The Blessings of Community: The Most Important Lesson I Learned This Year
Next week will mark the first anniversary of our relationship together. It was just a year ago that Shoshana (with Eli in-utero), Ari, and I joined the CBD family. Throughout the year I have tried to seize every opportunity to get to know you, the members of CBD. I have had coffee with many of you, and those of you I have not had a chance to sit down with, please email me so we can arrange a time!
As I reflect upon this year, the first of my rabbinate, I marvel at the sheer number of awe-inspiring moments I experienced, both in seemingly mundane encounters and, of course, in profoundly moving life-cycle ceremonies. Each day brings new people and new opportunities into my work. What binds the disparate elements of my rabbinic experience together and imbues my work experience with holiness is the sense of community and connectedness I feel at Beth David. Essentially, everything I do on a daily basis ties in to helping us build a stronger sense of connectedness. Let me give you an example. On Sunday, my day began at minyan to be present for mourners and recite the memorial prayer for a congregant marking a transition in his mourning process. Then, I officiated at a baby naming as we welcomed a new addition to the Jewish people. I said “mazel tov” to the family and headed to the cemetery where I led an unveiling ceremony for a beloved member of our congregation who passed away a year ago. I finished up the afternoon at the Jews’ Next Dor Talent Show where I met a number of Jewish young adults who were attending their first event.
You might think these types of events could begin to feel “old” or mundane for a rabbi after a while, even in one year, but the truth is that I felt God’s presence in each. A feeling of holy connectedness permeated each event in subtly different ways, but the similarity in these events was the fact that they took place in community. Members of Beth David took time from their busy lives to support one another with smiles, tears, subtle expressions of understanding, and presence.
Hillel famously taught us not to separate from the community. In today’s world, Jews all too often choose to leave the Jewish community behind. They do so for all sorts of reasons. What saddens me is knowing that these Jews are missing out on the opportunity to support a fellow congregant as they mourn for their mother. They are bereft of the joy that comes from welcoming a new baby into the covenant of our people as we communally express our hopes and prayers for the baby. They lose out on the privilege and responsibility of standing next to a widow at the graveside of her beloved husband, holding her hand as she cries through the words of Kaddish.
Beginning in May, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Dr. Arnold Eisen, began posting a series of blog entries on the central themes of Conservative/Masorti Jewish life. I encourage you to read all five of Dr. Eisen’s blogposts. They are well written and help better define the ethos of Conservative Judaism. However, I believe the most important article he wrote is the one on community. In it, Eisen expresses his understanding of what a successful community looks like. He writes: “Successful Conservative institutions are true communities of mutual responsibility and shared commitment; places where people not only know your name but need and value your gifts. Such institutions provide palpable assurance to everyone who walks through the door that they are never alone in the world.”
To be in a community, particularly a religious community should mean that you are never alone. Being a member of Beth David should mean that you never have to experience both the joys and hardships we all face in life by yourself. Over the course of this past year, I have cherished being a part of this kehilah kedoshah, this holy community. I have experienced love, care, and support from many of you. I value each new day as an opportunity to work with you in making sure all congregants experience the comforting support of community in the myriad of life-changing moments we all face as we journey through life. Joining together in that endeavor is what being in community is all about. As we enter into the second year of our relationship together, I thank you all for allowing me to accompany you on your journey. I feel humbled and blessed to be a part of this community and look forward to working with you as we continually strive to bring a deeper, more fully experienced sense of holiness to our Synagogue.
If you would like to further your investment in our community and experience the kind of blessings I am humbled to receive each day please contact me. There are dozens of opportunities to choose from, each with a particular focus, as well as a unique reward for your soul. Conversely, if you feel alone or feel you have missed out on having the support of your community, please let me know so that together we can help you find a comfortable place at Beth David.
Rabbi Philip Ohriner
Chancellor Eisen’s blogpost: