Order the 'The Synagogue Suvival Kit'

A clear and interesting introduction into Jewish liturgy, 7/17/2007
Jayson L. Levy, Galveston, TX
(reviewed at Amazon.com)

"I am buying this book for a dear person who is about to become a Jew by choice.  Our congregation is Reform/Progressive and like many in our movement, years ago, was weak on liturgical education.  I read this book to better appreciate more traditional approaches to Jewish communal prayer."

"While prepared for a somewhat dry study, I instead found "The Synagogue Survival Kit" to be very well written and engaging!  Jordan Lee Wagner's love for the Siddur, Jewish prayerbook, radiates from almost every page.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wonders why Jewish prayer services are as they are.

Rabbi Daniel M. Wolpe
B'nai Torah Congregation,
Boca Raton, Florida:

"I have just finished reading your book, The Synagogue Survival Kit, and must tell you that I think it is exceptional.  In fact, I intend to use it in my Introduction to Judaism course next year.  I am particularly impressed with your ability to explain the different movements in a way which is encompassing and non-judgemental.  Your book may well be one of the most important Jewish books written for the American layman and I thank you for writing it."

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Forget gold -- worth many times its weight in platinum., April 10, 2007
Mary Ann Jackman, Nashville TN (reviewed at Amazon.com)

There is so much lore packed into this little book, it's hard to know where to begin. How about starting with the endnotes -- which I usually ignore -- but in this case, contain enough information for another book, or at least a greatly expanded volume. The author properly left them as endnotes to keep the focus exactly where it belongs, on the primary text material. I would read the entire chapter, then read the endnotes on their own, going back to the text if need be.

This book will give you a much greater understanding of the services, how they came to be and the underlying secrets in their construction... Whether you are a new Jew by Choice or a Jew by birth returning after a time away, this book is invaluable. I would not be without it in my library of Judaica. Many thanks to Jordan Lee Wagner for creating it! My understanding of the faith, the community, and even of Hebrew, took a giant leap forward.

Sybil Kaplan, reviewer
The National Jewish Post & Opinion
Indianapolis, Indiana, July 30, 1997:

"Do you know a Jew by choice or potential Jew by choice? A Jew by birth, now an adult, rediscovering his or her tradition? A Russian Jew deprived of his or her heritage? Others who may not have learned about prayer as children? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, buy this book and give it as a gift because it will undoubtedly be treasured."

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Excellent Overview, 10/21/2008
"Vlad B" of Brighton, MA
(Reviewed on Amazon.com)

After several attempts with other books on Jewish liturgy, I was finally able to achieve something of a breakthrough with this "kit", to the point when I no longer feel lost at a traditional service.  This accessible resource treats various components of the service as building blocks, and uses tables after each chapter to help remember and understand the entire structure - a very useful approach.  Another strength of this guide is the superb writing quality - the key concepts are presented without being dumbed-down, and the numerous end-notes include many fascinating insights and references which will surely be of interest to readers beyond beginner level.  I would like to thank Mr. Wagner for helping me successfully navigate a previously unfamiliar world of Hebrew prayer.

Borders Books:

"This engaging, informative guide to synagogue services provides the uninitiated with a detailed, thorough, and extremely useful roadmap to the liturgies, prayers, customs, and traditions encountered in Jewish communal worship.   More than just a liturgical schematic, "The Synagogue Survival Kit" goes beyond the descriptive to the interpretive, yet does so with a sensitivity to the broad spectrum of Jewish perspectives and denominations that is certain to make this a staple of synagogue libraries everywhere."

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Understanding the Jewish basis of Worship, November 23, 2001
By Kim Egger, Freeport, TX
(Reviewed at Amazon.com)

Wagner has made the somewhat mysterious world of the Synagogue accessible.   While people may go to most any church and feel perfectly at home, the Synagogue is not as well known.  Wagner gives his readers an opportunity to understand and even participate in the worship services at the heart of Judaism.  This book is highly readable and worth the time if you or anyone you know is going to Synagogue.  This is the book you must buy.

Sheila Weinstock, Librarian
Temple Bnai Israel,
Clearwater, Florida:

"I have just finished reading the book and even though I have been an active synagogue attendee, I truly feel that I learned a lot. We do have many congregants who ask for information about the very items that this book addresses."

The reviews are in!

'The Synagogue Survival Kit' by Jordan Lee Wagner,  has been reviewed in the following publications:

In addition, the following publications have requested and received review copies. Their reviews will be cited here when published.

