We have recently moved from the NYC area where we were devoted to our small unaffiliated congregation for over ten years, to a region with fewer options for community. We joined and have been attending a congregation not too far from our new home and everyone is nice enough, but the services feel very alienating and uninspired to us--the music is largely unfamiliar and feels more like its being performed for us than inclusive; the rabbi's attempts to lead discussions feel awkward and not intellectually or spiritually challenging; themes of the holidays are pretty run-of-the-mill and even boring. I know that our expectations are high from our previous experience, and maybe I should just let go. But I'm wondering how much I should stick it out and get used to their ways, how much I should try to assert some changes that might make things more to my taste, and when I should give it up and find a different place.
How nice are the people? I’m kidding. But only partially. It does not sound like your new congregation is satisfying your intellect or your spiritual yearnings, but it is worth something that you describe the people as nice and I wonder, as you get to know them better, if there’s potential to collaborate and dream towards a service that would be more satisfying to you collectively.
I would caution you from rooting your suggestions too much in nostalgia for your old congregation. I am sensitive towards this struggle. As Dan and I have been building community, some people have shared their longings for past settings, and while it is very important - and useful - for us to take in feedback and strive towards improvements, there are moments when I wonder if someone who is always cleaving to vestiges of temples-gone-by will ever open themselves and be fully present in what we’re building now.
I absolutely think that you should engage yourself in your current congregation - and enlist others too - to revitalize the community. The most vibrant communities that I have observed have active, passionate lay leadership. Maybe you will spearhead a chavurah of rigorous Torah discourse or become involved in another capacity that reinvigorates the congregation.
This may not address the challenge of what you describe as a lackluster leader, but there might be enough there to engage you, to find a place - and people - that you wish to return to each Shabbat. Perhaps the rabbi is not the best sermonizer, but is gifted at comforting congregants in their mourning and is a pillar of support in times of need. Maybe as the congregants elevate the vitality of the synagogue the rabbi will rise to the occasion; I hope so.
It is quite possible too, Bereft, that you will take on this massive work of trying to improve the current setting and it will not take, or it will still not feel like your spiritual home, and then you will have to seek out the next option. The trick is that you will not know for sure until you let go of comparisons to the old place.
You need room in your heart and your head and your soul to take on the awesome task of engaging in your current community. Bereft, you will have to give up being bereft. You can be wistful, but you’re part of something that is flawed and human, among people who are likely yearning for more. You’re going to need to anchor yourself, live in the present and rename yourself. I know that you can do it, Hopeful.