Went to shul, of course! Yes, even when I am away, even when vacationing, if I can I go to shul. The truth is I’ve always liked it, going all the way back to my Hebrew school days. The other students in my class would complain when we were brought in to sit in services, but I didn’t mind. There was something about it, hard to identify, difficult to pinpoint, maybe impossible for me to explain.
The truth is, I would rather sit in the pews. My guess is if you polled a group of rabbis about this question, a fair number would tell you they want to be on the bima conducting the service. I’ve even known a few rabbis who have said to me ‘why would I go to shul if I am not running the service?’ But I enjoy just sitting quietly, doing a bit of davening, following the Torah reading and checking some of the commentaries, just the sort of quiet head space of it all. Isn’t that part of what shul is supposed to be about anyway?
I also enjoy seeing how things work in other congregations. It is a big Jewish world out there! In our own spaces we can get so tied down to OUR way of doing it, the tunes we use, the readings we do, when we sit and stand, even where people sit – it can all become sacrosanct. There is an old joke in the ‘business’ – you could cut the entire Shema out of the service and no one would say a thing, but if you change the tune of Aleinu, beware! Of course it isn’t exactly true, but it is true enough.
But a little bit of traveling will remind you that there are a million and one customs, a million and one different ways to do it, each community with its own version. And yet in some profound way it is all connected, and you can feel at home in any shul, big or small, local or far away. In one way or another the Torah will be read, the Shema recited, the Aleinu sung. And you realize, when all is said and down, it is your place, these are your traditions, the people here are your community. And the shul is your shul, too.