By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD – Do you wonder about God?
Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro of Sinai Temple in Springfield wanted to know what his own congregants were thinking about God. He now has some answers, after getting back the results of Sinai’s “God Survey.”
The survey, a list of 15 questions or statements about beliefs in God, went out to Sinai congregants last fall just after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Rabbi Shapiro spoke about the survey during his High Holiday sermon.
“I figured not only was the High Holidays a time when I would have a lot of people present, but it would be a time when a lot of people would be thinking about these big questions,” Rabbi Shapiro explained.
The questions or statements in the survey included “I wonder about God” …with the options “a lot” “a little” “rarely” and “never.”
Another entry, “I have felt close to God…” asked those surveyed to select choices to finish that statement, such as “when I have been at Shabbat services” “when I have been at a bar/bat mitzvah” “watching my child or grandchild at special moments” or “I never feel close to God.”
Another asked, “If God was accepting questions, I would ask…” Survey takers wrote responses like, “God, why do bad things happen to good people?”
Rabbi Shapiro compiled his list of questions from a survey done buy another synagogue many years ago that he had kept in his files and also spoke to a person on the faculty of Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles about the question survey method. He then drafted some questions and sent them out to five or six congregants via a smaller “Survey Monkey” and asked what they thought of the format and the questions. “We went around two or three times refining the questions. At first I had too many questions and too many categories,” he said. “So it took going back and forth with a few people quite a bit of time, until it seemed as though I had the right questions.”
The survey went out to the congregation on Oct. 9 – the Sunday after Yom Kippur, and all of the responses were in within around a month.
In all, 338 Sinai congregants responded to the survey with results that Rabbi Shapiro called “fascinating.”
When presented in the survey with the statement “There is no God” 60 percent of the congregants disagreed. Sixty percent said no when asked “If Science can explain everything.” And 45 percent agreed that the universe gives evidence that God exists. 74.6 percent of those surveyed said that “God is Hope.”
Rabbi Shapiro invited all adult members as well as teens older than bar/bat mitzvah age. Respondents ranged in age from their teens up to 90. But the largest age group of congregants responding to the survey were those in their 50s – the age group of the majority of the members of the congregation — followed by those in their 60s.
Rabbi Mark Shapiro said he was spurred on to do the survey through the wonders of technology.
“I suppose like everybody in this new world, there are always new computer options and new computer possibilities that come to mind. Last spring I was doing something with Survey Monkey and it suddenly occurred to me, ‘What if we were to use Survey Monkey and survey the congregation about something huge – like what they believe?’”
Rabbi Shapiro said that he has “always been fascinated by the matter of belief …faith…prayer. I just have an ongoing dialogue with myself about how those things all hold together, and what to believe and how to believe. So I am always interested in that topic.”
And he is not the only one.
“Many contemporary Jews have many questions about faith, and prayer and such matters. It is a big issue. And I think people have more questions than they have answers and they aren’t so sure it is okay to have those questions all the time.”
He admits he was a little concerned about what the results would be.
“I did say to myself while I was waiting for the results to come in, ‘Well, what would be good results?’ Would good results be that 30 percent of people were sure in their beliefs or 60 percent; what if everybody was an atheist? I had no idea as to what people would say. I began to wonder, ‘What have I done? Is this good or bad?”
But in the end, just doing the survey and getting his congregants to think about the topic was enough for Rabbi Shapiro.
“My bottom line was that success would be having the conversation…and whatever the results were, the results were. What mattered most of all was that people engaged in the conversation.”