Being part of community?

As rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, I am asked the question more often than one might think, ‘why is it important for me to be part of a Jewish community?’ I may be Jewish, but I fit in everywhere. I have friends in all
sorts of places, and many of them are not part of the synagogue. My kids (if I have any) have passed the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. So what’s left for me here?
A good question, with many excellent answers. Over the next couple of Kolaynu articles, I’m going to work to answer this question with a number of different reasons— why it is important to be part of the Jewish community.
There’s an anecdote told about the great Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel (z’’l)[1]. Rabbi Jack Riemer, a student of Heschel’s, writes:

I remember that when Rabbi Wolfe Kelman (z’’l) lost his sister, Dr. Heschel said “We have to go.” We went to the airport, we flew to Boston, got into a cab and went to the house. Heschel walked in, he hugged them, he sat silently for an hour. He didn’t mumble a single cliché, “How old was she?” What difference does it make? “Time will heal.” Time won’t heal. “I know how you feel.” You don’t know how I feel. None of the clichés. He just sat there in silence for an hour. And then he got up, hugged them, and we left. I learned that you don’t have to be glib. You just have to care.[2]

Being part of a community means there are always going to be people who care. Yes, you might have family and friends, but sometimes, particularly at dark moments in our lives, we need more support. We need an embrace so strong that it helps to ease the pain, even when we wish to push the world away. This embrace is one of presence—of people who by virtue of their being part of our community will be there for us in our time of need.
I remember recently at a shiva house in our community, that although many people came to comfort the mourners on the first few nights of shiva, by the end of shiva, only one non-family member, other than myself, came to offer comfort. We were four short of a minyan, the number of people necessary for saying kaddish, the prayer said to honor the dead. Sure, we could have said this is a house of mourning, so we’ll say
kaddish no matter what. But having the support of ten Jewish adults, there to ensure that we have what we need in our times of need, is worth fighting for. And so, after making a few calls to community members who had other plans but cared nonetheless, one by one and two by two they showed up at the door. Because of the nature of community, we got our minyan, and we were there, in presence and love, for our fellow Temple Emanu-El-ite.
When we are part of a community, this is what we do. Sometimes we are needed, and then we show up. And sometimes, we will need others. And, they will show up too.
[1] z’’l = zichrono livrakhah = may his memory be for a blessing
[2] from Joseph Telushin’s The Book of Jewish Values.


From the March 2016 edition of Temple Emanu-El’s Kolaynu.

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davidzvaisberg Written by:

David Vaisberg, originally from Montreal and Mississauga, Canada, serves as Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of Edison, NJ and lives in Metuchen, NJ with his family.

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