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Observance level has nothing do with the friendliness of a shul

shulSome folks express dismay that shuls aren’t as friendly as they could be, but I kind of expect shuls to be unfriendly places where people just go to daven, back in the day the shul was the center of Jewish life and I am told in some of the more liberal wings of Judaism it’s the only tenet of Jewish life, but still I don’t really go to shul because it’s a friendly place, I go to daven, scope out the girls, get some free food and once in a while meet some new people – which is usually only possible in shuls outside of the New York metro area.

That’s why I kind of freaked out when this guy introduced himself to me yesterday smack in the middle of a shul in Long Island, the last place I would have expected any sort of welcoming from the shul members, I haven’t ever spent a shabbos in Long Island before, but based on my experience with folks from Long Island, I wasn’t too impressed with their friendliness, I wasn’t unimpressed, its just a New York thing to be rude and unkind – not that they were rude and unkind, but based on my upstate mentality, everyone should have a 5 minute conversation with everyone they meet in the street no matter who they are.

Not only did the kid who came up to me say god shabbos, he said shalom aleichim and then said that we should chat after shul. Now how hard was that? I thought to myself as I recalled the hundreds of shabbosim I had spent in new communities where it was quite obvious I was a guest, yet not one person including the Rabbi came up to me to say good shabbos – in Detroit I sat down in a shul once at Kiddush, I was obviously a guest – I was the only one not wearing a hat or suit, yet no one bothered to welcome me and say good shabbos. Or that time I went to a modern orthodox shul in St Louis, and no one even cared to find me a seat so I stood in back until I decided that I should have just stuck to my hosts shul which was Agudah and way friendlier.

Obviously the paragraph above was trying to show you that based on my expansive experience in shul round the world shul attendance, I have not been able to come up with any correlation between the level of orthodoxy and the friendliness of the shul. I think people like to point fingers at both sides, but in my experience – leaving chabad and kiruv shuls out of it because no matter what you say they have to be friendly to push their agenda – friendliness has nothing to do with how frum or un-frum you are.

Granted the young guy who came up to me was the Rabbis son, my gloomy mood was brightened, I was seated in one of those seats that made it hard for a new comer to get up and daven standing like I wanted to, I was seated right next to the women’s section which had a rather low mechitza allowing all of them to look right me and me at them – contrary to what you may believe based on the fact I admit to checking out girls at shul, I dislike davening in shuls where the mechitza makes in easy to look at the girls. This is for several reasons, and none of them have to do with concentration, in fact it has to do with the opposite, instead of being able to freely look around, every move I make is scrutinized by the women ad every time I look around it appears as if I am trying to get a glimpse of the women.

I also dislike low mechitzas, because I cant just pick my nose or un-wedgie my suit pants without them looking at me. As I stated before I would have also liked to stand up for davening and having the women looking right at me made me uncomfortable. So I sdat through birchas hashachar and yishtabach and waiting until laining was over to daven shmona esrei.

I had arrived smack in the middle of the Rabbis speech, yet unlike many shuls, when I walked into find a seat no one gave me the stare, I frequently get the stare and it makes me uncomfortable, like being friendly, it doesn’t have anything to do with the religious level of the shul, it happens equally at yeshivish shuls and modern orthodox shuls – although basement shuls it naturally happens because you have to knock over people in the middle of shmona esrei in order to get any sort of seat or even to shuckel.

I looked around the shul and noticed it was small and no frills, no fancy stained glass, no obnoxious Monsey McMansion ark and no rows of artscroll gemeras, the seats had ample leg room and like many modern orthodox shuls they had armrests – mostly because in order to be modern orthodox you have to take longer than 3 hours for shabbos morning shul and therefore armrests were needed to take naps during the Rabbis speech.

The Rabbi stopped speaking and then they started laining, it appeared they were in the middle of laining and eventually I realized to my horror and probably every other ADD person in the room that the Rabbi would speak between almost every aliyah. I learned after shul –baruch Hashem – that the Rabbi never makes a regular speech and explains the aliyos instead. I swear to you I was debating leaving in the middle because I figured he would do this whole aliyah speech thing and then bust out one of those pre-musaf snoozers.

Its good I didn’t leave, because after that kid came up to me another dude came up to me to introduce himself and ask a little about me. Then a third person and you should note that was done in a discreet “I wonder who our guest is” sort of way, it wasn’t one of those hocker moves that hockers try to do to feel cool and find out if your related to anyone he knows (of course you are because he knows everyone)

I cannot tell you how good it feels to be welcome at a shul that you have been at, countless times I have gone up to Rabbis to inform them that I was disappointed in the fact I was a guest but no one had come up to me to introduce themselves (not in diverse big city shuls) – where its unexpected. I went to Kiddush and was duly impressed, I hadn’t even thought about Kiddush or girls the entire shul because it was so friendly.

