A synagogue, the word is from Greek συναγωγή meaning “assembly.” In Hebrew it is בית כנסת meaning “house of assembly” or בית תפילה meaning “house of prayer.” In America or anywhere where there is a large Ashkenazi population you’ll likely hear the words שול – shul used. Synagogues are Jewish houses of worship, and often function as community centers also.
In Tanakh (Jewish bible), the only building that is worth mentioning is the Temple. It is central to Jewish worship and after its destruction at the hands of the Romans. The synagogue is but a placeholder of worship until the Moshiach bring back the Temple.
This is my synagogue, Congregation Kol Ami; it is the merger of Reform B’nai Israel and Tradition Congregation Montefiore after the closure of these two synagogues in 1973. B’nai Israel, actually held services under Orthodox rules until 1885. The city’s only Orthodox synagogue – Sharey Tzedek closed in 1930. Orthodox Judaism returned to Utah in the 90s under the auspices of the Chasidic sect Chabad Lubavitch.
Judaism, and Jews sees the members of the tribe as one. The language of the Tanakh refers to Jews often in singular terms – “Israel,” “The suffering servant,” “Judah,” etc. This tribal nature of Jewish thought shaped our people’s past and continue to perplex us in the present.
We are a tribe, and not a small one at that. Roughly half of world Jewry lives in Israel, and half in the United States with large minorities in France, Canada, UK, Argentina, Russia, and Germany. With small minorities in every corner of the globe, even China.
Being we are a large tribe spanning across the globe, division is inevitable. In Jewish history, we had 12 tribes; then Pharisees and Seducees; Rabbinic and Karaim; Hasidic and Misnagdim; and today we have Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and even Humanistic. Within Orthodox Judaism there is Modern Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodox Haredim. Each living Judaism according to its own definition. Often the most right-wing traditionalists accusing the more liberal branch as not Jewish. As history have shown, we are one people, but we have never bad a single definition in regards to religion, and perhaps the present is therefore no different.
There’s this insensitive Jewish joke that if not for anti-Semitism uniting the Jews together, we are likely to kill ourselves. Oy vey! But we are also still one people and despite these so-called denominational differences, the truth is most Jews are very loving and accepting towards one another despite religious and political differences. We have endured this long, we will endure for centuries more.
We are a family, and family is both by blood and by choice. It is both lineage and action. You are family not by choice because of who you were born to and from, but you are also family in the absence of blood by love, support and adopting the family credo.
What unites our family is the Torah, no matter what interpretation one may hold to it, even if one doesn’t believe in it – it is our book. It is our law, our myth, our history – whether literal or figurative, whether pseudobiographic or divinely given at Sinai. Whatever you creed towards the Torah, the truth is it is sacred to us all. A Haredi may believe he lives by its laws word for word, a Reformer may believe she lives by the ethics written in it, a Humanist may sees it as the national mythology like the Greeks have the Iliad…whatever you hold this book as, the Torah is dear to every Jew.
Every Jew, by birth or by choice is linked to the Holy Land. Every Jew from the faith to the faithless is linked by the Torah. Our divisions and our unity is present today. Our love and our disagreements shows we are human and flawed. We are a tribe – one of many in the world. Trying to find our place in the world, in modernity and within ourselves.
“To be kind is more important than to be right. Many times, what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a special heart that listens.” – The Lubavitcher Rebbe