Friday, May 12, 2017

In the Small Chapel

In my membership years at my current shul, I've succeeded in scaring away about half the members we had when I arrived.  The credit for this achievement probably does not really go to me but maybe to the Board that votes on the dues structure and the Rabbis responsible for making those rather hefty annual fees a worthwhile consumer purchase.  Members have departed to the warmth of Florida, though not very many, and the cold, cold ground in accordance with the actuarial projection of an aging population.  We have virtually no kids at services other than the Rabbi's and they come in at the end for the most part.  As a consequence of this, our building, now just a few years younger than me, has become a white elephant.  While rooms were designed to multitask with movable partitions, what was intended as an active school wing lies fallow.  There aren't that many religious events that justify the climate control of a spacious sanctuary so worship has moved to the small chapel, nearly in its entirety.  It gives the illusion of more attendance than we really have each week.  While I like having my own defined space, the Rabbi takes a more tuchus to tuchus preference, though he sits in the front row pretty much by himself.

Image result for synagogue sanctuaryIf you create a checklist of what Jewish sacred space needs to have, or should have even it optional, we satisfy the minimum need.  There is a Ner Tamid above an Aron Kodesh.  A bimah that one can ascend rather easily lies in the  front.  There is a lecturn for the baal-tefiloh on one side and a shulchan to read Torah and Haftarah on the other side.  The American flag is on its right in accordance with accepted flag etiquette with the Israel flag on its left .  Fixed wooden pews extend back a few rows with additional seating of individual chairs with armrests behind that.  Those in the pews can reach forward for their siddur or chumash, those of us in the chairs, which I usually select, have to take our books from a steel rack.  And behind it all with the partition removed is the library with its softer seating and table.  The price for that may be not being able to escape the service to partake of the books while the service is in progress.

I miss the main sanctuary, named after our venerable Rabbi who devoted some forty years to our congregation, enabled it to peak at 700 or so families which at one time justified the building that we now have.  The Aron has Torah scrolls galore, more than enough Kosher ones to distribute among parallel services when the women worship together.  The seats fold down as they do in a theater, the bimah rises high enough to require steps to ascend it and the clergy and other VIP's can sit on it facing the congregation.  It's the kind of place you would invite a guest, but a visitor attending a Bar Mitzvah fares a little better than the Sabbath Bride making her weekly entrance.  You can sit in the Men's or Women's section if that is your tradition.  You can face the Bimah or you can face forward.  It has no open windows.  We are diminished both by not using it and perhaps even more by not really needing it.