Page 119 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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SCULT / MORDECAI KAPLAN AT
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109
ROLE OF SYNAGOGUE
He had a vision o f the synagogue as more than a place to pray
and study. He wanted the synagogue to be a place where young
people could meet and socialize. As the children o f the immi­
grants grew up and looked more and more to non-Jewish institu­
tions to organize the ir lives, Kaplan became determ ined to fight
against assimilation by a new kind o f center for Jewish life. He was
determ ined to establish a synagogue which would meet not only
spiritual needs bu t the social, intellectual, aesthetic and psycho­
logical ones as well. T he Jewish Center on 86th Street in Manhat-
ten was dedicated in 1917. Kaplan served as its first rabbi. The
congregation was O rthodox and Kaplan sensing that there might
be conflicts, asked tha t his salary be given to the Teachers Insti­
tute. In this way he would be free to speak his mind without fear
o f offending his employers. In 1920 Kaplan published an article
in the Menorah Jou rn a l which hit hard at all branches o f o rgan ­
ized Judaism including Orthodoxy. This article eventually led to
Kaplan’s leaving the Center along with a group o f dedicated
followers. T he Cen ter was an importan t institution because it
served as a model for many o ther synagogues.
Kaplan’s move from the Center was very important for his own
spiritual growth. With the founding o f the Society For T he Ad­
vancement o f Judaism , Kaplan now had an institution where he
could give full rein to his ideas and innovations. The S.A.J. was
not only a forum for the implementation of his philosophy but
also a congregation with the ordinary needs and problems tha t all
congregations have. Kaplan was at times impatient with the many
social activities tha t dem anded his time. Often he felt tha t his
congregants were more interested in the ir own diversions than in
Judaism or in the bu rn ing social issues o f the day. A lthough he
functioned well as a rabbi, Kaplan disliked serving at weddings
and funerals. He was, however, led to write original prayers for
d ifferen t occasions and the writing of prayers was a particular
strength. T he re are many examples in the Reconstructionist
prayerbooks. H ere is one from the early S.A.J. period:
. . . Where is the man or woman tha t has never known
sickness and affliction, sorrow and anguish. From ou r very
childhood, recu rren t sorrows have left their imprints on ou r
souls.