The Westminster synagogue was founded by Barry and Laura Steinberg who have been at the centre as lay leaders and homemakers. Westminster Adat Chaverim has been a warm home of religious support for many small Jewish communities in the area. The religious congregation started back in 2005 by hosting holiday services and since then the founders settled there and tried to connect with Judaism. The couple felt that Jewish services were important to them and lived with the large Jewish community. In the quest to seek connection they read literature and Jewish prayer books.
The Westminster services attracted people from five different counties. The congregation gathered twice a month for Shabbat although some of them drove from a long way. Laura Steinberg availed refreshments for the congregation after services to reinforce family gatherings. The Jewish community had the liveliest holidays in which a member of the church would build a sukkah, and everyone would go to their house. For high holidays, the congregation would partner with other Jewish congregations to collectively have a joint service.
The Passover was a big deal to the members, and they would cook and prepare fresh foods for everyone. The couple worked their tails off since they had committed to serving in the synagogue. The Westminster synagogue welcomed everyone and did not have a dress code. Some members in the congregation were interfaith couples or even Catholics and the leader would explain the services to them so that they could understand the Jewish religion. Most of the members who came from other religions ended up converting to Judaism with time. They were given time to get acquainted with the synagogue and the congregation before they were ready to associate with them. People from different religions such as Muslims or just students were warmly welcomed and most of them ended up enjoying the services.
Various cultural and social events are organized at the synagogue. Some are not official and are organized by the workers and the event committee. Examples of such events are Jewish Film nights, art, literature lectures, recitals, and concerts. These events attract most people, and everything shared and done at the events is always connected to the community’s cultural practices. The main aim is to promote talents among their congregation and educate them more about the Jewish religion.
Just like every religion, the synagogue has formulated principles and policies that guide the community members. Their principles majorly focus on human values such as charity, piety, and aim at encouraging others and ensuring comfort for everyone. There is also an emphasis on membership and commitment towards service to the synagogue and encourages religious truthfulness. The policy regarding congregational responsibility and living an active Jewish life is an essential requirement for the members. Some of the members show commitment by contributing financially towards the synagogue’s maintenance services. The key significance of such acts is not how much someone contributes but the seriousness of commitment. To avoid commercialization of the congregation management, there is a policy that states that all members have equal privileges, right to service, rights, duties, and responsibilities. The services are always open to everyone however, people are encouraged to join and become members since it is a way of showing dedication and participation in safeguarding the Jewish religion and serving the Jewish ideal.
The Westminster synagogue is special because of its high regard for its values and traditions, something that has not become common to other Jewish congregations. The members have an open approach to Judaism, have an enlightened view about their religion, and are warm and welcoming to new people. The community keeps in touch with other Jewish communities in various countries and their leaders interact. Most of the members are families with children who undergo their learning programs and want to become Jewish by choice. The synagogue is fully dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of its congregation members and extended families.
Over years many people have joined the congregation and accepted their history and destiny as their own. To convert to Judaism, one should not join with any ulterior motives but be ready to accept Judaism as their only religious practice and join the Jewish community. The synagogue offers a program meant for those who want to explore the Jewish religion and understand what it means to be part of the congregation and also for those who want to convert to confirm their status as members. There is a process that one follows to convert. First one makes an appointment with the rabbi to arrange for an interview and they should carry along their spouse if applicable. The process lasts for a whole year so that the new member can experience all the Jewish life cycles and holy days. The interested member must attend classes once a week and ensure they attend Shabbat and festival services. During the study period, one is expected to write essays and appear before the Rabbinic board for assessment.
The synagogue holds baby blessing services a month or two after a child’s birth. This is a special ceremony whereby the child is given a Hebrew name and it is considered a way of receiving blessings and a public welcome. The ceremony is conducted by the Rabbi. The naming is done in front of an ark and the parents recite special blessing gratitude. The next event in the life of a Jewish child is the Bat Mitzvah which means son or daughter of commandments. This is the initiation of a child into an adult in the religious community. These events allow the child to be an active knowledgeable member of the community and love the religion for the rest of their life.
The decision for the Bat Mitzvah service is up to the child and their family and is not termed as a requirement but a choice. A program for the young boys and girls is organized where they attend a series of weekly sessions and classes which can also be attended by their family members. Additionally, they are involved in sharing meals such as Shabbat means, go for annual trips like visiting places with Jewish historical interest. As the children become Jewish adults they are impacted with great values and the main objective is to build bonds that will grow stronger as they continue to advance.
In Jewish tradition, marriage is known as Kiddushin meaning holiness. Marriage is considered sacred and beautiful. Anyone marrying under the Westminster synagogue must be a member and if not must join in advance before their wedding. The weddings take place in the synagogue sanctuary of the Kent house or must be officiated by the Rabbi if it is to take place in a different location but both members must be Jews. The Jewish believe visiting the sick (Mitzvah of bikur cholim) brings them comfort, offers company in loneliness, and offers help towards the needs of the sick and their families. If the Rabbis are notified, they also go and visit the sick person. The Jewish religion encourages individuals to help connect with people in home cares i.e. the aged and those who are isolated from the community.
The Westminster synagogue welcomes everyone ready to be fully committed to their religion, traditions, and culture. The new converts who join and are ready to be part of the Jewish religion and taken through a program that enlightens them about the Jewish culture before they can be fully termed as members of the congregation. The various events and holy days are meaningful to the members and are held throughout the year.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.