Harry Golden, who chronicled the life of Jews in the South, told the story with this famous punchline. Asking his father, a devout atheist, why he went to shul each week, his father replied that he sat next to his Orthodox friend, Garfinkle. “Garfinkle goes to talk to God,” said the senior Golden....
We go to services for various reasons. Some of us go out of a sense of obligation – to the tradition, to each other, to attendance requirements. Some of us go with a social agenda – it’s a good place to catch up with friends, and it’s a good place to find other Jews. Some of us go for the learning, the noshing, the respite, the regimen.
I go to pray.
I know that sounds peculiar, but it is true. Prayer is an essential part of my life, a cultivated attachment to be sure, but one that gives me balance and inspiration and much-needed moments of reflection on my life and my relationship with God. I pray each day with or without a community around me.
I hope you do not hear my honesty as complaint: it is often very hard to pray with our community. The different (and legitimate) agendas that bring us together are not always compatible. Frequently I am losing myself in the liturgy when I become aware of someone waiting to share some information with me. The conversations that carry in the acoustics of sanctuary and chapel are often louder than the sounds of davvenen. The procession with the Torah becomes a series of hastily whispered messages I am expected to absorb and process. The moment prayer ends, I am presumed to be “on-duty.”
The effect is like a phone ringing in the middle of the night – the interruption may be momentary, but is not easily put aside to return to the task at hand.
I hope I am not the only one who goes to shul to pray. I hope there are many of us who ease into a frame of mind that reflects the expressed purpose of gathering for worship. In that sense, I am less apologetic if prayer interrupts one of the other reasons you go to synagogue. But I do ask that you consider prayer as the default motivation of your neighbors in worship, including your rabbi.
Now, am I innocent of talking to Garfinkle? Of course not. I have to admit, sometimes he is more interesting.
THIS MONTH’S BIG QUESTION
for the 5770/2009 High Holy Day Reflection Booklet
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