Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why We're There

My attendance rate at my synagogue’s Shabbat morning services, once probably in the 90th+ percentile, has fallen so low that every time I show up I receive an aliyah (the honor of being called to the Torah), as though it's a big event to see me there.

I enjoy being at services.  It’s hard to explain why I don’t go.  When my father was ill, I was with him instead.  Family and extended-family events have called me out of town or to other synagogues. There are many excuses. But also I just wake up on Saturday morning and convince myself that I’m too busy. Or too tired.

This morning, I'd been mostly awake since 3 am battling a migraine and I was beginning to win at around 8:00.  The prior night had been pretty much the same, and between the two I'd had a Friday of work and preparing and sharing my family's Shabbat dinner.  I was too under-rested and over-medicated to feel very chipper.  Yet for some reason, this was the morning that I felt that old, unqualified urge to get myself dressed and to synagogue.  It seems inexplicable that my mind went in this direction, given how my body was feeling.

So I followed my mind.  And shortly after I’d sat in my usual spot in the sanctuary, a good friend arrived.  His mother had just died this week, and he’d been out of town for the funeral. My husband and I had planned to visit with him tomorrow.  But here he was.  Sitting alone. Crying.

I left my usual spot and went to him.  We hugged.  We talked.  We davened.  After a while, another friend of ours arrived to lend him “synagogue support,” as she put it, and we flanked him, each with an arm across his back, as he recited the mourner’s kaddish through tears.

Nothing in my belief system suggests that a force greater than I prompted me to go.  It was entirely fortuitous that I made it there when I happened to be needed. I was not so compassionate as to have thought ahead to be there for my friend, unlike the woman who quite consciously and compassionately came for that express purpose.

Yet the privilege of doing so belonged to each of us, because—however it came about—each of us was there.  And what greater reason to be there, at synagogue each week, than to be in community? To lend support? To learn who in the congregation is ill or in mourning, or otherwise in need of our collective care?

I think I’ll be there more often.

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