Join a shul? Why some do and some don't

Last week, columnist Jennifer Lipman questioned whether twentysomethings needed to be shul members. This week we asked them...


Read Jennifer Lipman's comment piece Why should I belong to a shul? here

Itamar, 29, Borehamwood

"I joined because I didn't actually have a choice. We were getting married in London and even though we weren't getting married in the synagogue, to get married by the rabbi I still had to join the shul that my fiancee's family belonged to.

"It's not pleasant to feel like you've been forced to join a congregation, rather than becoming a part of it because you want to. I understand why they do it that way, but in my view it starts the whole relationship off on the wrong footing, even if you do end up living in the same area as your wife's family - which is certainly not a given, and didn't happen in our case. I'm unlikely to be renewing at the year's end."

Emma Berg, 25, Primary school teacher

"I have a shul membership through my parents. I wouldn't pay for one if they didn't, though. I only keep it because they care about it, and if they didn't then I probably wouldn't care either.

"I think generally my age group is less bothered about religion. When it comes to Jewish stuff, we're much less traditional than our parents, who didn't really break the mould.

"It's the same when it comes to keeping kosher or marrying a Jew - people don't care about it as much, and if they do it's mostly about guilt.

"I wouldn't want to pay for a membership, but my parents care about burial. The burial's the biggest thing for me - I don't really care about it, but I know it's important to my family."

Sarah Finch, 26, North London, Digital Marketing Manager

"I don't have a membership. My parents pay for my ticket for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. I only go on the High Holy Days, because they are important and I like to be with my family, but I don't really have any interest in going to shul any other time of year.

"I used to like it, especially when I was little on Simchat Torah and Purim, but I don't want get up early on a Saturday or give up my Friday nights.

"I assume I'll want to get married in a shul, unless I find a really nice venue that's cheaper or more convenient. If I have to join a shul to have a Jewish wedding, I'll join.

"I would want to be able to take my kids to shul so they could have some sort of Judaism in their lives. It's so expensive though, so there's no reason for me to be a member until then. It's just too much, especially with high rent and the other stuff we have to think about. How can you expect us to pay for shul memberships?"

Sarah, 25, Salford

"I use my synagogue on a regular basis. I pray there on Shabbat and the festivals, I go to regular classes and events which are held on synagogue property. I'm even a part of the ladies guild - something that I never thought I would say.

"To me, 'ladies guild' brings to mind matriarchs aged over 60, orchestrating the kiddush, but now that I'm part of one, I can see that a lot more goes into it. All those women in their 60s were in their 20s once, just like I am now.

"I wasn't originally a paying member, but after a while some board members quietly took me aside and suggested I become a proper part of the community.

"My synagogue gives a lot to the people who are part of it but they can only continue to do so if they have the funds available to keep it going. It's not a hugely wealthy community, and after a while you think to yourself 'is it right to keep benefitting without putting something back in?'

"After rent and taxes, my earnings are not huge, but the synagogue understands that many people are in that position and they are prepared to make allowances - something I'm not sure all communities do and which I really appreciate."

Louise Tolton, 24, works at the Wellcome Trust

"I am not a member of a shul. I never have been. My mum used to be, but her family wasn't particularly religious. My dad isn't Jewish, so it was never going to be a whole family experience. Because it wasn't really part of my childhood, I've considered it, but haven't acted on that feeling. That's just to do with modern life.

"There are so many other things - my job, where I want to live, money, mortgages, maintaining friendships - and life is so fast-paced. Even if it is on my spiritual to-do list, it's not what I think of when I wake up in the morning. It's not a priority.

"If I were to get married or even get into a relationship with someone who saw it as an important part of their life, I would definitely want to be involved in it."

Talia, 24, Hendon

"I joined because my husband was a member and it wasn't even a question that as a family we would all be members. I get out of it the sense of a real community, access to an amazing rabbi and rebbetzin, seats for the festivals and lots of friends and families at a similar stage in life to us

"I do feel it's worth the money. For me being part of a growing, vibrant community is so important. This is the place our children will grow up in and even though it may seem from the outside that there is more of a place for men in Orthodox shuls, the truth is that the women love it too.

"Whether it is coming to prayers, attending classes for women, going to the rebbetzin's house to bake challah or just chatting outside after services every week - whether we have attended prayers or not - it's a huge part of our lives. I wouldn't put a price on it."

Jonathan, 31, Golders Green

"In a way it felt like I was asserting my independence when I first joined a few years ago. I'd always been a part of my dad's synagogue and I'd been going there ever since I was a kid.

"The synagogue is run by my dad's generation, and I sometimes felt it was hard for them to take me seriously - for them I'd always be the six-year-old who threw a tantrum on the bimah at Simchat Torah.

"Joining a different synagogue with an entirely different crowd meant that I could be seen as myself."

Laurence, 31, Finchley

"The main reason I joined a synagogue, was, to put it bluntly, burial.It's just one of those things you need to do. I have until now been pretty nomadic in terms of finding the perfect shul. But I have come to the realisation that is it simply doesn't exist. In truth a synagogue is a community. A flawed, frustrating community that needs us - our views, our opinions, and our uncomfortable, unfamiliar, childless and spouseless members.

"We need that community to serve as a model of what our Jewish community has been, not what it can and will be.

"I'm in my early 30s, childless, and unmarried. Many times I've felt that synagogues don't really have a place for somebody in that situation.

"The community focus tends to be on keeping up with everyone else, and constantly looking around to see what everybody else is doing rather than living their own lives.

"It's not all doom and gloom. I'm lucky enough to have found a great shul and rabbi in a community that is warm and welcoming."

Isaac, 28, Radlett

"I'm agnostic, so I'm not looking for a place to pray.

"My family is United Synagogue, and we used to go for the High Holidays, but mainly because my grandparents expected it.

"Maybe if whoever I end up marrying really has a strong traditional connection then we could join for the kids.

"But in the meantime, it's not something that has even crossed my mind."

Rachel, 25, Hendon

"Why would I want synagogue membership? I don't go at all during the year and I spend festivals with my family .

"I'm not against membership, I'm just trying to save right now and only spend money on necessities and the occasional treat. For me, shul doesn't fall into either category."

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