Okay, let me clarify. That’s not meant to be a marriage proposal. But it is an invitation to take a few steps closer to a truly meaningful, inspirational and—yes, engaging—prayer experience here at Oheb Shalom Congregation. Communal prayer lies at the heart of what happens at a synagogue. True, we could each pray privately, at home or at the beach or in the reservation, and such prayers would likely be heartfelt and profoundly meaningful. But praying together with a congregation is fundamental to being Jewish. In whatever place in the world we have lived, in every century and generation of our existence, we have gathered together to pray.
The impulse to pray comes naturally to us. We want to pray, we need to pray, we need to express our deepest yearnings and to acknowledge our place in the world. And we need to pray with others. Communal prayer is a transformative experience in ways that prayer in isolation cannot be. We draw inspiration from being with each another to pray, to sing, to learn and to celebrate. If you prefer an analogy from the world of sports, there is an obvious difference between watching a baseball game by yourself in your home and watching it in a stadium with 40,000 other people.
But it’s not always easy to pray with a congregation. Numerous obstacles to meaningful communal prayer get in our way, including the absence of Hebrew language skills and experience with the complexities of Jewish prayer, disagreements with the theology expressed in the prayer book, the inability or lack of inclination to express ourselves spiritually, and the way we choose to allocate our time. We often feel so pressured by the pace of our lives that we crave leisure time, private time, time to decompress and relax. In all the frenzied busyness of life, many declare Shabbat to be a time of personal rejuvenation that doesn’t include spending the morning in the synagogue.
I’m seeing the effect of some of these obstacles on our worship here at Oheb Shalom. Fewer people are showing up for Shabbat morning services than in prior years (there are similar challenges to our Friday evening services, but the two settings are very different from each other and need different solutions). And people arrive well past the 9:30 AM start time, which delays the enjoyment of the benefits of having a full congregation until much later in the service. Can this trend be reversed?
I want Oheb Shalom Congregation to be more of a place where you come to join your voices in prayer and express your yearnings joyfully and meaningfully. We can help to make that happen by creating a setting for prayer that is spiritual, beautiful and peaceful. A new committee at Oheb Shalom, the Tefillah Committee, has been meeting for months to find ways to make our worship services more engaging, meaningful and uplifting for all. We’re guided by the desire to make our worship more spiritual and transformational, more relevant both spiritually and intellectually, more participatory, more welcoming and more realistic about the length of time people seem to want to spend in the synagogue on a Shabbat morning. Innovations designed to enable you to connect more powerfully to the liturgy and to the Torah reading will be introduced into the service. This Shabbat, in particular, we’ll focus on “opening up” the Torah reading so that its message, and the actual experience of hearing the weekly portion read, are more accessible.
What do I ask of you? First, ARRIVE AT OHEB SHALOM BY 10:00 AM, since the Torah reading will get underway very soon after that and we don’t want you to miss any part of the experience. We’ve designed the service so that it concludes just before 12:00 PM (and possibly earlier than that). And second, come with an open heart and an open mind to pray, to sing, to learn. Bring us your hope, your optimism, your worries and your dreams and combine them with those of the other members of our congregation. Come with your desire to shake off the tumult and pressure that builds up within us during the week. Come to take your place in our congregation, to join your voice with the voices of fellow congregants who wish to pray together and to search for God together. Come to be with us and you will be richly rewarded.