What if I Can’t Get to Synagogue?

Isolated House by Hugh Venables
“Isolated House” by Hugh Venables

Location and/or illness make it difficult for some Jews to get to synagogue. How in that situation are we to access Jewish community?

First, the offline solution: If you live in a city that has synagogues, but you just can’t access them, call the synagogue. Express your interest in being a part of their community. Ask to talk to the rabbi, and explain your situation. I can’t promise you that every synagogue will have outreach to shut-ins, but I can promise you that rabbis care about the Jews in their neighborhood. Understand that options may be limited for non-members. However, it is always worth contacting them.

Years ago, before I became a rabbi, my rabbi called me and asked if I would be willing to visit a widow in the congregation who had agoraphobia. Her husband had been her major tie to the world, and now that he was gone, my rabbi was worried about her. I began visiting Anne (not her real name) once a week and doing her grocery shopping. We developed a friendship. Later, when my schedule changed and I could not be as reliable for shopping, I went back to the rabbi and told him. He found someone else to visit, but Anne and I stayed in touch. (Note that this required a large enough community and a willing pool of volunteers; not every synagogue will be able to deliver on something like this.)

Second, the Internet raises many more opportunities for Jewish connections. Here are some resources to check out if you don’t live near a synagogue, or if you are confined to home by illness or disability:

OurJewishCommunity.org provides the most comprehensive online access to progressive services, rabbis, and Jewish community. Rabbi Laura Baum and Rabbi Robert Barr serve both OurJewishCommunity.org and the brick-and-mortar Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland, OH, near Cincinnati.

ReformJudaism.org maintains a list of congregations that live-stream Shabbat services, with information about access. Services are currently available in four US time zones (Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific) and at least one congregation archives services on YouTube.

JewishWebcasting.com offers a wide variety of Jewish experiences online, with links to news, podcasts, and opportunities for prayer.

Lehrhaus Judaica based in Berkeley, CA offers some of its classes online. Click this link to see the current list of courses on the Hebrew Language, Introduction to Judaism, Jewish texts, and other topics. (Full disclosure: I teach one of their online courses and am on the board of LJ.)

I hope that whatever your situation, and whether it is a short-term challenge or a long-term situation, you can find a way to connect Jewishly. Certainly I appreciate your readership and look forward to conversation in the comments on this blog!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

10 thoughts on “What if I Can’t Get to Synagogue?”

  1. I wrote this and lost it….thought of not bothering to try to write it again, , but it’s a subject so dear to my heart that I really want to….I so appreciate you making this a topic, Rabbi Ruth.

    I live in Scotland, and there is not a huge Jewish community. I began my Jewish journey just over three years ago – since which time I have had to try to come to terms with my mother being burned to death in a house fire, my husbands increasing decline in health, (and my own)him going into a nursing home, and then last May he beamed up to heaven.

    I have agoraphobia, among other health problems, and the online community has been and is a huge source of support, help, understanding, and education for me….sometimes three steps forward, two back again – learning from experience not to trust everyone ( I have always been a little naive, and still am, aged 59. It’s a learning curve)

    I have learned to try to remember not to jump into things without thinking properly, first( though I still do, sometimes); I have learned that it’s not a good idea to compare myself to others….one thing I remember reading early on, and which stuck with me, was that G-d will not ask me whyI Was not more like Moses: rather, why was I not more like me? Or words along those lines.

    Trial, and error. Keeping going. Doing what I can, and not giving myself a hard time over the things I cannot – yet, who knows? – do….and one thing I do want to say is that I am observant; up till now, Ive always sad that with ‘becoming’ as a qualifier….which never felt right, as it was me comparing myself to others, and always, always coming up short. There will always be Jews who are more observant, and less observant, to me; I see it more as building on a foundation.
    My way would very definitely not suit many, or perhaps even any, but it is just that – ‘my way’. It’s the best that I can do, under my circumstances.

    There is a Rabbi in Scotland who visits Jews who for whatever reason cant get out; I keep in touch with him. I know he would love to visit, but right now, Im not ready for that. My flat is a mess….as am I; I know that that is something which really doesnt matter, or shouldnt matter, but right now it does…….maybe in the future.

    I do have a wonderful Rabbi, with whom I communicate, and she is supportive, helpful, and unbelievably kind and understanding. I have several Jewish friends, with whom I connect, and my online community is a huge source of support, learning, humour, and many other things. I love to read, and books are something I do indulge in.

    All in all, all things considered, I insider myself very fortunate to have the sources and resources I have.

    And apologies for repeating myself….Ive talked about my life, here, a few times, and don’t mean to be ‘all about me’….just trying to explain how I manage in the circumstances I find myself.

    Thanks again, many, many thanks for the lins in your article.

    1. Replying from my phone, so please excuse typos… I agree with you about “observant.” Glad to have you as a reader. This was written with you, among others, in mind.

      1. Rabbi Ruth, thank you so much….for the blog post, for the reply, for the kindness, for saying you’re glad to have me as a reader, for agreeing with me about ‘observant’…..well, for everything, thank you.
        Alex, at 5am on the chilly east coast of Scotland, an observant Jew with a small black cat on her lap(the large ginger one is still eating)

        PS and if it’s not inappropriate, please accept a big hug….this is the first place I have ‘come out’ as observant. It does feel a bit like that….I’ve come out in the past in several ways/areas, and I know that it is never a smooth path, that there will be those who disagree with whatever the coming out is about, so it does feel like that, which feels oddly comforting….

      2. Im trying to get my own blog ‘into gear’, and am not sure about blog netiquette…..is it ok to copy what I wrote to you above, with a link to your blog?

  2. Thank you so much for providing resources like these and continuing to write about your experiences being disabled and Jewish. I’ve been thinking about conversion, but being disabled and poor, just the idea of starting the process has been intimidating. Now at least I feel hopeful that I can continue to do as much as I can to learn until I’m more financially, physically and mentally able to take the next step. I’ve finally gotten to see my first Friday night service, thanks to this, and it has me even more excited to experience it in person.

  3. I. Really do appreciate all these comments and I do have all admiration for them from both contributors. I am isolated and looking to solutions.I will find them. All blessings of Ha Shem be with you. shalom.

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