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November 2022 Rabbi Arnow's Article

As I write this, we’re in the midst of Sukkot; when you read this, we’ll be on the other side of the Jewish holiday season. And it’s been a busy holiday season at Kol Rinah, between programs in Elul to prepare for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days themselves, tashlich, Sukkot, three evenings of Sukkot programming (Brotherhood, Young Families, and Sisterhood), a Shabbat Chol Hamoed program on end-of-life, Hoshana Rabba and an end-of-Hoshana Rabba klezmer concert, Shemini Atzeret with Yizkor (twice), and then Simchat Torah, both the evening and morning. Not to mention all the regular weekday, Shabbat and festival services.
We do a lot around the holidays! And there’s much more we could do, too. By the time we even start thinking about Simchat Torah though, I’m exhausted — even if it’s only August.
I love having all the smaller programs — relationships are formed in smaller gatherings, they’re less overwhelming, can be more informal, and are easier to put on and run. Everything’s easier with seven or thirty or fifty people rather than a hundred or two hundred. Having more small events also means we can appeal more specifically to the needs of different synagogue constituencies — including time, food, style, focus, and activities. It gives different groups an opportunity to take charge of something, too.
I also wonder though what a different model could look like. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are so exciting, in part, because of the energy of having so many people all present together. As it says in Proverbs 14:28, “The King dwells in the multitude of people,” and we understand this to mean that God is [more] present in a big crowd than a small crowd.
What would it feel like to have a single synagogue-wide Sukkot event that would bring a much bigger crowd than we usually get for any single Sukkot program? It’d be much more challenging, and more energizing too. Would less Sukkot programming mean that we could focus on Simchat Torah more? Or should we perhaps de-emphasize Sukkot to really plan for and push and celebrate Simchat Torah?
How should we as a congregation plan and prioritize these things? Who should be making these decisions? If people want to have a program, should the answer automatically be yes? If we wanted to focus our efforts on Simchat Torah, how would/could we do that? Is it even necessary to focus — can we essentially have as many programs and events and services going on as people will plan, and assume that enough people will come to everything to make each thing worthwhile? Or if we plan too many things in a short span of time, does that mean there will be less attendance, less energy ?
I don’t have answers to these questions. But I do find myself curious, wondering. What do you think? How much programming is too much? Are we there? Is there value to slimming our offerings to focus more? Or not? Or not yet? And if we did want to focus, who chooses, and who has to say no, and who is told they can’t do their program?
Synagogue life is surprisingly complex, and dynamic. I’m already looking forward to the holidays next year!
Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784