6 METHODS TO IMPROVE HIGH HOLIDAY SERVICES
The system has been broken for centuries. Today, convenience items such as iPhones and Blackberrys have destroyed attention spans. Other industries have taken this into account (take stupid movies for example, or CNN.com’s abridging of already short articles). Basically, parties who care what WE think — have gone great lengths to condense their message. So why shouldn’t this apply to the synagogue as well? Could bangin’ it out and gettin’ it done with be applied to shul. Here are 6 methods to improve High Holiday services:
1) Not 85, not 90, but 100% of congregants have no clue about the logic and order of the prayers. They stand when told, and then wait to sit… when told. If you’re a rabbi, you can bet everyone standing is praying for a speedy return to their seat. As a religious leader, you should take authority to excise unneeded prayers from the set list. Take the time, and truly analyze each prayer as a journalist would their article. What’s important? Ask the basic questions: ‘How will this prayer affect the lives of my congregants?’ ‘Will this prayer help my congregation’s existential truths?’ And… ‘Does this prayer have too many verses, and not enough choruses?’ Really think about these — then cut the fat.
2) Reward congregants who are on the right page… literally. In my extensive career of forcing myself into shul on Yom Kippur, I have never been on the correct page of a Siddur. I easily lose track, and see no benefit or logic to scrolling my eyes across text I can’t read or seems needlessly esoteric. Plus, every now and then somebody asks me what page WE’RE on, and I never know to whom they’re referring. So, perhaps, a reward system needs to be in place. There should be a ‘what page are we on’ pop quiz every 20 minutes, submitted through silent voting (a la America’s Funniest Home Videos). If you get it right three times, you are off the hook for atoning.
3) Let people wager on how many times we say “King of The Universe”.
4) Consider the medley. Recall, if you will, going to a concert of an iconic band; one with myriad chart-toppers and a surplus of good material. There is no way they can play every smash hit, so they occasionally combine five or six big numbers into a short medley – hitting one verse and one chorus each, and then… on to the next one. Well, some of these prayers have around 76 verses and the chorus repeats 79 times (the final three choruses being stylistic, manual fade-outs at the end). So just go ahead and combine a few. Everybody’s happy, and will be pumped when you make a cool, yet subtle transition into Ma’Oh’Tzor.
5) Eliminate the new-age, plastic ‘say-hello-to-the-person-next-to-you’ segment. This is not only time consuming, but also re-affirms how disconnected we’ve become as Jewish people. Seriously, this is a relatively new feature. It makes everyone feel painfully awkward, and on a deeper lever, causes realizations of our averse nature towards strangers. The setting of temple, a locale built for community and togetherness, exacerbates (the shit out of) this feeling. Perhaps replace this segment with a high-energy reprise of Sha’ma.
6) Stop charging a cover. Jewish guilt is one of the strongest natural forces. We feel we NEED to be in synagogue on a certain two days every year, and if we’re not, we have successfully shamed our ancestors. Suddenly, we feel retroactively responsible for the whole ‘thing’. Last year, some synagogues were charging $200 to get in. I do understand the fee pays salary for the rabbi, the canter, synagogue administration, etc… But – instead of exploiting this guilt with money, perhaps we should exploit the sensation of leaving synagogue. That’s right – an exit fee. First off, extend the service to the five-hour orthodox length. Then, if you can’t take anymore after an hour, you have to pay $250 to leave. Stay 2 – 3 hours, and it’s $150. The synagogue could make big money this way, and it also provides a nice litmus test for rabbi contract renewal.
Next year, lets give these a shot, and atone for centuries of self-induced masochism.