Interviewing a Synagogue
A questionnaire to help you decide on a shul to attend
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
- Who belongs to the shul? Is it a community of young families, empty nesters, singles, or a blend?
- Does the synagogue view itself as being multi-generational, or are different "interest groups" (families, older adults) more represented than others?
- How many family units does it have?
- 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?
- How many of the congregation's families are intermarried? How are intermarried families integrated into the community?
- Are openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual members welcomed into the community with their families?
- Where do its members live? Is there a tightly knit neighborhood around the synagogue or are members more geographically spread-out?
- Who is on the professional staff (including clergy)?
- Where were the clergy trained? Are they accepted members of professional organizations?
- How many people attend an average Shabbat service? Holiday service? Weekday lecture, adult-learning, social event, or other synagogue program?
Prayer and Worship
- What is its schedule of prayer services?
- What type(s) of prayer services are available? (Larger synagogues may have multiple services in different styles and targeting different groups.)
- Is there separate seating for men and women? If so, what kind of arrangement (mehitzah/partition or balcony) is it?
- Are women included in opportunities to lead services, read Torah, and perform other ritual functions?
- Are there children's services on Shabbat and holy days?
- What is the balance of Hebrew and English in the service?
- What is the style of the service?
- Does the rabbi give a sermon every week, and if so, what style does he or she employ?
- How much music or singing is included among the prayers, and are any instruments played?
- Are services led by a professional cantor or led by lay leaders?
- Are there opportunities to learn about the liturgy and/or to study how to lead prayers?
- 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?