Jewish festival Shavuot observed at Congregation Beth Shalom

Thursday, June 9, 2011 | 10:43 a.m. CDT; updated 9:25 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 9, 2011

COLUMBIA — Rabbi Yossi Feintuch does not covet his neighboring church’s members. But he is envious of their numbers.

Feintuch is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom, the only Jewish synagogue in Columbia. He said that on an average week, about a quarter of the 150 households that make up his congregation attend a service.

“Every Sunday morning, when I pass a church parking lot, I am envious because they are filled,” Feintuch said.

The Jewish festival of Shavuot began Tuesday night at sundown. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah. Though there are several holidays throughout the year, Shavuot is one of only three pilgrimage festivals in the torah. However, Feintuch did not expect many people to attend the evening Shavuot service.

“It is very easy to miss it because it’s only one day and there aren’t rituals . . . and yet it is a biblical festival, on a level with Passover and Sukkot,” Feintuch said.

Another reason Feintuch didn’t expect many people to observe the holiday is that Congregation Beth Shalom is part of the Reform movement of Judaism. One of the principles of the Reform movement is that you can pick and choose your beliefs, Feintuch said, adding that as a result, many people aren’t as disciplined in their religious observances.

By 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, 22 people had gathered for the evening Shavuot service. While the number was higher than the rabbi expected, the turnout was less than an eighth of the total congregation.

While their numbers were few, the attendees were dedicated. They followed the rabbi as he led them through prayers and chanted songs, leaving a sense of reverence and expectation in the air.

Their personal reasons for attending the service varied, but in general, people came because they believed it was important to celebrate Shavuot because it was a major festival.

Gary Golden was one of the people in attendance. He is from a more traditional St. Louis congregation, but he lives and works in Columbia during the week. He said he came to the Shavuot service because he wanted to pass a sense of dedication on to his children.

“If you’re going to do a part, you might as well do it all,” Golden said. “It’s important to me that my children and their children find Judaism important.”

Even though Congregation Beth Shalom is Reform, Rabbi Feintuch tries to meet the needs of Conservative Jews, such as Golden. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have anywhere in Columbia to attend services.

Feintuch described Congregation Beth Shalom as “conservative light,” saying that it includes much more Hebrew and has a much closer attention to ritual than other Reform congregations.

Despite the effort to cater to a diverse group, Feintuch recognized that some Jews in Columbia don’t find what they are looking for and end up not attending services at Congregation Beth Shalom.

Feintuch said the problem with that is that Congregation Beth Shalom is the only way to be part of a Jewish community in Columbia. There is a Hillel Center on the MU campus, but it is for students only.

“The other option is assimilation,” Feintuch said. “It is hard to keep a (Jewish) household unless they are a member of a community.”

Without community, Feintuch said, people tend to "pitter out and fall out of the loop.”

Leah Cohn knows the importance of being part of the Jewish community. She has been part of the congregation for 16 years. She said she attended the evening Shavuot service because it was a major religious holiday, and she wanted to be part of the community.

“You have to work at being Jewish in mid-Missouri,” Cohn said. “If you’re a Christian, everyone celebrates those holidays, and school’s out.”

But that’s not the case for most Jewish holidays, Cohn said, “So unless you think about it and make it an active part of your life, it (the Jewish holiday) just goes by.”

Although the numbers are few, Randee Shenkel said it helps build the sense of community among the congregation members.

“Everyone knows your name,” Shenkel said. “They are incredibly warm and welcoming.”

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Shaina Cavazos June 9, 2011 | 11:38 p.m.

Great article, Camille! As a Jew living (part of the time) in mid-Missouri, I think you did a really good job capturing the difficulties we face keeping our faith in the community. Usually coverage I see of holiday-inspired events is not nearly as comprehensive, accurate or well-written. Nice job!

(Report Comment)
Camille Phillips June 13, 2011 | 8:37 p.m.

Thanks, Shaina!

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Darashayah Yahawadah June 18, 2011 | 11:59 a.m.

I know exactly why Congregation Beth Shalom and other jewish synagogues' attendance and membership are dwindling and yet, there R solutions to these ever growing problems. Present Day Jewish ppl are converted Israelites, they are not the ORIGINAL HEBREWS of the Torah and the Tanakh. The ORIGINAL HEBREWS have been punished for their transgressions against the MOST HIGH YAH(GOD)4 THE PAST 400 YRS! But now that period has ended. Read Genesis 15:13, Deut 28:15-68. The ORIGINAL HEBREWS R the descendants of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Islamic Muslim slave trade of 14oo years. Now according to the HOLY Writings, those who captured and enslaved these ppl must make ammends for the part there ancessators played in the slave trade, or they will be destroyed, not by the descendants of the slave trade, but THE ALMIGHTY YAH!!! (Isaiah 49:23 AND 60:12*** Yeremiyahu 30:16***Yoel 2***The decrease in attendance and membership in these synagogues may be the beginning of the destruction that will surely come on all those in power that turn their backs on YAHs chosen people during these last days. This gives the first solution 2 the problems in the synagogues...(1)Reach out to these people and assist them in anyway to restore them to the status they had B4 they began receiving YAHs curses. They R everywhere, numbered like the sands of the sea.(Hoshea 1:10) Teach those who R willing to learn and live YAHs weh again, that they R the chosen people of YAH by birth(DNA). (2)Study Revelations 2:9 and see if your synagogue fits this description, and it does fit the description if it is not including YAHs DNA people and doing everything according to HIS WORD and not the TALMUD. (3) Stop calling YAHs HIGH HOLY DAYS>>>holidays (that word is pagan in origin and can include rituals that have nothing to do with Shavuot, The True Passover or Booths). The scriptures tells YAHs ppl that they will inherit buildings and eretz/Land they did not build and these synagogues may be included. (Deut 6:10-11 and 9:4: Isaiah 14:1-5) FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC, GO 2 ANY HEBREW YISRAELITE SITE AND LEARN HOW 2 TURN THE WRATH OF THE MOST HIGH AWAY FROM YOUR CONGREGATION. YAHs WORD DOES NOT RETURN TO HIM VOID or UNACCOMPLISHED(Leviticus 26:44***Psalms 89:34***Isaiah 55:11)Those at the top of the economic chain have lied 2 all of us, therefore we must come together as friends and right the wrongs that have separated us!!! SHALOM, SHALOM Rabbi Feintuch (Camille will you please share this comment with the Rabbi)

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