.. if I ever were to figure out my way.. I have always been more comfortable with tradition rather than hip and trendy. I hope your synagogue survives and your daughter is able to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah in a comfortable, familiar place. And as for Bat Mitzvahzilla....while I don't wish more stress on you... the stories... oh the stories will be fabulous!

  14. We're a military family so we have to start everything from scratch every few years. Everything falls into place quickly new friends, fun, shopping but finding a place to share and celebrate our faith is a lot trickier. I wish I had a tip but it is something we still haven't mastered. It doesn't help that hubby and I can't agree on the same faith though ;)

  15. Interesting window to peek through. My church is modeled after the first century churches, before Christians actually had buildings to congregate in. We meet in people's homes for our usual meetings. It's kinda nice, actually. People do come and go for different reasons, but this is what my family and I have done since I was a child.

    I think making the reservation is a good thing. It's a positive action and show's you're excepting a positive outcome.

  16. I cannot imagine synagogue shopping every year! My non-Jewish DH and I have been members of our synagogue for nineteen years. I work there, it is my children's second home.

    I have a friend whose husband made her synagogue hop for years-going to the cheapest place, even though she loved the one they originally joined. Needless to day, her oldest quit the day after his Bar Mitzvah and they really do not feel that their present synagogue is home.

    Our synagogue gives out Bar/Bat Mitzvah dates 3.5 years in advance for birhtdays that fall before June 30th. Those born after that date have to wait another year to get their date.

    I have a friend at Temple Soliel. Are you familiar with it?

  17. Jennifer, funny about the "hip, young" idea for a congregation. One time we checked out a place a lot of people were going and it was basically a songfest, no prayer. We fled back to our regular place! And based on how difficult it is already living with an 11-year-old I can only imagine what it'll be like as she gets closer to 13!

  18. Tu Tu, yes, not being able to agree on a faith does make it harder! In my exmarriage I went to Christmas Eve services with my ex-husband but I don't think he went to anything with me. I think I was too paranoid about being judged by the Jewish community, to be perfectly honest. It was a long time ago.

  19. citymouse, your church sounds lovely. And you're absolutely right about booking the date. I guess there's an emotional side to it too, though: if I book it does that mean I have to start the horror of planning? Eeek!

  20. mommymommymommy, Temple Solel is a lovely synagogue in Paradise Valley. My son's 8th grade graduation was held there. It's not mine as it's a bit far from me.

    You're absolutely right about the message that continuity gives to kids and it does make me feel good about staying put! I love that you've been members for 19 years and that is quite an organized system, giving out the dates so early! Maybe I'd better call and make sure my daughter's date is available!