Years ago, as a young married couple, my husband Ian and I volunteered as ushers during the high holidays at Ahavath Achim Synagogue. It made a huge synagogue seem a lot smaller. We got to know people we would never have met and more importantly, we had a front row seat (actually a front window seat) we would never have gotten without giving our time to maintain the sanctity of the service.
When we moved to East Cobb to raise our family, of course Ian and I volunteered to usher during the high holidays at our synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim. So when the call came for a lead usher for Shabbat services, it was a natural fit for me. I was attending services regularly anyway. No front row seat came with this post, but it was something I could do that didn’t require a donation or strenuous activity. I just had to stand at the sanctuary doors for 2 ½ hours and keep the peace, so to speak. It was easy exercise, when I’d otherwise be sitting on my tuches in services.
The first-born leader and rule-follower in me felt good about giving something back in this way. Plus, there was the added benefit of meeting people I didn’t already know, greeting those I did, and learning the inner workings of a synagogue and its players. There’s a certain confidence I gain from this responsibility. For someone who grew up inhibited and shy, it forces me to be patient and understanding, to bend the rules on occasion, to be diplomatic and hospitable at all times. These are skills my children might say I lacked in their earlier years, pushing them to be the best I thought they could be. I volunteered then a bit, too, with their schools and activities, but the ushering is more of a weekly commitment.
My synagogue has become my second home. So has my office. My job at the AJT is also a form of giving back for me. After 30 years of reporting for newspapers and magazines, large and small, both in print and online, I bring all of my skills to bear as an editor. The best part of my job is helping other reporters improve their writing in small ways so we put out the best possible editorial copy we can for Jewish readers each week. It’s giving back because it’s for and about the Jewish community that has shaped my life and for the benefit of fellow reporters who share with me a deep passion for the written word. I try to always keep in mind as I’m editing and suggesting improvements that I was in their shoes and still am, answering to a higher authority. I learn from them and they learn from me. It’s mutually beneficial, just like maintaining respect for the Shabbat service within the sanctuary doors.
Roni Robbins is the associate editor of the AJT.