When I moved to Atlanta two years ago, attending a Shabbat service at a synagogue was a top priority. I thought (my mother thought) it might be a way to meet people and do some networking in my new city.
After Googling synagogues, I drove to The Temple on the first Friday of the month to attend its young adult service, The Well.
Atlanta is such a transient city, and maybe others can relate. I sat in the parking lot for almost a half-hour before forcing myself to turn my car off. Walking into social situations when you’re new to town and don’t know anyone isn’t easy.
As soon as I stepped through the double doors, a group of girls my age greeted me. They introduced me to a few of their friends, and by the end of the night we’d exchanged numbers. It got easier and easier to go to The Well each month.
Eventually, it was something I looked forward to because a good number of my friends were there. Almost two years later, I’m still there on the first Friday of every month.
Those girls who greeted me are what The Temple calls roshim. Rosh means “head” in Hebrew, and roshim is the plural form. There were four of these girls at the time, and they were the roshim for the young professional sector of The Temple.
They helped organize events like The Well, introduced themselves to new members and often connected friends to other friends who might get along.
At The Temple, there are several “ages and stages,” as they’re called. I’m a young professional, but there are also LGBTQ people, young families (parents with children 5 and under), parents with kids in kindergarten through second grade, parents with children up to fifth grade, b’nai and post-b’nai mitzvah families, empty-nesters, and sages.
For each of those groups, roshim welcome transients like myself, new members or just those wanting to meet new people within The Temple.
I’m now a rosh myself. Often I’ll meet someone for coffee, or we’ll exchange email before the service so the person knows a friendly face will be there.
The roshim play an invaluable role at The Temple, not only with welcoming new members and planning the monthly Shabbat. With the help of engagement coordinator Summer Jacobs, the young professional roshim have expanded the monthly service into several other programs. We’ve planned events outside The Temple, including dinners, game nights, and a program called Storywell, in which a few participants tell stories centered on a main theme.
There is now Women of the Well, in which just the young women of The Temple get together for things like wine tastings and dinners. A men’s version is forthcoming.
So for any other synagogue newbies, there’s hope. At The Temple and I hope more synagogues, there are people to make sure, no matter how old you are or what stage of life you’re in, you don’t want to spend the first half of the service in your car.
AJT young adult columnist Rachel Fayne teaches writing at Georgia State and hosts and produces cable programming.