  • The Forward (national)
  • The Washtenaw Jewish News (Ann Arbor MI)
  • The Jewish Post and Opinion (national)
  • The Jewish Ledger (Rochester NY)
  • The Jewish Journal (Youngstown OH)

It's our intention to list all published reviews. If you've seen one not listed here, please let us know.

And now, here are the reviews:


Publishers Weekly (national)  2/10/97

"To anyone unfamiliar with the synagogue service, the prayers and rituals may seem like a 'confusing hodgepodge of activity.'x Wagner provides a simple, detailed, and thorough road map for navigating the service and understanding its structure and content.  He assumes no prior knowledge, explaining such basics as clothing and decorum, when to arrive at services, how to lift a Torah and what greetings to use.  The book grew out of a lengthy orientation letter Wagner wrote to a friend who was preparing to attend a traditional service... his informal, encouraging tone make this an engaging, reader-friendly introduction.  He breaks down the service piece by piece and transforms the reader's picture of it from an 'amorphous blob' to a highly structured diagram. Explanations of pronunciation, customs, architecture, who's who in the service and the nature of prayer help set the stage for specific explorations of each prayer.  Interpretations are worded so as to be acceptable to the spectrum of Jewish philosophies and denominations.  Extensive notes follow each chapter, and a cross-reference to selections in the most commonly used prayer books fleshes out this carefully crafted primer, which is perfect for Jews rediscovering their own traditions, Jews by choice and others who wish to participate in Jewish events."

The Jewish Advocate (Boston MA)  3/28/97

"Have you ever wanted to attend a traditional Jewish service but were intimidated because you were afraid you couldn't follow what was going on? Or have you ever felt totally lost at a service with no one to turn to for help? Then The Synagogue Survival Kit  may be for you."

"Jordan Lee Wagner takes the reader step by step... Don't understand why you stand up here or sit down there? Why certain prayers are said aloud and others silently? This book explains it all."

"The book first took seed about five years ago when a non-Jewish friend who wanted to explore Judaism asked Wagner to explain the service...

"The result is a remarkably thorough book. It starts well before the service begins, with proper dress and the layout of the synagogue..."

"The book works because Wagner knows what questions newcomers to synagogues are likely to ask."

Library Journal (national)  2/15/97

"Wagner has written a clear and easy-to-read guidebook on the Jewish synagogue experience for the Jewish or non-Jewish individual who would like some beginning lessons and insight into what goes on when Jews gather to pray in a congregation. The chapters are devoted to such topics as synagogue customs and features, the structure of the worship experience, the siddur (Jewish prayerbook), individual prayers, and the public Torah (biblical) reading... Wagner's work has an open, enthusiastic, and warm-hearted approach... Wagner's book is a good choice for most public libraries serving a diverse clientele."

Jewish Media Review
(Internet)  1/3/2001
Dov Peretz Elkins (DPE@DPElkins.com)

"This is a wonderful book to give to serious people who are not familiar with the synagogue service.  It is extremely comprehensive, and takes nothing for granted.  Novice worshippers will be able to find answers to almost every question they can think of, including matters of clothing and decorum, bringing children, a suggestion not to bring food, what time to come, etc.  There is an amusing note to non-Jews that suggests that they arrive about a half hour "late" lest they be among the few worshippers who come on time.  The author knows our synagogues, doesnít he?

The book focuses in many instances on traditional Jews, but is careful to include customs in other congregations as well.  Thus, the book should not be viewed as limited to any particular denomination.  Most of it includes historical and content explanations of the prayers, which is applicable to everyone.

There are chapters on synagogue customs, including explanations of the kipa, tallit, tefillin, tzedakah box; material on synagogue features such as the architecture, the ark, the bima and amud, the rabbi, the menorah and Eternal Light, and other decorative motfis.  Many chapters cover concepts of worship, fixed liturgy, minyan, standing and sitting, womenís role (the differences between traditions are explained), and a chapter on the general structure of the liturgy.

The main section of the book contains chapters on each of the major segments of the formal liturgy, such as Shíma, kaddish, písukay dízimra, the Amidah, the Torah Reading (this is especially helpful for newcomers to understand all the nuances of an aliyah, lifting and tying the Sefer Torah, the use of Hebrew names, etc.), and the concluding hymns.

Rabbis have long waited for a book like this to give to people who often sit through long services without a clue as to what is happening. It will go a long way to solving that problem, and providing people with a good solid reference book to finding meaning while attending daily, festival and Shabbat services. It can also serve as an excellent adult education text."

