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Shul Comfort

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2003-10-05

The future of synagogue seating?

Synagogue seats need to be comfortable

With the High Holydays and Succot upon us, it's a busy time of year for shul-going, especially for those who only attend three times a year. Yet synagogue comfort isn't what it should be. Given that the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are the longest of the year, I am somewhat baffled by the lack of attention most shuls place in congregants' seating needs.

While I don't advocate the use of leather upholstered recliners, I do think that more effort should be placed on providing comfortable seating along with space for congregants to feel more relaxed. At the moment, most shuls still seem to have wooden benches which on reflection, should not have been there in the first place. How many times have people been virtually "crushed" together, or when it comes to reciting the Amidah, found themselves lacking the space to stand up properly without constantly banging legs against the sides of these benches?

By being crammed into these small spaces and uncomfortable seats, it's often difficult to focus your attention on the purpose of your shul visit, namely your spiritual needs. From the person sitting in front of you, who because of lack of space, sits back and knocks your Siddur through to the person behind who also has a Siddur which is knocked flying when you lean back against the wooden seating, this is something which affects everybody who goes to Shul. And with full shuls over the High Holydays, things can get very hot and cramped indeed, not creating the best environment for people to pray.

While some UK shuls are addressing the issue and creating more space for congregants to sit, stand and pray comfortably, the vast majority are ignoring the issue. Well, I don't think this should be ignored. Members of shuls can sometimes pay upwards of £500 a year to belong, plus contribute numerous donations. Surely a bit more comfort wouldn't be too much to ask for?

It's not a question of offering or even delivering cinema-style seating, it' s just a bit of thought into congregants' needs, from the young to the old and for the infirm as well as the healthy. Otherwise, by creating this small obstacle, shuls are making it awkward for members to take part in services. We would like to see more shuls being pro-active in meeting the needs of its membership, and by addressing the important issue of seating, they will find a happy membership means a happier community and more shulgoers.