As a child, I was told that I have to go to shul to pray. And like a lot of kids, my experience was neither fun nor interesting. And for a lot of people, because of that experience as a child, that’s where it all ended. Imagine making a decision at twelve or thirteen and riding that out for the rest of your life. But that’s what people do.
For me now, going to shul covers so many things. It’s serious, fun and interesting. Now when I go not only do I get to pray, but I also get to watch other people pray. Praying is one of the few very private events that people do publicly. Watching someone commune with God is amazing. I also get to see people not praying, but rather sitting very relaxed, reading a newspaper like they’re at a bus stop. In some ways that’s more amazing than watching them pray. I’m guilty of that one.
I get to see people celebrating or mourning giant milestones in their lives. Bar Mitzvahs, upcoming marriages, anniversary’s, passing of loved ones. I get to see people hugging each other in very loving ways. I get to hear the Rabbi or the guest speaker give a talk that they hope will change our lives for the better. I get to ask people how they’re are doing after an operation or how their new baby is or how they’re holding up after a major loss.
I get to laugh at a new joke and I get to tell them one they’ve never heard. I get to have a bite to eat with friends and get to watch people put food in their pockets to take home for later. I get to watch boys and girls giving their Bar and Bat Mitzvah speeches and talking about how much they love their families. I get to watch the proud faces of crying parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters as these kids move on to the next stage of their lives.
I get to watch six-year-olds leading part of the service. I get to find out about worthy causes to donate to. I get to take a nap when the Rabbi’s speaking. I get to watch people stop at people’s homes and wheel them to shul and I get to watch them bring them back home 4 hours later.
When someone tells you religion does more harm than good, take him or her to shul on a Saturday and point out all the good that is taking place.
But the thing that moves me the most is when I get to watch the tremendous loving care people give to some of their older friends and relatives when their lives have taken a turn for the worst. I get to watch them help put a Tallis on their father in-law and turn the pages of his siddur while pointing him to where we are. That one makes me cry every time. I get to see people that are sick praying for miracles and people well praying for the same. I get to see people thanking God non-stop for what they have. I get to go to people’s homes for meals and say hi to an elderly parent that now lives with them since the loss of a spouse. I get to see people opening their hearts.
There are a million more things I get to see by just showing up at shul. But most of all, I believe I get to be a better person by going and seeing all these things. Now when someone tells you religion does more harm than good, take him/her to shul on a Saturday and point out to him/her all the good that is taking place.
Best of all, I get to see goodness and hope up close.
Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.