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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:

http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/08/19/2740546/online-synagogues-build-jewish-community-virtually

 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.

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