Just as I was sitting down to write to about congregations and why they’re important, two things appeared on my computer screen. One was an article called “New sites make shul an online-only experience” and the other was an e-mail about a conference call to pray with some of my fellow Davvenin’ Leadership Training classmates, who are literally scattered across the globe.
In case you’re interested, here’s a link to the on-line shul article:
Here I was, about to extol the benefits of congregating with other like-minded people to pray, and lo and behold, a bunch of people are out there doing it in virtual-space instead of bricks-and-mortar buildings.
Not sure how I feel about this. Prayer, for me, is a tactile experience that includes the location itself. (Check out my post called “creating sacred space absolutely anywhere” that’s about a minyan service in the hallway of a conference center.) I like being with the people around me… even if I don’t happen to like a particular individual.
But I’m not one to talk – after all, I earned my master’s degree in Jewish education online, and that seems to have worked out pretty well. So I guess if I functioned in a virtual classroom for years, and made some truly wonderful friends in the process, then it’s possible to have a shared, deeply spiritual religious experience with people who are thousands of miles away.
I’m sticking to my guns when it comes to belonging to a congregation, though. Even if – like my friend Sarah – you don’t agree with everyone else in the group about God and worship, there is great value in being part of a religious community.
In fact, now that I think about it, not sharing the same beliefs but agreeing to be part of the group anyway is part of what makes a congregation strong. It give us a chance to discuss, debate and study together. Fortunately, Judaism doesn’t require that we adhere to a specific set of beliefs (thank God!). It’s perfectly OK to have different interpretations of text and even ideas about God. Which is one of the things I love most about being Jewish.
I just think that, if we humans are striving to be our higher selves (which is what I think the impulse for religion is all about ) the best way to do that is communally.