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The “three day a year Jew”.

This widespread phenomenon of Jews who attend synagogue only on Rosh Hashana (two days) and Yom Kippur (one day)  is the subject of many a sermon and the punch line of many a joke.

Sermonizing and laughter aside, let’s try to understand this concept of the “three day a year Jew”: First of all, there’s really no such thing. Jews are Jews, 365 days a year. A specific Jew’s conduct may just not tell that story on a given day.

At the same time, there is clearly a disconnect between many Jews and ‘organized Judaism’. For thousands of years, most Jews prayed thrice daily and joined public Judaic gatherings whenever they occurred. In more recent times, there’s been much less involvement at a synagogue and religious communal level.

Except for the High Holidays.


I’ve been asking myself that question for more two decades, since our first local High Holiday service in 1994. Even back then, in a ramshackle house and with a far smaller group of friends, the High Holiday bump in attendance was evident. I didn’t fully understand it then, and my question has fleshed itself out over time. What gravitational-pull do people feel? Are people feeling an emotional attraction? Is attendance a nod to their [deceased] parents and grandparents? Are attendees afraid of getting zapped by G-d if they don’t show up?

Maybe some feel drawn to join the Jewish Community at this annual get-together, for the very sake of joining the Jewish Community, irrespective of why we’re gathering. Maybe some just go to services because “that’s what we do.”

My experience tells me that there’s no pat answer.  

My experience also tells me that the question, although interesting, misses an important point.

Two weeks from today Jews will gather as a community. They will celebrate a day of Oneness with each other and with G-d. Jews who don’t frequent synagogues or Torah classes on an average Saturday, let alone a Thursday, will be come together to fulfill a Mitzvah and hear the call of the Shofar, as their ancestors have done for over 3300 years.

Across the globe, Jews will pull themselves away from their usual distractions and gather in synagogues.

Does it really matter why?

I’m just really glad you guys are coming

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