Religion & Beliefs

A Congregation of Dead Jews

I was talking to a friend (we’ll call him George) the other day, and he told me about a really sad situation.  Near his apartment there’s a synagogue that used to house a vibrant congregation.  Over time, the Jewish community … Read More

By / February 28, 2007
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I was talking to a friend (we’ll call him George) the other day, and he told me about a really sad situation. 

Near his apartment there’s a synagogue that used to house a vibrant congregation.  Over time, the Jewish community moved away from the area (to the ‘burbs), and the synagogue struggled.  They began to have trouble making a minyan (especially since it was orthodox shul, and nobody could walk anymore).  Then the rabbi (who’d been holding things together a long time) passed away. 

They found a new rabbi, but without income, a congregation, or new members…

Now, with basically NO historic members, and only a smattering of (about 5) congregants (none of them orthodox), the remaining board members (mostly living in nursing homes) are faced with a decision. 

What should they do?

What would YOU do?

The only asset they have is the building.  The only population they serve is a small band of people who cannot support (financially) a synagogue.  And none of the new members are religiously affiliated with quite the same brand of Judaism that this shul has historically practiced.

Does it make sense to keep struggling along?  Wouldn’t it be better to give it up?

But then there’s the cemetery… which is really what breaks my heart. 

What will happen to the cemetery?

And if they DO go ahead and dismantle the synagogue, and sell the building… what should  they do with the money?  It doesn’t belong to the board, or the rabbi, or the new members… 

One thought I had was that they could make a large donation (from the building sale) to another (non-orthodox) synagogue in town, with the understanding that the still-thriving synagogue would make a commitment to tending the orthodox cemetery.  But knowing the politics of Jewish denominational life, I can’t imagine anyone agreeing to this.

The saddest thing of all is that there are synagogues like this everywhere.  Growing up in Baltimore, I remember driving past them all the time.  Shuls now turned into churches. Or boarded up. Downtown shuls forgotten by the suburban grandchildren of the founding members.

I knew it was sad.  But I never even thought about the cemeteries. 

Maybe next time you drive past the “Baptized Believers in Holy Fire” Church, and notice the big Star of David on top… you’ll take a minute to think about things…