When I asked my partner who is not Jewish if we could start visiting synagogues in hopes of finding a formal Jewish home for our worship and community, he agreed immediately. His first step was to clear Sundays on his calendar—until I reminded him that while church meets on Sundays, Shabbat services are Friday nights and Saturday mornings in the Jewish community.
We started our search with Reform synagogues within a 20-30 minute drive. We wanted a synagogue with leadership that included women, whether in the form of a rabbi, cantor, executive director or board, and we were hoping for a community where a young(ish) couple like ourselves could find community.
I turned to a rabbi friend of mine to ask how to visit a new synagogue when you’re thinking about membership. His advice:
“Folks should set their first visit in accordance to what they think they will use as members. If they don’t plan on going to Shabbat services regularly, going to Shabbat services is not a great first visit—too much potential for alienation.
“If they are looking for religious school, go to the education director.
“If they are looking for fellowship, contacting the membership committee, the sisterhood or the executive director is a good start.
“If the rabbi is really important, make a meeting.”
Still a bit overwhelmed with the idea of setting up meetings, we began our research at home with a list of values we needed in a Jewish setting. Well aware that this was just the tip of the iceberg, we placed disability accessibility and inclusion, LGBTQ equality and inclusion, and the full welcoming of interfaith families at the top of the list.
Knowing that inclusion and equality is more than a yes or no answer, we put together a list of questions for the synagogue. You’re welcome to use the questions in your own search for a synagogue, but I also encourage you to think beyond these questions and identify issues that may be important to you—such as how a synagogue embraces social justice or the environmental policies of the synagogue.
- How have you welcomed families with disabilities in the past?
- Are your facilities accessible for folks with disabilities? Is there access to the bima for those with mobility issues (i.e. folks with a walker, cane or wheelchair)? Do you have large-print prayer books?
- Are people with disabilities active participants on committees, the board, sisterhood and men’s club, in all programs and services, and on the staff?
- Are children with disabilities welcome in the religious school? Are there bar/bat mitzvah tutors who work with students with disabilities?
- Will my partner, who is not Jewish, be fully welcome? How have you welcomed interfaith families in the past?
- Will my partner, who is not Jewish, be allowed on the bima during our child’s bar mitzvah?
- Will my partner, who is not Jewish, be a welcome addition to the synagogue during events or services that I cannot attend?
- Is religious school held on Easter (or other holidays that are part of another faith) and will accommodations be made if my child needs to miss school that day?
- How is your community inclusive for LGBTQ folks?
- Do your membership forms utilize inclusive language?
- Do you celebrate LGBTQ Jewish heroes in your religious school? Has your rabbi spoken about LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance during sermons?
- Do you provide safe and gender-neutral spaces and bathrooms?
- Are there active and out LGBTQ families regularly attending services?
We also came up with a list of questions that needed to be answered that touched on more of the tachlis, or details:
- What are the dues? Do you offer assistance or a sliding scale for lower-income families?
- What is the dress code?
- How often are volunteer events held? How often are community social events held?
- Who belongs to the synagogue? Will we find others in their ’20s and ’30s?
- Do you offer adult education programs? Are there classes in learning Hebrew or Torah study?
- What is the schedule of services and events?
Armed with these questions and a better idea of what we were looking for, we were ready to start our search. From here we found several synagogues in driving distance of our home that appeared to share our values.
We’re excited for our next steps: sitting down with leadership, observing a Shabbat service and imagining ourselves as active members of the synagogue.
Originally posted on InterfaithFamily.com.
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