The Newton Graphic (Newton MA)  3/13/97

"Jordan Lee Wagner must be a friendly sort."

The Congregation Beth-El Newsetter  (Williamstown MA)  January 2000
reviewed by Seth Rogovoy

Don't let the awkward title --- with its shades of "prayer for dummies" --- divert you from this valuable book.  It is written with dignity and care, and while it is very accessible, it is by no means patronizing or new-agey, as one might think.  It doesn't presuppose that one needs a "survival kit" to be in the synagogue; rather, it describes in simple terms what's going on there, what's expected of those who attend, and how you can get more out of your time there.  Like Donin, it has a how-to aspect to it, with chapters on "Fitting In," "Synagogue Customs" an "Synagogue Features," as well as detailed explications of the various elements of the worship service.  It is particularly good at charting out the differences in the three daily services (morning, noon, and evening) and the Shabbat services.

The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix (Phoenix AZ) 9/26/97
reviewed by Anne Rackham

"The Synagogue Survival Kit" by Jordan Lee Wagner (Jason Aronson Inc.) is designed to help the novice make his/her way through and understand a Jewish liturgical service - whether Orthodox, Reform or Conservative.  The book does not assume that the reader knows anything about Judaism, only that he or she wants to learn.  Symbols, traditions and rituals are explained in easy-to-understand language.  The author doesn't shy away from discussing God and prayer nor from quoting from the Bible.  In addition to explaining the liturgy, the book gives the reader a sense of what it means to be a Jew in terms of a relationship with and belief in God.

A Primer Fit for a Friend, 10/2007
"seraphim" (review at Epinions.com and Ebay.com)

A great introduction to the faith, many details are included, good for secular Jews planning on returning to religious practice or people who are "rusty" in their observance
Not an advanced guide, simply a primer.

I purchased this book for a friend that was interested in Jewish faith and culture.  I was planning on taking her first to a Reform service and then to an Orthodox one.  I felt that it was only fair of me to give her a few lessons on dos and don'ts myself, but I also thought that a book that covered the basics would be an important learning tool for her so I made the trek to my local Judaica store (at the time, Tree of Life Books in Wedgwood - a very Jewish area of Seattle).  They recommended this book, and also that I read it to make sure that my Schul's traditions were covered in the book's scope.  As it turned out the coverage for the very Orthodox traditions isn't great but it's an excellent beginning.

This book gives a wonderful introduction to the structure of Jewish services, and the historical reasoning behind this liturgical structure as well as describing the common features and fixtures of a Jewish Synagogue along with their historical and religious contexts.  It describes the basis for the liturgies themselves and it gives the common prayers and describes them in detail as well.  There is even a chapter towards the beginning of the book on "fitting in" which I found to be a wonderful addition to newcomers and visitors to Synagogue services since a lack of confidence that they are fitting in is quite common - this is really helpful.

All in all I would say that this book is a great place to start for anyone interested in the Jewish faith, and I plan on buying another copy for myself in case any other friends or family members who are not Jewish express such an interest.  It is a great addition to any library (personal or public) and I highly recommend it because of the friendly and informal tones used in his descriptions and explanations.  This book is written as an explanation between friends, and not as a lecture from teacher to pupil which I feel makes it even more appropriate for persons showing initial interest in Judaica.

The Jewish Book News (national)  3/27/97

(The description of the Synagogue Survival Kit on the Synagogue Survival Kit Home Page is taken from the 3/7/97 Jewish Book News.)

The Jewish Book News (national)  8/14/97

"It is rare that a new book sells out its first printing as rapidly as has occurred with Jordan Lee Wagner's best-selling book, The Synagogue Survival Kit. "

"The new laminated, hard-cover edition has just been released."

Order the 'The Synagogue Suvival Kit'

The Synagogue Survival Kit, by Jordan Lee Wagner, is published by Rowman & Littlefield.  

ISBN#1-56821-967-9.     Hardcover.  368 pages.   $40.

It may be purchased at bookstores, or on-line from Amazon.com, or directly from the author.  

Also by Jordan Lee Wagner:

"Siddur Ba-Eir Hei-Teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur" -- The complete Friday evening and Saturday morning services, spelled in English alphabet. Color shows whether text is usually recited silently, chanted by the Cantor, or sung aloud by the congregation. Now anyone can follow a traditional service and sing along.

Send comments about the book, or regarding this page, to:  jordan@webjew.org

updated: 2/8/2009