Interviewing a Synagogue

A questionnaire to help you decide on a shul to attend

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Choosing a synagogue is a highly personal decision. The author recommends speaking to synagogue members and leaders to find out important information about the synagogue, and using that information as one component of deciding on a synagogue. The following is a suggested list of questions to ask.

Members of the Community

  1. Who belongs to the shul?  Is it a community of young families, empty nesters, singles, or a blend?
  1. Does the synagogue view itself as being multi-generational, or are different "interest groups" (families, older adults) more represented than others?
  1. How many family units does it have? 
  1. To which movement or denomination, if any, does the synagogue belong? How "typical" of that movement is the synagogue, and in what ways does it differ from others in that movement?
  1. How many of the congregation's families are intermarried? How are intermarried families integrated into the community?
  1. Are openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual members welcomed into the community with their families?
  1. Where do its members live?  Is there a tightly knit neighborhood around the synagogue or are members more geographically spread-out?
  1. Who is on the professional staff (including clergy)?
  1. Where were the clergy trained?  Are they accepted members of professional organizations?
  1. How many people attend an average Shabbat service? Holiday service? Weekday lecture, adult-learning, social event, or other synagogue program?

Prayer and Worship

  1. What is its schedule of prayer services?
  1. What type(s) of prayer services are available?  (Larger synagogues may have multiple services in different styles and targeting different groups.)
  1. Is there separate seating for men and women?  If so, what kind of arrangement (mehitzah/partition or balcony) is it?
  1. Are women included in opportunities to lead services, read Torah, and perform other ritual functions?
  1. Are there children's services on Shabbat and holy days?
  1. What is the balance of Hebrew and English in the service?
  1. What is the style of the service? 
  1. Does the rabbi give a sermon every week, and if so, what style does he or she employ?
  1. How much music or singing is included among the prayers, and are any instruments played?
  1. Are services led by a professional cantor or led by lay leaders?
  1. Are there opportunities to learn about the liturgy and/or to study how to lead prayers?
  1. Are services "kid-friendly"? Will members, or the rabbi, be upset if a young child is fussy during services? Do teens have opportunities to read from the Torah or lead services even after they come bar/bat mitzvahs?

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Rabbi Rachel Miller Solomin is an educator living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) in 2001.