Tuesday, March 11, 2008

what attracts people to shul?

I was recently thinking about this question and am curious as to others' opinions. What attracts you to a shul and why? The building? The cholent served at the kiddush? The derasha of the Rav? The social crowd? The chazzan? For those of you out there who are practicing Rabbanim, do you throw everything you can out there and hope you hit the magic trigger that will turn people on to your shul, or is there one particular quality that you work on to distinguish your message?

Have you given your answer some thought? I am curious if anyone else included in their answer a factor that I rank as being of primacy importance. The magic word: stimulation. Maybe it’s just me, but unless my brain is working, I just get bored, lose interest, and start getting impatient. Stimulation can come in a lot of different forms, e.g. a new melody incorporated into tefilah, a different dish at the kiddush, etc. but for me those items sit on the periphery. For a different food I can go to a restaurant, for a different nigun I can go to a concert, for a social outing I can go to a Mets game. What being in a makom torah can give that those experiences can’t is one thing: Torah. By that I don’t mean a stale vort that has been passed around for 200 years and is delivered with the usual platitudes about the importance of chessed, torah, etc. I mean Torah in the sense of a meaningful insight that challenges me to think, to evaluate, to learn and grow. In other words, Torah that stimulates.


  1. Anonymous7:57 PM

    To be honest, I had never spent a Shabbos in Woodmere, NY before I moved there. My wife and I were very familiar with the Rav of the Aish Kodesh Shul in Woodmere and we moved there purely al semach Rav Weinberger. We assumed that any kehillah who would be attracted to this Rav would be one that we would surely be comfortable in. And we were proved right. After nearly 4 years in the neighborhood, we are very happy with our Shul and the reason why we chose it.

    -Aish Kodesh Member

  2. The question I would ask is what is it about R' Weinberger that attracted you. Is it something superficial, like wanting to daven in a shul where the Rav wears a shtreimel? I doubt from the tone of your comment that that was it. My guess would be that R' Weinberger does say stimulating and engaging torah that does force people to think (at least that's been my impression in hearing him).

  3. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Personally I initally chose the shul I daven in for it's proximity. However what kept me there was a combination of the Rav, who speaks well, and provides the stimuli that I need. However the social interactions did help keep me there as well.

  4. I think you are right that stimulation and especially in the area of Torah are important. But I think there are two very basic (and sometimes, although they do not have it to be, contradictory) elements.

    The first factor is the quality of the davenning. Is the davenning quiet and at the right pace -- do people take the davenning seriously. Even within places where people do take the davenning seriously there are different styles, less or more singing, the speed, etc. But I think the underlying issue of going to a place where people take the davening seriously is paramount.

    The second issue is how family friendly the place. Many people I know have said that Shul X is great and I'd love to daven there but it's not good for my wife/kids. Often there seems to be a divide between shuls where davenning is the key and where accommodations for kids are made. I believe that on some levels it is a false dichomoty but on a practical level it is a pattern that I have seen.