Try this checklist on your synagogue. Give it one point for each of the following characteristics. It is (1) a place of engaging and spiritually moving prayer, (2) study and Jewish learning, (3) good deeds (4) warmth and outreach, and (5) healing. If your synagogue has earned all five points — stay put. But, if your synagogue isn’t such a place or if you are looking for a synagogue with these characteristics, it is time for you to read The Spirituality of Welcoming: How to Transform Your Congregation Into A Sacred Community by Ron Wolfson. The reader will learn how to “transform” synagogues into a vibrant “kehillah kedoshah,” a “sacred community,” with those characteristics.
The book itself accomplishes several of the objectives of a “kehillah kedoshah” despite the fact it is less than 200 pages. It is inspirational, and teaches Jewish values and learning. That is especially surprising because at first glance the book appears to be a glitzy how-to manual. In actuality it is quite the opposite. The punchy and pithy narrative is filled with teachings of the Sages including Pirke Avot, Hillel, Martin Buber, Bratslava Rebbe and poignant illustrative stories of negative and positive experience people have with synagogues. Woven into this material are sociological data about the changing nature of the American Jewish community, social scientific studies about what seems to work to entice and keep people involved in places of worship, and websites, an action guide and additional resources. It is a book that is a must read for clergy people, congregants and policy makers who want to broaden and enrich their synagogues and for all persons who are committed to keeping Judaism an integral part of the Jewish people.
Dr. Ron Wolfson is Fingerhut Professor of Education at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He is president of Synagogue 3000, an institute for envisioning the synagogue of the future. He is the author of several books, including Shabbat: The Family Guide to Preparing for and Celebrating the Sabbath. Includes index, suggested readings.