I spent Yom Kippur this year with my oldest son, in Houghton. The Jewish Community there is a tiny one, about 16 member families. Their Synagogue dates back to 1912 and at one time, had up to 200 families in their membership. Over the years the mines in the area closed, I was told that before WWII there were 17 mines operating in the area employing tens of thousands, today there are none.
The building is an amazing piece of history. I had a chat with one of the congregants who happens to be in charge of maintaining it, The building was made incredibly well he told me, it has18” thick stone walls, trusses in the ceiling that would withstand several trees falling on it. The small sanctuary is a perfect square, unusual in this country, this was the style in Eastern Europe back in the day. There’s a balcony, which was originally for women in the Orthodox tradition, and today is unused. The walls have real plaster and the windows are all stained glass from the day. In the afternoon the west facing walls glowed in a rich gold color, filling the room with warm light. The man told me that the place was so well designed that their annual maintenance costs were just a few hundred dollars a year, which included their heating oil bill.
This is not an “attend only” service as many bigger congregations are this time of the year. We attended the evening service on Friday night, and the morning and afternoon services on Saturday. At each service, on arriving at the Shul, we were handed a hand written slip of paper with numbers on it, these were the page numbers we where would be leading the service.
The congregation is small but amazingly inclusive and welcoming. Belonging to a big congregation comes with some perks, great programming, music, events. But, at times the personal connections are harder for me to make, being one who doesn’t exactly reach out so much. With in a minute of entering the shul I was made to feel more than welcome, it was a feeling of genuine appreciation that we would join them for the holiday. It was great. I had a chance to chat with a few congregants, my son made some connections, he’s going to be invited to some Friday dinners, and more importantly, he’s now got rides to events.
The visiting Rabbi, who comes every year from Cleveland where he works for the Union of Reform Jewish Congregations in an administrative roll delivered world class sermons, one in particular on Friday night was one of the best I’ve heard in a long time.
By the end of the service I felt connected and somewhat at home. When we said goodbye, the woman who happened to be the President of the Congregation (I think) invited us back next year, only “bring the whole family next time”. I found myself hoping that next year the holiday would fall on a Saturday again so I could attend again.
Good news. It is.