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Squeezing It In
08/04/17

By now, many of you have seen the Op-Ed piece in Sunday's Los Angeles Times which claims "It's Too Expensive to be Jewish." Leslee Komaiko, who wrote the piece, is a mother who, like many in our community, is busy trying to make the puzzle pieces of her family's life fit together. She has decided that it is time for her 12-year-old son to begin studying for his Bar Mitzvah and is unable to find a tutor that is, to her, affordable (If you haven't yet seen the piece, you can read it here).

In many regards, Komaiko is correct. Engaging in Jewish life – with synagogue, religious school, Jewish summer camp, Jewish day school, contributions to Jewish philanthropic organizations such as the Jewish Federation and more – comes with a hefty price tag. There is no denying that reality, and while we work to build a more solid financial footing for our own synagogue, we do so knowing that a significant piece of that footing needs to exist in order to support those who are legitimately not able to make the puzzle pieces fit for themselves.

With all of its merits, though, Komaiko's argument is far from complete. In addition to the fact that there are many aspects of Jewish life that have little to no cost associated with them at all (think Shabbat dinner with friends and family, singing the Shema each night at a child's bedside, stopping to recognize a rainbow in the sky…), the way she describes her dilemma is evidence that she is missing the essence of what synagogue life is ultimately about. Bar Mitzvah preparation seems to be an obligation that needs to be squeezed between taekwondo, baseball and sleepaway camp. Getting ready for this major family milestone is yet another thing tugging at the family's already tight time and money.

To my core, I believe that when synagogue and synagogue-related activities are conceptualized as yet more things to be squeezed out of already tight calendars and bank accounts, we in the synagogue world will lose out nearly every time. Everyone, regardless of age or family makeup, has other demands pulling on limited resources. We simply cannot be another thing to do. Instead, my goal is that we will become an essential part of who the individuals and families that affiliate with the synagogue ultimately are.

While it is always possible to arrange for a Bat Mitzvah or a bris or a memorial or a marriage or any other life event without being part of a synagogue community, it is only within the community that these moments are more than something one simply does. These moments, celebrated and mourned and challenged within the synagogue by a person or family that calls Temple Menorah home all the time, have a lasting impact not only on the individual or family, but on the synagogue, as well.

For Leslee Komaiko and her son, I hope that the learning associated with his Bar Mitzvah preparations extends beyond the day of the service. Sure, if they manage to find the time and the money to arrange for a tutor, he will have a Bar Mitzvah. But if they find a way to make Jewish life part of who they are and how they live every day, they will forever celebrate him being a Bar Mitzvah – a young person who will carry Torah and Judaism into the next generation. That is priceless.

Regards,

Rabbi Leah Lewis

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