Kiddush was a full spread, and the shul wasn’t too big I counted 45 men and maybe 30 women. Kiddush was cholent with kishke on top, salad with that high in fat Caesar dressing that frummies love and platters of assorted chicken breast including, schnitzel, grilled and lemon – with sauce in the middle – I didn’t even get to the herring but there was herring and some good cakes as well.

At Kiddush I met a whole bunch of people who kept coming over and introducing themselves and asking why I was there, where I was from – but no Jewish geography, not one time did anyone look at me blankly when I introduced myself as just Hesh with no last name (except for the Rabbi but he needs to know these things) in New York whenever I do this people look at you with a blank stare as if you told them you were from Queens but refused to say which part – it drives people nuts. The handshakes were firm and people looked at me when I spoke to them – I could have sworn I was back in Dallas.

I got to chat with the Rabbi who was super cool, and he asked where I had gone to college – a stark difference from frummies who want to know where you went to yeshiva. When I told him Brockport and I was about to explain where it was because its in the middle of nowhere – he said – “I’m going to tell you something that will blow your mind man” he sounded like he was tripping acid in Woodstock – he told me that about 35 years ago he was the Rosh Hashanah Rabbi in SUNY Brockport, definitely shocking considering that our campus Jewish population was very negligible.

I did notice that no one invited me to lunch, but I’m not getting too hung up on that, I am definitely hung up on being in eastern Long Island and feeling like I was out in Texas.

Oh and the shul is located in Roslyn, Long Island – the Rosylin Syangogue

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chris_B

    That sounds really nice! Hope I get to travel a bit someday and have a similar experience!

  • A23

    As far as Long Island goes, there’s definitely a distinction between the 5 Towns and Not the 5 Towns.
    I’m liking the new blog design.

  • joe

    hay u gotta come to crown heights for a shabbos ,I can’t promise that we will be more friendly then any other place ,but at-least no one will give u the stares being that around 10% of the population dress’s very similar to u, therealshlaich just had his kiddush this week ,I thought u would be their ,but I guess u can make up for it some other week.

  • nice shuls make me HARD!

    Can’t wait for saturday.

  • Phil

    Nothing to do with the post, you left the forum out of the new navigation links…

  • Jen

    i miss the new design

  • telz angel

    Speaking of friendly shuls, I used to make sure to show up for kiddush levonoh every month at the Young Israel of Brookline, MA, since it was the only time I could get someone there to say sholom aleichem to me.

    In contrast, there’s a shul in Irvine, CA where every week before kiddush, the ruv asked people to introduce themselves to new faces.

    (Love the Thesis Theme, BTW)

  • Mikveh Israel in Center City Philly is incredibly friendly as well. Their mechitzcah is like, waist-high though, which is a little awkward considering how crowded it gets. Regardless, they’re all super friendly. You should check it out if you’re ever in the area for shabbos.

    I like the new layout, btw!

  • Phil

    Frumcurios,

    Mikveh Israel with a waist high mechitza gets crowded and friendly? Sounds super interesting… 😉

  • That’s amazing! I wish there were more shuls like that. My shul in Baltimore is really friendly, but that’s because it’s so small and close-knit. Everybody knows everybody else, so when someone new turns up it’s a big event.

    Shira Chadasha is just about the unfriendliest shul I’ve ever attended. I’m cool with the mechitza/women leading stuff combo, but the progressiveness is just not worth it if it means you sacrifice something that I think is (or at least should be) a fundamental aspect of shul. Their so-called Hospitality Committee really only extends hospitality to shul members, which is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, because what on earth is the point of having it then?

  • Ha ha. Yeah I suppose I walked into that one, Phil, you got me.

    What I MEANT was, when they know you aren’t from there (and especially if you’re not sephardic) they’ll introduce themselves. I got the: “Hi! Are you just visiting Philly?” question. No name-dropping, none of that bullshit. It was great. I basically met all the women I sat near and chatted amicably, it was really nice!

  • Friendly upstate? Maybe only Jews in Shuls because the ratio is different and you have to stick together. Growing up upstate… people are mean up there. However, as I just mentioned, the Jews were very close knit with their 5 or so synagogues….

  • Shabbosos not Shabbosim, feminine… as in we women own Shabbos… (not that you would know by the work division….)

    • concerned friend

      you need to calm down sister. first of all, it is quite clear that god owns shabbos, and just lends it to us for a little bit (unlike yontiv which we have a little more to do with) but most of all, you should really chill out with that femenist power bull shit, it is very unbecoming

  • marc

    We thought you were visiting a family in Roslyn and so we figured you had lunch plans in place. Next time we’ll be sure you have some invitations. Bring your girlfriend too. BTW, the mechitza is not so low, just not opaque.

