Last month, after polling the congregation, the Ritual Committee voted to move the starting time for Friday evening services from 8:00 to 6:30. The decision was made after polling the congregation and finding more support for the earlier time than the later time, including from people who regularly attend the later service. THIS CHANGE WILL TAKE EFFECT ON FRIDAY, JUNE 23, following the last weekend of the season on which there is a bat mitzvah. Unless otherwise announced for a special event (such as a visiting scholar), the 6:30 time will be weekly.
The institution of a "late Friday night service" is a vestige of a different time in American Jewish history. When our community was made up of an overwhelming majority of merchants, the later service was necessary to allow them to meet the economic expectations of the marketplace and still maintain an observance of Shabbat. Merchants came to synagogue straight from work and went home to some semblance of dinner, with or without their families. As those circumstances changed, the Friday evening service took on a more social aspect. Indeed, previous attempts in this congregation to consider a change in time were met with resistance from members who considered the late service a social as well as religious cornerstone of their lives.
But Kabbalat Shabbat, the introductory service that precedes Ma'aniv, was instituted to acknowledge the arrival of the Sabbath Queen, not her presence. In fact, among the multiple meanings of kabbalat shabbat is the notion that the participant receives or takes on Shabbat in his or her life at that moment –almost an absurdity when it has been dark for many hours, candles are lit and the kiddush cup is drained. Traditionally, the hour of this service fluctuates along with sunset. But except for the few weeks on either side of solstices, 6:30 is a pretty reasonable approximation of the time to welcome this unique day.
A change in time brings along with it other changes. First of all is the hope that you will go home to a leisurely meal. And since we know that for far too many of our members that means going home alone, we will be more purposeful in encouraging those with a weekly Shabbat table to add seats for early and last-minute guests (and in encouraging singles to join with each other to create Shabbat-families). Second is the length of the service. It is currently just over an hour, which includes a full sermon and is followed by a full oneg shabbat. Our earlier service will include more music and less talking, and a more modest offering for people who elect to stay and shmooze. Our hope is to conclude within forty-five minutes (bear with us as we work it out). And third is outreach and inreach. We hope to be able to reach out to the many unaffiliated Jews in our area – including singles, intermarrieds and same-sex couples – who will fmd in this introduction to Shabbat an introduction to the warm and wonderful community that Conservative Judaism provides at Agudas Achim. We began this effort last summer and will continue it, thanks to a grant from benefactors Irene and Eddie Kaplan and our summer rabbinic intern, Noah Farkas (who will arrive in mid-June). Similarly, we hope more of you will come straight from work or from summer activities, with younger children and not-yet-exhausted adults (who find 8:00 an impossible hour). Dress for this service is best described as "with casual respect."
For some of you 8:00 was a convenience or a long-standing personal tradition, and the change will be difficult; I hope you come to embrace the earlier hour. The opportunities this restructuring represents are many for enhancing a fuller and more traditional observance of Shabbat. Give it some time to become a part of your routine.
The first word of the first psalm of Kabbalat Shabbat says it all: L'khu. Loosely translated, it means, "Y'all come."