THE BLOG
08/21/2013 03:42 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2013

High Holidays: Letter to the Three-Days-a-Year Shul-Goer

The Jewish High Holidays are coming. It means that I know I will see you at synagogue soon. We'll say 'hi, how are you?' or wave from a distance. You'll comment on how tall my sons now are and I'll ask about how your daughter is doing at college. And then we'll see each other next year.

I admit: I like going to shul. I go every Shabbat and - when time permits between work, my sons' hockey games, their soccer referreeing, their homework and paying the bills - during the week.

I like the ritual, the ceremony, the prayers in Hebrew and Aramaic. I like the tunes, and the dvar Torah (sermon).

I like putting my tallit on and davening according to a centuries-old tradition.

And, yes, I also enjoy talking to my friends and commenting on last week's events during parts of the service. I might talk a bit more than I should in synagogue, but Judaism is a collective experience and no experience would be truly Jewish without catching up on what is going on in the community, in politics and in Israel.

That being said, I understand that not everyone enjoys spending 3-3.5 hours in a service. It truly is not for everybody.

I'll even go further: it is not for anyone - unless you know what is going on and you understand the service.

This is why I have long believed that if you are to go to shul three days a year, going on the High Holidays may, ironically, not be the best choice for you to make.

The services are longer. It is harder to find regulars to help you with the siddur/machzor. It is hotter, noisier and fuller than on a regular Shabbat. It is so full that it is very hard to have even a quick meaningful discussion with the rabbi or the cantor - even if you are paying his salary with your membership dues. Plus, if you are going to a non-Orthodox synagogue, parking is harder to find.

Moreover, Jewish services are complex. They evolved over a long period of time. The language is foreign and in a different alphabet. I know that, like most born Jews, you have long forgotten your bar/bat mitzvah lessons.

All those elements combined usually turn people off going to synagogue for an entire year - until next year's High Holidays. I understand.

If I could make one recommendation for you, for whom more than three times a year in synagogue is not in the cards (for now), it would be this: consider staying home for the High Holidays this year. Plan instead to go during a regular Shabbat service.

On a regular Shabbat - which is a holy day in and of itself - go to one of the regulars and ask for her help. Sit with her. She'll be more than happy to steer you through the service, to give you a head's up about when it is time to stand or sit, to respond or to pray silently. She'll tell you about the service, help you read, and explain what is going on at a different level than what you remember from your bar/bat mitzvah class.

More than likely, after the service, she'll take you to meet the rabbi and/or the cantor. And you will find that they tend to be exceptionally interesting people.

She'll introduce you to some people after the service and ask you to sit down with her for kiddish (meal). She'll offer to answer any of your questions and likely invite you for a Shabbat dinner at some point.

And once you've repeated the experience a few times, your familiarity with the service will lead you to feel comfortable enough that sitting through an entire service will be, if not enjoyable, at least not too painful.

And then, next year, you will be able to go the High Holidays services and not feel like you are serving time in a penal colony in a different country.

Trust me. It's worth it.