By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

The 100 Hour Jew


September 21, 2018

Every year my wife and I are invited to our cousin’s house for a second day of Rosh Hashanah lunch. It’s something we enjoy and count on—the good food, the camaraderie, the interesting commentary on services. Over the past two years friends have made comments to me that stuck, though not for the intended reasons. Last year, as our synagogue took the first steps into a new era, a friend told me that he would view the changes as a success based on the response and membership of young families because, after all, young families are our future. And this year, when I commented on the meaning (or lack thereof) of services, another friend said, “Well, you can’t expect a spiritual awakening when you only come to shul twice a year.”

I wish I had responded at the time both lines came my way. I didn’t. It took me awhile to figure out why they hit me wrong. This is what I realized:

First, while continuity is important, and young families are our future (they’re the future of the world, pointedly and obviously), the next generation is not the only one that counts. In fact, we all count equally—young, old, singles, couples without kids, alternative families. The success of a synagogue can’t be based solely on how young families respond to a new direction or change. That’s one component. At the point a religious institution (or most institutions, for that matter) forget a constituency, they stand on a cliff teetering toward failure.

And second, while a twice-a-year Jew shouldn’t expect a spiritual rebirth when they attend High Holy Day services, we can all expect... something. A nugget to gnaw on. A kernel of truth. A morsel of meaning. It’s not too much to ask for a smidgeon of significance. And that’s where I find myself, once again, in a titanic struggle with part of my being, part of what I’m told makes me a Jew.

I’m a little bit more than a twice-a-year Jew. Not much, but a little. I attend services a few times a year besides Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, usually for special events like a bar or bat mitzvah or a yahrzeit. Let’s say that adds up to about 16 hours of attendance, High Holy Days included. I celebrate other holidays outside the synagogue—Chanukah and Pesach—so add on another 10 hours. We sporadically celebrate Shabbat. This makes me feel particularly guilty, since I grew up lighting candles every Friday night, and now we are lax in our commitment, but let’s say we’re good half the time. Another 25 hours. Then there are the funerals, the minyans, the fundraisers (yes, I think even fundraisers for important Jewish causes have religious significance, sometimes profoundly so). Add 20 hours. And I think about my Jewishness and my Judaism. I read current Jewish commentary. I write Jewish commentary (though some of you might argue that). And I ask myself who I am, what it means to be a Jew on a regular basis. Call it all 100 hours, give or take, a year. That’s not a lot.

It is, however, enough for me to say that being a Jew is important, even central to my being. And because it is, I do expect to find meaning, to find spiritual sustenance, to find at least a tiny bit of inspiration from my studies, my shul, and my religious leaders. I discover meaning when I read, occasionally when I write, when I feel deeply, when I am awed by nature. But I struggle to find it in our services, when the Hebrew flies by without comprehension and I entertain myself by finding my place in the prayer book and successfully following along, when more than half the liturgy seems hell-bent on praising God for EVERYTHING, and that on that basis all will be good. I wonder what services would be like if we took out all praise of God and filled it with something else? If we didn’t repeat the service multiple times? If we asked ourselves how we provide meaning and inspiration, even in the smallest ways, to as many people as we possibly can? That sounds like a path that might possibly turn a twice a year Jew, a 100 hour Jew, into something more: a modern Jew with a passion for their religious core.

And that’s the good word.

Feel free to pass your thoughts and comments on to the Heritage, or email me at


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