I like my shul but not the politics of fellow shul-goers


Two years ago I married a woman who lived a more observant Jewish life than I previously had. When we were married, I joined her in attending her Modern Orthodox shul, and found that I enjoy being part of an observant Jewish community. The problem I am having is that many of the members of this community lean quite a bit to the right of me politically. It’s hard to enjoy Shabbat and other community events when the prevailing attitude is one of distrust toward our president and opposition to progressive candidates and policies I support.

Although my wife, for the most part, shares my political views, she’s not very passionate about politics and doesn’t mind being among people with differing outlooks. But in this election year, I find myself feeling very passionate about the choices before voters, and it makes me uncomfortable to spend Shabbat hearing negative and sometimes stupid opinions. What’s more, my wife and I plan to have children, and I am concerned about raising them in a community where I strongly disagree with the prevailing political opinions. — Mark

Dear Mark: Mazel tov on having a wife and community with whom to spend Shabbat. When your children come along, they will benefit greatly from these relationships. Certainly, you could look for a community where everyone shares and espouses your progressive political views. If you’re writing from the San Francisco Bay Area, you can throw a rock in any direction and hit one. But then, what would you have to talk about on the walk home from shul? “Gee hon, I sure agree with Steve Cohen’s sensible views on single-payer health care and gun control.” Where’s the fun in that?

Variety is interesting. Differences (among friends) are stimulating. Who wants to spend their whole life nodding in agreement? When you say you enjoy being part of an observant community, you are referring to the community you are in. So stick with it — and speak up. You have been a contributing member for two years and have a right, if you wish, to bring your opinion forth. If things get a little lively, that’s OK too. A cohesive community, especially a Jewish one, can survive a little heat. Your children, and those of others in the community, should be exposed to a diversity of opinion, friendly disagreement — and even some unfriendly disagreement. Such exposure will make them more knowledgeable, more interesting, and more Jewish.
My synagogue asks members to make a financial commitment commensurate with their income. Recently, a new job has afforded my wife and I a higher income. However, with two kids in private school, aging parents and San Francisco expenses, we’re not exactly feeling flush. Until recently, we’ve saved very little and would like to use this additional income to increase our savings for college and retirement. Is it unethical to continue to pay what I have been paying in dues to my synagogue and save the rest of my raise? Or do I need to up my dues? — Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: That you are wrestling with this question is laudable. Giving your kids an education and honoring your responsibility to aging parents are admirable goals and consistent with Jewish life — as is supporting your shul. Clearly, you are committed to both.

Mensch is uncomfortable judging the ethics of your decision without knowing details such as the extent of your raise and the commitment level your synagogue expects you to pay. However, you’re probably aware that the most ethical approach would have you pay dues at the level corresponding to the level of your income. Some in your community, no doubt under financial pressures similar to yours, are doing so. Of course, it is probable there are others who are not.

Determine an amount by which you are comfortable increasing your financial commitment to your synagogue and then give a little more than that amount. The actual number matters less than your confidence that you are doing the right thing.

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Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. Send your questions to advicemensch@gmail.com.