The article in the June 14, 2019, Jewish Chronicle regarding the relevancy of the synagogue in the 21st century asks the question of what the synagogue may provide in the future. I view a synagogue as a place for the gathering of Jewish people. Gathering together in and of itself is a valuable function.
First of all, social interaction is a powerful buffer to loneliness and the associated negative effects on health. In addition, just getting to a synagogue involves physical activity, which also helps to promote good health. This point cannot be overstated and is especially important for older individuals.
Secondly, a synagogue can provide meaning and purpose to life. While that might translate into a study of the Torah and its interpretation, it also could mean promoting and being involved in activities that benefit other people. Giving meaning to others and promoting their welfare are important precepts in Judaism and promotes one’s own well-being. Under synagogue auspices, you might, for example, visit those who are ill or in need in some way, volunteer to tutor and/or be a role model for children in high-risk communities, connect to other religious communities, especially to those communities facing trauma of their own. All these and other activities can provide opportunities for members of the synagogue to add meaning to their own life by helping others.
Yes, there are nonprofit organizations that provide opportunities to engage in programs that help others. But if we are looking for ways to make the synagogue more meaningful, it is important to look beyond the traditional ways that continue the traditions of the synagogue. We should incorporate ways to reach out and add meaning to the lives of synagogue members by helping to address issues that can improve the quality of life of people in all communities.
Bruce S Rabin, MD, Ph.D.