  • Now that’s the Frumsatire I remember- long ranting essays about the nuances of Jewish life. Not some smut from YouTube. Original reporting is what makes a blog. Keep it up. And put up some videos of your own, as you did way back.

  • You will notice that as the weather gets worse my writing gets longer and my videos become more frequent.

    • oh pleeze

      what can make them both non existent?

      thats what i’m waiting for damn it.

    • Sergey Kadinsky

      Will it be the classic Heshy videos from an Albany living room or a Monsey basement?

  • FrumGer

    Good Post Heshy, I love a friendly shul there is nothing like when people bring you in like you are “just one of the boys”, as if you have been a life long attender…. real Menschlikeit…

  • Eliezer

    I know this shul. It is called ‘The Roslyn Synagogue’ (not ‘Rosylin’). The author forgot to note that there was definitely good scotch at the kiddush.

    Also, it’s in Western Long Island, and notably, it’s not in the Five Towns. Oddly the author noted that there is no stained glass, when in fact there is some rather tasteful and understated stained glass.

  • When I asked you what brought you to our community for shabbos, you told me you were in town with your girlfriend visiting your family. Why, then, would I or anyone assume that you needed a place to eat?
    The next time you come, you will be swamped with lunch invitations.

    And bring your girlfriend. She’ll be invited too,

    By the way, it was nice meeting you. Please come again.

  • our shul actually had to put a policy in place that there is a “welcoming person” at the door each Shabbat to welcome everyone, including newcomers (that’s how bad it used to be) … also, the president makes it a point to welcome everyone new when he/she makes announcements…and we always have a good (altho dairy) lunch…if you’re ever in suburban Boston, love to have you join us!

  • Mark

    But Heshy, DID YOU TELL THEM ABOUT YOUR BLOG???? 🙂

  • Puzzled

    I just have to say – Roslyn being called eastern LI? Classic Jewish move, I think – I was once at a singles event in Connecticut where one of the discussion questions they gave out was “would you rather live in NY or elsewhere?” We were in CT, and they still managed to act as if NYC was the center of the universe. My parents live in real eastern LI, but the fact is, yea, from the Jewish radar screen, Roslyn does look eastern. Just amuses me.

    Also, pardon my ignorance, but how do lunch invitations work? I know how it works for me – someone goes to an orthodox shul, keeps shabbos, and invites me over for lunch, I’m willing to assume that I can eat in his house. How do other people know this, though, especially people who hold more stringencies? If I see a guest in shul and invite him to my house, how does he know he can eat?

    • I am completely ignorant when it comes to downstate, NY – I have lived in upstate for 15 years so to me everything is south or east of wherever I am.

      As for lunch invites, I have a great faith in people, yes I have seen some shady stuff and will stop eating if I do – like cooking on shabbos – using a sheenuy to turn on the AC because they forgot to, etc…

    • abie

      you’re question about being able to eat in other people’s homes is actually a subject of debate in the talmuds. see rashi in yevamot 88a (s.v. v’amar bari) which permits blind trust of an individual to keep a kosher home out of the necessity of jews continuing to visit one another

  • nice. i may check it out some time. I had actually heard good things about that shul already (don’t remember what, though). Is it ecohippiedox? And, yes, we from Long Island are very unfriendly. (Ew; I just said I was from Long Island; well, I’ve been here for longer than I haven’t, anyway. And I’m proud of LB.)

  • Anonymous

    Wow such inspiration, thank you – however I think that dress has something to do with friendliness – go to a black hat shul dressed in a suit and no one noticed – so they are neutral, then go as a modern guy you get stares – however go as completely unaffiliated Jew and you get loads of kiruv offers

  • Dude ive been to this shul and I agree it was a nice change up from the so called “warm” jewish community that we are supposed to be a part of.

  • JAMES

    As a former member of this Shul who moved from Roslyn, I can tell you that your experience was not unique. Its warmth and welcoming nature towards its guests, whether observant or not observant at all(which included myself when I first came there), extends from the Rabbi, the Rebetzin right through to its members. As to not receiving a lunch invitation, I’m sure they thought you had plans. Take it from someone who experienced it personally- new guests get many invitations for meals right from the start.

  • Please note that The Roslyn Synagogue has updated the website and the link above doesn’t work properly. Please use: http://www.roslynsynagogue.org. Thanks!

  • OrthoEbonyJewess

    You have no idea how many times my family has been ignored while visiting a shul on Shabbos. People underestimate the power of a nice friendly welcome. It really makes a difference.

    • Sergeant J

      I tend to get the staring people as well, but from time to time, there is a welcoming type of person..