It is customary for Jews to study one of the six chapters of Pirke Avot – the Ethics of our Ancestors – on each of the six shabbatot between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Found within the Mishnah, Pirke Avot is a collection of rabbinic sayings and ethical teachings. One of my favorite maxims is attributed to Yochanan ben Bag Bag, one of Hillel’s disciples, said to have lived in the first century. We read, “ben Bag Bag used to say ‘Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.’” Most commentators explain that “turn it” refers to the Torah. Learning Torah is a lifelong endeavor, to be examined over and over again, discovering new meanings and nuances with every seasonal turn and with each life transition. I would like to suggest a different meaning, however. Perhaps, “it” refers to the community that we create together, “turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it.”
Judaism does not advocate solitude as a way of reaching spiritual or moral attainment. Judaism teaches that it is in relationships with one another where we connect most deeply with God. The potential we have as individuals to grow and transform is strengthened by our sense of being rooted in community. Judaism asks us to learn with each other, pray with each other, celebrate with each other, mourn with each other, walk through life together and see the Godliness that exists in each other’s souls.
Knowing that we need connection in our lives does not always lead us towards developing community. Even when we have the best of intentions, we sometimes need support and a hand reaching out to us, inviting us to come along, prodding us to leave the comforts of home and to put ourselves out there. Authentic and genuine living is about growing and becoming who we are, at every stage of life, in relationship with one another.
A solid community is more than making donations and asking what the rabbi or a congregation or an institution can do for you. We can’t sit back and wait for community to come to us. In order to be transformed by “it,” we have to build “it.” We have to become “it.” None of us can create connection, meaning, happiness and belonging in isolation.
On June 12th at 6:30 pm, we are hosting a gathering for those who are interested in the Baby Boomer Small Group Initiative at Temple. This is an opportunity for those who are interested in hearing an update or learning more about serving as a Small Group Leader.
The idea to create these small groups developed directly out of listening to the needs of our members. Sometimes, we need the anonymity of our robust communal events. Other times, we desire smaller settings in which to grow and share in the lived experience of being a Jew. In truth, we need both the large and small gathering moments: to pray, celebrate and learn from our tradition and to experience our Jewish values in personal and relatable smaller settings, where we are seen for who we are, and where we see others for who they are.
These small groups will be regular gatherings of 5-15 members in people’s homes, offices, and other places that promote relationship building. They will be led by trained members of the group. Some groups will connect around common interests and affinities. Other groups will gather to discuss topics of deep concern or importance. All will engage in conversations or meaningful learning through curricula provided by Temple Beth El.
Small groups are not new to this congregation: over the years we have had Chavurot, Jewish Living Groups, Shabbat Supper Clubs, Torah Study, the choir and much more. What is new, however, is the structure and shared responsibility that we all shoulder in creating a more substantive web of relationships that make up our community and combine to create the Jewish world we hope to see for our future. Help us to weave a strong social fabric of shared belonging shaped by the idea that when we are in relationship and well-connected, we can better care for the well-being of one another. And when we support the spiritual growth and learning of one another we will live better, richer and fuller lives. If you are interested in learning more, please let us know you will join us on June 12.