Friday, August 28, 2015

We're Joining A Synagogue

My husband, Jay, and I haven't been members of a synagogue for the past three years. And frankly, its been ok. For holidays, instead of attending our local synagogue, we traveled.  Tashlich, casting out sins on Rosh Hashana, on a foreign beach is memorable.
"Gut yontif" opens the door, once you walk through a metal detector, and show a passport, to any synagogue across the globe.  The dinning room table with candles, wine, and challah is a mikdash m'at (a small sanctuary). And for friendship, Saturday night dinners with couples we've known for decades have been joyful. When my mother-in-law passed away, rabbis we know led shiva minyanim. Volunteer opportunities abound.

For many years, previous to our shul hiatus, we had been members of a suburban congregation. During that time, we learned to create and lead meaningful ritual. The child raising years filled with Purim carnivals and family learning forged lasting friendships. Membership gave us the tools to fashion a Jewish social, ritual and spiritual life that was possible without the need for formal belonging. We can do Jewish on our own. And yet, this fall, we'll write a check to join. Why?

The answer comes in a paradox at the heart of a community-- the me and the we.

The me: "Unless the community furthers the well-being of the individual, it has no claim upon his allegiance or cooperation." (Kaplan)

Despite creating Jewish life for ourselves, I've noticed missing pieces. I've missed weekly engaging with a group of people sincerely questioning their lives and the lives of our ancestors as if they were one story. I've missed the light in the sanctuary.

And I've missed Shabbat melodies that implant in me like time-released capsules turning the ordinary into glimpses of the extraordinary Sunday through Thursday.

Jay likes to explain his reason for wanting to rejoin with the old joke, "Sam goes to synagogue to talk to God, I go to synagogue to talk to Sam." Between us, I think he talks to both.

The We: Each generation of Jews sees itself as bound to ancestors whose decision defined its experience and as obligated to future generations whose inheritance it will shape (Aaron Dorfman as quoted in A Guide To Jewish Practice by David Teutsch).

In my "do what you choose world," I don't pay much attention to obligation. I do pay taxes, do laundry (when I have to), and take care of people close to me. With no harm intended, armed with the excuse of busyness, and sometimes helplessness in the face of the great challenges, I forgo attention to "we."

Help. I need reminding. Rabbi Linda Potemken writes, "The community has the additional challenge of helping the individual recognize the obligatory nature of Judaism....we are obligated even if there is no obligator or commander..."

I wish I could report our return to synagogue membership came from a Great Call.

The truth: I need help from a community to lift me. I need the "we" to help me enact my obligation as a Jew--as a human. I want to be reminded how to enact my obligation to the future.

In preparing for my personal work for 5776, and my new job, I ask: What does learning look like that fosters the well being of the individual and helps individuals enact obligation to others?

 I'm going to sign up at the congregation on the tree-lined street in Penn Valley to find out. And I would love to hear your example of learning that balances me and we. Please share.

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