Ask a Jew: Would I Be Welcomed if I Visited a Local Synagogue?
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Commentary by Hyphen Parent
Would I be welcomed if I visited a local synagogue?
The quick answer is, “Generally, yes, you’ll be very welcome.”
That being said, a little preparation will make all the difference.
If someone wants to visit a synagogue, it’s a good idea to use the contact link provided on the website (it may connect you to the rabbi or the office manager) or call the office. Just call or send a quick note to let them know you plan to visit and ask if there’s anything you should know. They can give you an idea of what to expect, and they may be able to direct you to the best service to come to depending on your needs.
If you just want to get a feel for what a synagogue is like, a three-hour Saturday morning service may not be the best idea. They may direct you to the shorter Friday evening service. However, if you want to see the Torah read, a Friday evening visit won’t meet your needs. Certain holidays have longer prayers and may be overwhelming if you’re not prepared.
A quick check-in beforehand will help the staff know what you’re looking for and what service will be the best fit.
Antisemitism is a major threat, and so, most, if not all, synagogues have security. It’s very common to see security guards at synagogue doors. I’ve talked to some non-Jews who wanted to visit a synagogue, but the sight of guards at the door scared them off.
It can make things easier for everyone involved if you let someone at the synagogue know you’re coming beforehand. You’ll know what kind of security to expect, and they can make the guards aware. At some synagogues, it won’t matter. At others, it will make things much easier for everyone.
Although, I do have a warning.
Sometimes Christians will come to synagogues in an attempt to convert the people there and that’s never welcomed. That can be disrupting and frustrating for everyone. So if that’s the plan, please don’t go.
However, if you’re interested in the experience, and you want to go to learn, by all means, come visit. You’ll most likely be very welcome.
Every synagogue we’ve belonged to all over the country has welcomed visitors who either weren’t Jewish or were secular Jews who weren’t familiar with the synagogue. And in every case, regulars have loved the chance to share and explain the traditions to visitors.
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Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories and someone who’s best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.