As we look toward to the beginning of the Hebrew year 5778 and the end of the secular year of 2017, it is easy to be discouraged by the state of our broken world. A seemingly relentless string of hurricanes bringing destruction over the Atlantic, bitter partisan rhetoric in our national and personal discourse, missiles flying over the Pacific and the powerful equating victims with perpetrators both here and abroad. In face of these natural and human calamities, where do we find hope for ourselves and for our children? What sources of strength and comfort can we consult to help us weather the real and symbolic winds that now constantly buffet us?
One answer can be found in community. By gathering together with family, friends and neighbors, we learn that others share our anxieties and yearn to share our hopes as well. By holding ourselves aloof from community and congregation, on the other hand, we reinforce a false belief that we are alone in our fears and concerns or, even worse, that we are surrounded by those who actively seek our harm. By coming together and sharing our doubts and goals for the future, we remind each other of how much we share and how much we all want purpose, joy and meaning in our lives, no matter our differences in background or perspective. This year, many have heeded the call of community by recommitting to groups of common resolve seeking to preserve and protect those things they hold dear.
Based on my own observations since last year, in fact, synagogue attendance has noticeably increased on Friday nights as we come together to make sense of a sometimes-chaotic world through the eyes of our ancient texts and traditions. The sense of community that permeates our synagogue, from the moment worshippers begin to arrive as much as one hour before services begin and stay to beyond one hour after services end, gives many comfort and strength, clergy and congregant alike. The effort and purpose of the volunteers who regularly sit on the bima, usher, beautifully present the oneg and quietly clear the dishes, in addition, gently reminds us, each week, of what we can build if we all work together with intention and respect.
“Do not separate yourself from the community,” Pirke Avot , “ The Wisdom of our Ancestors ,” counsels us, for only in a community can life’s joys and sorrows be shared. Only in community can we build a society capable of sustaining the many blessings of congregation, neighborhood, nation and civilization we take for granted. In loneliness and isolation, on the other hand, fears fester and paranoia proliferates. Rather than sit at home to begin the New Year of 5778, come let Temple Israel gather you in the gentle embrace of friendship. We offer many opportunities for connection and conversation, not just on Friday nights but virtually every day of the week! To you and yours, in this season of renewal, we say B’ruchim HaBa-im , “Blessed are those who come,” blessed in the gifts of fellowship they bring and blessed in the gifts of strength and comfort they receive in return.
Shana Tova !
Rabbi Michael Howald