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Why Jews Only Go to Temple Twice a Year

Question: What do you say to the stereotype that Jews only going to temple on the high holidays? 

Rabbi Niles Goldstein: As with all stereotypes, I think there are kernels of truth. I think that the stereotype that so many Jews only go to services during the high holidays is sadly true. There are plenty of Christians who only show up, according to my minister or priest friends, on Easter and Christmas. So I think this is a challenge for religious leaders across the board. All I can really do is try to excite and inspire Jewish men and women to see how much power there is in their faith, not just as a two times a year experience but really something that is ongoing, that will help them evolve and grow and will transform and enrich and challenge throughout the course of their lives. And we're not going to do that by beating up on people through sermons, we're not going to do that by getting defensive and reactionary about anti-Semitism, about intermarriage, about assimilation, that's with the previous generation of Jewish leaders did, and it completely backfired. 

What we need to do is excite people by demonstrating through our own work and our own enthusiasm just how beautiful a religion Judaism is them being proactive and not reactive, by being assertive not by being defensive. And I think if we do that we're going to show by example this is really an amazing fit in more and more people will come. And more and more people have come, and that's a good thing. So while the stereotype I think is still around, there are a lot of pockets in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Minneapolis and a lot of cities all over this country who are really vibrant and robust Jewish communities are really thriving and coming out the woodwork in ways that even 20 or 30 years ago they just weren't. And that makes me, as a younger rabbi, very hopeful. I think a lot has happened just in the last 15 or 20 years that has made me much more hopeful than when I was in graduate school.

Recorded on March 15, 2010

It’s a stereotype that’s unfortunately true—and spans many religions.

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