In junior high, I made friends with Diane Zucker, whose family belonged to the same synagogue for years and years. She would often talk about going to services and about the people who surrounded her family year after year. She would even tell me where different families sat in the synagogue.
I found myself becoming quite envious of those ties Diane had to the synagogue and to the congregants. My family seemed to go from Orthodox to Conservative and then to Reform. Not having any true ties to either a synagogue or a particular Jewish movement, I envied the comfort of being in a place with people who became a second family.
Years later, when I married, my husband and I moved to Warwick and joined a Conservative temple near our home. We really did not know anyone there, but people welcomed us and were genuinely happy to have us in the congregation.
When our son was old enough, we sent him to Hebrew school. By that time, we had met many congregants and considered them our friends. On the High Holy Days, we sat in the same seats year after year. At some point, I became aware that other people were also sitting in the same seats they sat in last week or last year.
Oh the joy: I had the comfort of friends and familiar surroundings away from home that felt so warm and secure.
Years passed, and we had two more sons. More Hebrew school, more Friday night services and more social and educational programs. I served on various committees and on the board of directors.
I watched as the children of my friends grew up, and I saw new babies born into our temple family. Those early years were so happy.
Twenty-one years after joining the temple, my husband died suddenly. The outpouring of love and comfort from the congregation was overwhelming, to say the least. My sons and I were encircled by people who wanted us to know we were not alone.
Shortly after my husband’s death, I became aware that people had moved away, died or for some other reason left the temple. It was difficult not to see those people in their seats, but new families joined us. Most of the seats were still occupied by familiar faces, and the new faces soon became familiar faces.
I married a man from the congregation, and my family and I moved to where he sat. My second son married, and he and his wife joined us. When their children were born, they joined us too. My youngest son married a woman whose family were members of the congregation, so they took turns sitting with each family. Their three children soon became part of the temple family. My oldest son and his husband were married in the temple, and my son-in-law joined us.
I now had the pleasure of watching longtime friends, their children and their grandchildren join the temple family. Again, some people moved, some died (including my second husband) and some just left. However, I could count on most people being where I expected them to be.
But then the temple found itself in financial difficulty and the entire organization fell apart. After 50 years, I found myself without my beloved temple, the home of most of my adult lifecycle experiences.
Recently, a person from my former congregation died. As I was sitting waiting for the funeral to begin, I saw many old friends from the temple. It was so good to see them!
Being part of a synagogue is about so much more than a building, a rabbi, a board of directors – for me, it is about sharing your life with a community. In fact, I even miss those people who annoyed me, didn’t agree with me or were always late. Isn’t that just like certain family members?
I once read, “People who live in the past have no future.” With that thought in mind, I moved to a new synagogue – and am working on finding the right seat for me.
MAY-RONNY ZEIDMAN is executive director of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center.