On a recent Sunday I experienced a remarkable example of the power of stories to build community. As members of the Temple’s community organizing team, we were asked by a trainer from the Boston-based Jewish Organizing Institute and Network to answer in one minute the following question: Why are you here today? In powerful brief statements, members of our group extemporaneously described pivotal times in their lives that had forever shifted their view of the world. The experiences were marked by pain, fear, concern, and struggles for understanding. From different generations, from different racial backgrounds, from different parts of the country, of different sexual orientations, and shaped by radically different experiences, each of us had been moved to pursue the work of racial justice. After fifteen minutes of storytelling, we were now more connected, more committed. Community was emerging.
Stories are central to Jewish identity. From generation to generation, we pass along the stories of Torah, of Jewish history, and of our family’s lives. Stories create the essential framework of Jewish belonging. At Temple Beth El we often start meetings with the study of a text led by one of the clergy. This examination of our tradition frequently prompts participants to share their own personal narratives. In this way, we build connection, grapple with the relevance of Jewish values for our lives today, and in the process, shape our 21st century community of faith.
As a member of Temple Beth El for the past 35 years, I’ve witnessed firsthand how our congregation has stepped up and taken responsibility for one another, for our neighbors in need in the broader Charlotte community, and for Jews here, in Israel and around the world. In the coming year, how do we strengthen this holy congregation? One easy and enriching way is to reach out to a fellow congregant you don’t know well. Get together and share the stories of your Jewish journey with one another. You and the Temple will be better for it.
Emily Zimmern and husband Sam have been members of Temple Beth El since 1982. Emily served as Board Chair of Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte and Co-Chair of United Jewish Appeal’s National Young Leadership Cabinet before leading Levine Museum of the New South as executive director from 1995 to 2015.