From the Rabbi - February 2015 Print
I have been very impressed by the quality of our 92nd Street Y events.  The last one involving a discussion between Thomas Friedman and Dov Seidman was particularly interesting.  Seidman argued that, contrary to our usual assumptions, success in business and life in general in the modern world is about values.  Specifically, values such as trust and kindness will get you further in the modern business environment than a relentless quest for more efficiency and profit.  Or, to put it another way, nice guys don’t finish last after all!

And what is the best way to train yourself in being nice?  According to Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard, being religious makes you nicer! According to Putnam’s research religious people are measurably more generous, more altruistic, and more civic minded.  In practical terms religious people are more likely to do things like give blood, vote in local elections, give money to a homeless person, give their seat to a stranger, help a friend in financial need, volunteer (both for their religious institution and for secular causes) or help an old person across the street. 

Why is this the case? Perhaps religious people are more concerned with divine punishment or reward.  But Putnam’s research also suggests that belief is not the key factor. It doesn’t matter whether you are Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, Orthodox, Reform or Conservative.  What is key is the level of a person’s involvement with their religious community.  Even an atheist who attends church or synagogue with their family has the same levels of ‘niceness’ as a true believer. 

What this suggests is that being part of a religious community is in and of itself something that makes you a nicer and more considerate person.  Communities such as our own reinforce ethical values in our services and our programs, and encourage sharing, giving and connecting with others.

So the next time you ask why you should come to synagogue, the answer is simple – it will make you a nicer person!

                    Rabbi Emanuel