The holiday of Passover reminds us that long-ago, Moses and the Israelites stood at a crossing and dared to make a covenant that would embrace generations past and generations not yet born. The Passover Seder reminds us that we are still in the covenant business, still in the daring business, still envisioning what lies on the other side of the sea business.
For the past four months, I have been singularly focused on the health, future, and potential of Temple Beth El. I’ve been asking a lot of questions about what a twenty-first century synagogue can be. I hope that you will attend Temple’s Annual Meeting on May 6th (please RSVP), as we begin to make significant changes and chart a new course.
When we talk about community here, it is not by showing illustrations of a shtetl – not even the Shalom Park shtetl. We begin by recognizing the fragmentation in people’s lives. Community offers each other comfort and strength. Community is about communicating what matters by creating the spaces and the experiences where people can slow down and connect with one another in meaningful ways. Temple Beth El will succeed, and need to succeed, by being a place where people show up for each other – literally. Community matters because it is how we practice caring. A community can help us to expand our understanding of what is sacred – how human interactions help us to see the glimpses of the transcendent in the everyday.
As modern Jews, we listen carefully to the past – study it with love, so that we can transform it yet again. We listen carefully to the challenges of the generations of our community – to feelings of concern about antisemitism, disenfranchisement, of boredom, of questions of relevance, or questions about Israel. Where we have placed obstacles to participation in Jewish life, we need to lower them. Where we have become stuck in outmoded organizational models, we need to retire them.
For all the changing landscape, I believe that what matters most is inviting people into a congregational community of warm welcome, meaning, and substance. If we do the principles well – if we make prayer dynamic and uplifting, study challenging and relevant, justice a spiritual act, and caring a daily reality, then we can only succeed.
If we uphold the standards of all the generations who have made Temple Beth El a place of meaning and hope, the generations that still hold a vital place in our community today; if as a congregation we continue to explore the creation of smaller circles – TriBEs – of spiritual practice – in text study or prayer, meditation or movement, arts and culture, joy and food and fun – we will lead each other towards deeper Jewish engagement.
May we rise to that sacred task – with humility, with wisdom and with strength: on our own paths of renewed commitment and in the never-ending Jewish chorus – how blessed we are to face this future together.