Many people are scared to go to shul (synagogue). They say they feel out of place. But I say there’s no reason for that. All you need is a few tips to understand the services, look like you know what is going on, and most importantly, look penitent.

Take these to heart and soon you too will look like a regular congregant.

Sing whatever you know. U2’s ‘With or Without You’ works great as harmony.

Sing Whatever You Know

Don't worry about the tune. Nobody in my shul seems to care.. All you need to do is harmonize and you’ll look like a pro.

U2’s ‘With or Without You’ works as great harmony for all of the songs you will hear. If you can’t harmonize, don’t worry – no one else can either.

Close Your Eyes

There is something about closing the eyes that shows people you do not know where the congregation is at. And that is spiritual.

Say 'Yasher Koyach' to Everybody

Yasher koyach” literally means you should be “strong and straight” and when you say it, it sounds like you know what is going on. This is generally said after somebody gets an honor, kind of like saying ‘Good job.’ But we do not say ‘good job,’ as the person probably messed up. Instead, you say ‘Yasher Koyach,’ and you have fulfilled a religious obligation of acknowledging the fact that the beadle (gabbai) didn’t give you the honor.

In Sefardic Jewish tradition they say ‘Chazak uBaruch.’ Better yet, instead of messing up the pronunciation, don’t say anything. Just shake everybody’s hand. People will appreciate this, as most of them have run for office.

Take Three Steps Back & Three Steps Forward when Starting and Ending the Silent Prayer

Follow the congregation. That is it. Three small steps. Do not get too excited and begin to dance. Do not put your right-hand in.

Get Loud Every Once in A While

The volume of your prayer should have times when it gets higher. Peaks and valleys. Very important.

Who cares that you don’t speak or understand Hebrew. Mumble in a loud tone every couple of minutes. Go high-pitch loud-tone with your eyes closed, and you have penitence.

Please note: do not do this for the silent prayer. It is silent. Again, follow the other people; if they are silent, you should be too. If they are talking, you should also be telling everybody about your summer holiday plans.

Tell Somebody Looking for a Seat, ‘That is My Seat’

By telling people where they can’t sit, you solidify your shul membership. Gangs sometimes force somebody to commit a crime in order to gain full gang affiliation. In shul, you just have to make another person feel very uncomfortable. Some synagogues have the hazing ritual, where you are forced to go over to somebody else during the Kiddush (post service snack time) and start an uncomfortable conversation that goes nowhere for 10 minutes. Tell them about your children.

If Somebody Hits a Table, Do Not Get Scared

The gabbai is generally the one that hits the table. It is the sign that a special prayer should be added into the silent prayer. What it is? Nobody knows. Maybe you have a birthday coming up. Most of the time it is used to let people know to add the prayer for the new month (Rosh Chodesh). The bang ensures that they will all add the prayer, but mainly, due to fear.

Bow as Much as You Can- There Is Never a Wrong Moment To Bow

Aside from closing your eyes, bowing is the most penitent you can get.

Bowing also helps with checking other people's prayer books. If you don't know the spot, you can get much closer to their books. They usually hold them at waste level, so get a decent bow going. Stretch beforehand. Work your bend in different directions as well. This is where the tradition of swaying while praying comes from. People started to hunch over, while moving from side to side, to try to find the correct page from their neighbor.

Note: Do not bow when greeting somebody with ‘Shabbat Shalom.’ They only do that at shuls in Japan.

Watch Out for the Tallis

The prayer shawl (Tallis) has tassels on all corners. Be careful. Safety comes first.

When people are putting on their Tallis, duck. Duck as fast as you can. They are trying to hit you. This is why everybody bows during Aleinu, at the end of the service. It is at that moment that people are taking off their Tallis, yet again, swinging it wildly, already knowing that they hit you earlier, when putting it on.

Be Ready to Open the Ark With the Torah

This is the easiest of the honors they give out at the congregation and the one you will probably get if you are a beginner. You don't have to prepare anything and you get just as much credit as the guy reading the Torah. Everybody will wish you a 'Yasher Koach.' Again, shake hands.

As there is always room for improvement, practice by opening and closing curtains in your home. You will want to get it down to one fluid motion.

Kiss the Torah

As they are carrying the Torah around, kiss it. I suggest with the siddur or a tallis. You can go straight with the mouth, but this simultaneously increases your perceived religious commitment while decreasing your hygienic commitment.

When somebody Messes up the Torah Reading, Get Extremely Angry at Them

Some people correct the Torah reader if he makes a mistake while reading. The really devout yell the correct word at the reader. I suggest you get up and start booing the reader. Throwing stuff at the reader will also teach him a lesson.

This is also a tradition you will see used at Bar Mitzvahs, to make the 13-year-olds feel extremely bad about not preparing enough, as they are thrown in front of 500 people for the first time. First we scream at the child for not being loud enough, then correct him, and then we hurl candies at him. And as that child never reads from the Torah again in public, after his Bar Mitzvah, you know he learned his lesson.

Bring a List of Names with You to the Torah

Known as a Mish’beyrach, if you get called to the Torah, this is an opportunity to bring up names of everybody you want to be blessed. A list is great to have, as it saves the hassle of having to remember the people you care about.

The longer the list, the more important you must be. Why would anybody make a whole congregation wait 15 minutes for them to get through all of their friends, instead of just saying 'All of my friends'?

It is theoretically possible that you could end up in a congregation where people say ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ smile, offer you a seat, announce pages, have one person correcting the Torah reader very politely, while they all sing together in unison and don’t try to hit you with their Tallis. If that is the case, you are on your own. I cannot teach you how to navigate that kind of (very unique) service.

Next time, we shall deal with Kiddush, proper dress code and how to fall asleep while the rabbi is talking.