Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Synagogue: A Prayer House or a Prayer Home?

Since coming out I find myself searching for a shul that I feel comfortable in.  My attitude towards davening (praying) is a result of my upbringing.  I expect a very solemn, serious service with minimal talking in the pews and an all-encompassing feel of spiritual aspiration b’Shma (for its own purpose).  I am therefore comfortable with the services in traditional black-hat and German style synagogues. 

I have different expectations for my community, expectations that I have not been able to fulfill in the traditional synagogues I just mentioned.  I take comfort in a community that is accepting of everyone, a community that sees each person for the inner spark that they can provide and welcomes them into the fold so that spark can be nurtured into a roaring flame.  In these communities I feel that I can be open and respected as a gay man and, more importantly, as a gay Jew.  I have found communities like this among the left-leaning “independent minyanim” I’ve encountered in Israel, New York City, Washington D.C. and others. 

My problem is as follows: in the traditional communities I don’t feel welcome as an individual.   It is as if, upon entering the synagogue, I find myself facing a security guard who demands that I leave my personality at the door.   Then and only then may I participate in the prayers.  In the more liberal communities I feel welcomed, embraced, appreciated for the entirety of what I have to offer.  However, I find it difficult to connect through their services which tend to be a bit more relaxed than I am comfortable/familiar with.  I’ve found some shuls that attempt to create a middle ground, proclaiming a modern approach to Judaic community with basically the same traditional services.  Unfortunately, more often than not this third type of community leaves me wanting for both community and service. 

I once happened a shul in Yerushalayim that actually did a good job at creating a middle ground.  This is the Yedidya community in the Talpiot/Baka neighborhood.  But this community is half a world away.  What am I to do? Should I pray where I feel I could potentially develop a better spiritual connection, even though this nexus is diminished by the limits of the community? Or, in the alternative, should I pray where I feel welcomed, but unable to comfortably engage in a prayer services?  A shul needs to be more than a prayer house, more than a building of concrete and  wood containing mortals aspiring to be more for a few hours a day.  A shul needs to be a home where I feel comfortable approaching G-d as a father, but it cannot lose the quality of inspiring the fear of G-d as a king. 

I suppose I’m just guy trying to find my way home. 


  1. I found your blog through "Kirtzono".
    I feel for the dilemma in which you find yourself. Unfortunately the only alternative I see is to try to connect with those few frum gay Jews who are willing to reveal themselves (hardly doable) or to separate the service from the surroundings (Fellow congregants). I would try to lose yourself in the beauty of the service, for now.
    It must be truly difficult not to feel able to wholeheartedly connect with those who "speak the same language".
    I hope that one day you will feel both connections.

  2. a friend mentioned that he had attended a particular shul on Shabbat. "I thought you joined Congregation Such-and-such?" I said. "I can't expect to get all my spiritual needs met at just one synagogue," he replied. "But you're straight!"