One of the unique challenges of life in the United States is that we grow up in a context that does not do community very well. This country was built on individualism, and it was with that spirit that the west was developed and settled.
I recall from my childhood, in San Francisco, the character of neighborhood that enabled people to feel connected, whether borrowing a cup of sugar or times we gathered at block parties or special times to celebrate, with parades down Clement Street.
Much of that is gone, largely due to high mobility; people moving in and out of the neighborhood make it more difficult to establish and keep long term relationships. We know of that with synagogue members who have moved away for varieties of reasons. How well do you know your neighbors today, and how does that compare with the way it was when you were growing up?
Lacking an infrastructure of community, there isn’t much left to bring people together when there is no longer the neighborhood you can count on, characterized by people living their lives in the same homes and same communities.
Judaism, nevertheless, is built on community. There are things we cannot do without it; important rituals, such as the Kaddish, marking transitions in the service, and the words by which we recall and memorialize loved ones, can only be done in community, with a minimum of ten Jewish adults (13 and over). Most of our core worship language is in the plural, such as our visit with the Creator in the Amidah, the standing prayer of connection with God; all of the wrong doings we utter during Yom Kippur are in the plural, as accountability is shared, and we think in terms of “we” rather than “I”.
The revelation of God’s Presence and guidance, in the giving of the Torah, was presented to the entire “community”, and the Judaic system emerged as a program, not of individual religious connection, between God and human, but, as a system for creating a community-based and oriented society. The smallest unit of significance in Judaism is not the individual but the family, and with the official formation of the Jewish people, in going out of Egypt, it was left to each family, to lead their own family Seders, which is why the ceremony is laid out in a format designed to be easy for each household to conduct.
There is tremendous value in community, in the support people can provide for one another. Lacking such an orientation, it is doubtful Judaism could have survived the historical onslaughts against Jewish entities, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora (Jewish experience outside the land for over 2000 years).
Knowing you or your family is not alone is of tremendous importance, both in celebrating good times and, in particular, in weathering the storms of troubled times, such as what we face today. Historically, Shabbat, shared in Jewish community, has provided an oasis from the pressures and stresses of the outside world.
In these times of overwhelm in society today, not knowing what may come next in a world with so many forces that oppose community values and civilizations that they try to destroy, contexts for people having each other to turn to are more important than ever.
Today, you may have to drive to your neighborhood, as in times we gather at B’nai Israel, to celebrate your joys and hold each other in moments to seek comfort, whether in dealing with loss of loved ones, or pondering so much suffering and destruction in the world.
Making an extra effort to participate in the B’nai Israel community not only could add to your own sense of connectivity; it could also help assure that this community remains strong and accessible for all of us and allows Judaism to function at its highest level as a place of nurturing and continuity, especially in these troubling times.