That Which Is Beyond Your Gates

In this imaginative short story, as synagogue attendance shrinks the buildings themselves begin to grow.
Dr. David Zvi Kalman is a research fellow in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Kogod Research Center. He is a scholar, writer, and entrepreneur working at the intersection of technology, religion, and art. In addition to his work at the Shalom Hartman Institute, he has held research and consulting roles at Sinai and Synapses and the Sapir Institute. He is the owner of Print-O-Craft Press, an independent publishing house that has released books including Jessica Deutsch’s

I. April 2020

Irv laughed. “Don’t we wish!”

“No, I mean it,” said Randi. “The synagogue is getting bigger.”

“Membership has been dropping by at least 2% every year for the last ten years,” said the president. “And we’re in the middle of a pandemic. That can’t possibly be true.”

“Not the membership, Irv,” said Randi. “The building. The actual building.”

There was silence on the call. Rabbi Goldstein started moving his lips.

“You’re on mute, Rabbi,” said Randi. “You need to unmute.”

Another moment of silence. “I was saying that I’m glad you said something, because I thought I saw something like that but wasn’t sure if I believed it myself,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “The parking lot seems to be smaller than it used to be.”

“Yes, I noticed the parking lot first, too,” Randi said. “I mean, that’s fine right now, nobody is coming anyway. But the parking lot is shrinking because the building seems to be eating it up.”

“What was the name of the architect, the one we hired in 2008?” asked Sheila.

“Hansen,” said Irv. “What a disaster. Two hundred thousand dollars. Wasted.”

“Should we call them? Was there anything in the report about this?”

“They were just looking at the awnings,” said Irv. “Randi, are the awnings growing?”

“Well, probably,” said Randi. “But I want to steer the conversation away from Hansen for a minute. I was there just this morning, and this time I brought my tape measure. Rabbi, did you know that your office is now 10% larger than it was last week?”

“Sounds like contract negotiations are going to be a little easier this time around,” laughed Rabbi Goldstein. Sheila and a couple of the newer board members laughed, too. Irv didn’t laugh.

“And also the Barenboim chapel,” continued Randi. “It’s also around 10% deeper, probably 10% taller, too, if I would guess. I even checked in the main sanctuary, which I thought looked big last time, but maybe that’s just because it was so empty. Do you know what I found there? The Torah scrolls, Rabbi, are loose! The ark is growing, but they’re not.”

“Oy, did any fall out?” asked Rabbi Goldstein.

“Thankfully they didn’t, but I’ve laid them all on their sides for the moment,” said Randi.

“Randi, you’re not allowed to do that,” said Rabbi Goldstein.

“I’m sorry, Rabbi, I didn’t know. Do you have another suggestion?”

“Oy, what a mess,” said Rabbi Goldstein. “Irv, have you noticed anything like this? When’s the last time you were in the building?”

“Purim,” said Irv. “If Randi says it’s growing, it’s growing. Harv, what’s our liability on this?”

Harvey Mandelbaum was sitting in front of a bright window. His face was entirely in shadow. He unmuted himself and cleared his throat. “Well, there’s the structural concern, which has already been mentioned, but besides that, we need to think about the property lines. The eastern boundary connects to Rabbi’s parsonage, so that’s not a problem. But on the south and west there’s private property, and on the north side, which is where the parking lot is located, the synagogue might eventually protrude into the street, and that’s when we get into serious trouble. I am 90% sure that our insurance would not cover us in that circumstance.”

“Harv, what do you think we should do?”

“I think—” said Harv, but at the same time another voice came in.

“Hi, hello, can anybody hear me?”

“We can hear you,” said Irv. “But who is speaking? Can you turn your video on?”

“I’m sorry—hi, it’s Aviva, I’m just in the car right now, I can’t put on the video. Is it okay if I say something? Was somebody else talking? I can’t see anybody, I’m sorry if I interrupted anybody.”

“No, go ahead Aviva,” said Irv. “The floor is yours.”

“I was just going to say,” said Aviva, “that I feel like we’re missing the forest for the trees here.”

In the chat window, Randi wrote: yes I agree!!!

“I’ve never heard of a synagogue expanding before—like, ever. Do we have any idea why this is happening?”

“Well—” Sheila started, but Irv broke in.

“I’m sorry, everybody, I think this is an important conversation, I really do, but we’re already fifteen minutes behind schedule and I know that a few people on this call have a hard stop at 3 p.m. I’ll send an email so we can find a time to revisit this. Okay, everybody? Okay. Thank you. Okay. What’s the next item on our agenda?”

“Passover gift baskets,” said Randi.

“Passover gift baskets!” laughed Irv. “Wonderful. Rabbi Goldstein?”

“I think—hold on, I’m very sorry folks, I have to get this. Hello?” Rabbi Goldstein picked up his phone and turned away from the camera, muting himself. Everyone else waited awkwardly, not sure what to do.

The rabbi ended the call. “Folks,” he said, “that was just the rabbi of Beth Sholom in Atlanta. He says his synagogue is melting.”

Read the complete short story on Lehrhaus

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