Jewish life in mid-Missouri

Pam Droog Jones

By Pam Droog Jones

Everything came together all at once, a couple of years ago. My mom passed away. My son moved away. A beloved pet died. My ex-husband, my friend, talked about relocating. My husband’s state-government job was on the line again. And I could barely tolerate my own job. 

I can’t say I turned to the synagogue for solace. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Epstein Hebrew Academy ad


When I moved to Central Missouri about nine years ago because of my husband’s job, I was glad to know there was a small Reform synagogue in Jefferson City, Temple Beth El. With most of my friends still in St. Louis, I was lonely. I figured I would automatically have a lot in common with everyone at Beth El. I could get involved, and join the Sisterhood. I’d have a place to wear my pretty clothes. Maybe I’d make some new friends. So I went to a Friday night service there.

Frankly, I was underwhelmed. My impression was that the crowd was rather cliquish. I tried chatting up a couple of people at the oneg after services but didn’t get very far. Looking back, however, the problem was me.

So when this tempest of calamities occurred, I started thinking about the synagogue again. Except for that one disappointing experience there, it had been quite a while since I did much of anything about being Jewish. I thought about it, and thought about it, and thought some more. Stalker-like, I frequently drove past the historic synagogue building downtown. I read the temple website. I told myself, I’ll go this Friday, but found excuses not to. After about a year of this I was determined to go back.

But I didn’t want to fail again.

I called a congregant I remembered and told her I was planning to come to services Friday night. She assured me she would be there to greet me—and she was, and she saved me a seat. At the oneg she introduced me around. People with St. Louis connections asked me what high school I went to. I started to relax. 

Now, a year and a half later, I’m an official temple member. I don’t go every Friday night but try to get there at least once a month. It’s a no-frills operation; we don’t have a rabbi so people volunteer to lead the services. One woman brings delicious home-baked challah every week (plus rolls we can take home). I’m always glad to see several of the members. Some things annoy me, but for the most part I feel comfortable there. The difference between my first experience and now, I believe, was my expectations. 

So I was kind of stunned recently when we all received an email from a woman who wrote, “Not one person has contacted me since I stopped attending services…this is one of the most cliquish places I have ever seen…” I tried to remember her and couldn’t. How strange to be considered one of the clique-ees now.