How to Succeed in Shul

Ritual "How To's"

By bringing together God, family, friends, community, traditions and faith, Judaism strengthens us when we need it most. Attending services regularly can reconnect us with our greatest sources for anchoring ourselves in the world. The time spent in the synagogue can transform us. For many of us, however, the prayers do not resonate easily. Yet rather than diminish the time we spend in shul, we would do well to reconsider how to use the time better.

Some Suggestions

1. Come early and prepare to stay. A brief visit to shul will not provide the type of cathartic experience that one needs and can get; a short visit will probably leave you cold unless you possess an especially well developed spiritual sense.

2. Relax!
Don’t worry about keeping up with the pages. Dwell upon any prayer whose words reach out to you. Cantor Bruce Shapiro calls out page numbers regularly so that you can easily rejoin us.

3. Our siddurim (prayer books) are written in a modern, intimate style, with more gender-inclusive language.
Nonetheless, it may well be that you might want to add, delete or otherwise modify the words so that they are more meaningful to you. Feel free to do it! The great spiritual giants of all faiths, including Judaism have always done so. Tradition and change, in fact, taken together constitute the challenge and the glory of Conservative Judaism. Indeed, if reading Hebrew is difficult for you, don’t fret. Many prayers are transliterated, or just to try to sing in English. If you are still feeling self-conscious, at least hum along!

4. Try not to talk to those around you.
This is not merely a matter of decorum. Prayer is essentially a question of mood. Chit-chat may ruin the mood, so if you wish to speak, do the proper thing: Ask the person you haven’t seen all summer to step outside for a few moments so that you can greet one another without disturbing others (and then, of course, return to the Sanctuary!). Help us to maintain a reverential mood inside the Sanctuary for everyone’s benefit.

5. Take deep breaths.
Remove any chips from your shoulders, whether against God or people, whether against Judaism or the Synagogue.

6. Don’t take your pulse!
Don’t worry that you find yourself “enjoying” the services. Let yourself feel inspired, moved, or stimulated. Let the words, the melodies, the mood and your own mind and soul combine to take hold of you. Lose yourself in the davening.

7. Bring your whole self into prayer.
Sway to your own body’s natural rhythms. Pray the words aloud, in English or Hebrew. Use “all your heart, all your soul and all your might” to enhance your experience.

8. Don’t just “read” the words mechanically: Listen to them.
When praying, you become a participant in a magnificent religious symphony composed by religious geniuses. You must not only play your notes; you need to keep pulse on what the other members of the orchestra are playing.

9. Approach prayer as a privilege.
You will soon find that you are connecting with a grand mystical colloquy of God and humanity, and of the entire Jewish people—past, present and future.

10. After each service, join CBS members for a festive and delicious oneg.
This is a perfect time to socialize and ask any questions you may have.