5. Create a Social Justice Agenda
A minister friend of mine once made a quintessentially Jewish observation when he said, "Sometimes the heaviest burden is having no one to carry." It is easy to get wrapped up in one's own world of professional and personal concerns. A true synagogue-community provides motivation to look around, see the pain and suffering in the world, and begin the work of repair, known in Hebrew as tikkun olam.

Many congregations sponsor occasional social action projects. Yet if acongregation were to undertake the mission statement initiative, it islikely that it would find that one of the main purposes of Judaism is tobring aid and comfort to those less fortunate than oneself. A justiceagenda will move a community to the high ground of noble purpose. It will strengthen relationships between people doing important mitzvah work with each other. It will also result in attracting Jews to the congregation with deep commitments to working for peace and justice in the world.
Return to top

6. Experiment with the Prayer Experience
All of the greatest rabbinic teachers who addressed the issue of prayer insisted that it must be a service of the heart and not a rote recitation of the lips. And yet the latter is the form of prayer that is offered in most American synagogues. Since officiation at worship is one of the duties assigned to rabbis, you will need a cooperative rabbinic figure who is open to experimentation with prayer. Explore whether there is an openness to trying different forms of prayer at the main service in your synagogue. If not, see if you can create another setting for this.

Among the ways that Jews are experimenting with prayer today are the writing and sharing of personal prayers; use of alternative liturgies such as Marcia Falk's "Book of Blessings"; use of movement, dance, and yoga as part of a prayer experience; extended periods of silent meditation; breathing exercises; spontaneous prayer elicited from those gathered for worship; and sharing of poetry from other traditions and cultures that parallel themes in the Jewish liturgy. Even if these experiments happen outside of the main service, there will likely be some constituency drawn to them whenever they are scheduled. There is always the possibility that some of the experiments might recommend themselves for integration into the main service on occasion.
Return to top

7. Create a Lay-Led Service
Even if you love your rabbi and enjoy the service, good things will happen at a lay-led service that will never happen at the main service. Members will become more proficient at leading the prayers. Members will learn how to read Torah and Haftarah. Members will study the Torah reading of the week to give a talk or lead a discussion. The service does not have to happen weekly. Start modestly. Be consistent in terms of when and where it meets. You will draw a constituency.

Most important, participants will get a feeling of owning their own Judaism in a way that can never happen in a service when professional clergy run the show.
Return to top

8. Get the Actors at Life-Cycle Events to Speak to the Moment
Part of what contributes to the rote nature of Jewish prayer in American synagogues is that much of the service is so highly scripted. Creating moments when people can give expression to their emotions is one way to heighten the sense of spirituality in a service.

Most synagogues have a heavy schedule of life-cycle functions at theirprimary services. Most often these are bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, but they might also include baby namings, and aufrufs (a wedding couple's honor on the Shabbat before their marriage). All too often these occasions are so highly tailored to the celebrants and their guests that regular worshipers might as well leave the sanctuary for a walk around the block. But these are moments pregnant with tremendous emotional power.

Consider the possibilities. A parent shares a short, personal message to a son or daughter who is to become bar or bat mitzvah. A new father or mother says a few words about a deceased relative as their baby is given that relative's name. These give everyone in attendance palpable sense of the passing of the generations and the timeless emotions related to the creation of legacies for ourselves and our families.
Return to top

9. Share Personal Stories
Without question, the most spiritual moments that I have ever experienced in a synagogue setting have been when someone shares something about his or her own life journey and connects it to Judaism.

I have created a service where there is ample opportunity for such sharing--during Torah dialogue, in talks by members about a given prayer, in a d'var torah given by a member. Butsuch opportunities can be created in other settings as well.