I had several topics on my list to write about, including the second part of my reflection last week regarding where we are at this moment in America and a deeper explanation of the thinking of the program team about our learning theme for this year. (I plan to return to both in the coming weeks.)
Instead I want to address our community as a community.
The pandemic has challenged us: to remain strong and vibrant as a community. No one knows better than I how difficult that has been. As I sit and speak and sing on one end of the virtual connection, the immediate warmth and reaction and humor and music that has marked our gatherings for ten years is, no pun intended, virtually absent. We have not been able to sit together, to sing together, to laugh together. We have not been able to hug one another, put an arm around someone in need (their need or our own), eat together.
In some ways, it feels to me like a lot of our nefesh (soul) has been ripped out of us. Or, at least, been anesthetized by those consequences.
And I know that it’s difficult, after a long day on internet connections and when the weather is nice, to get on Zoom yet again.
Still, I’m calling everyone to think about our community as a community and to consider how, during this challenging time, we can be there for one another and make this a time of strength instead of a time of when our commitment and energy and raison d’etre are slowly sapped from us.
Things We’ve Gained
Let’s not focus only on the things we’ve lost. Let’s notice, too, what we’ve gained.
Moving to Zoom has enabled greater participation by “distance-challenged” members. The Rangells and Feinbergs have returned to regular participation – yea! The Norrises now participate frequently on Friday nights, not having to battle traffic from downtown to the north/west suburbs. Karen Kerbis has rejoined us from Las Vegas and, happily, her daughter Stephanie has been joining us as well. People have Zoomed in when they might not have felt well enough to go out or wouldn’t have wanted to risk giving someone their cold.
We intend to continue this after the pandemic has subsided.
Please Consider Two Things
As you draw up your calendar, or when the week has ended and you’re feeling tired and are trying to decide whether or not to join our services on Friday night and Shabbat morning, I ask you to consider two things.
Our culture is built so much on consumer behavior that we tend to look at everything in terms of what we’ll get out of it. I think that affects how we think about our community and services, too. In other words, when thinking about attending we think about things like whether we feel up to attending, or whether we’ve got something better to do, or whether or not we’re interested in the particular topic for the night.
Being a member of a community, though, means also considering the other members of the community. That includes considering how my absence or presence might impact others.
A member of my last congregation once told me this story. She said, “Rabbi, it was the beginning of Rosh Hashana services this year. I came even though I didn’t want to. I was in a very, very dark place in my life. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was thinking about it. So I came and sat down, alone. And then something happened. You asked everyone to introduce themselves to one another. There was a woman sitting next to me, a stranger. We said hello to one another, gave our names and that’s when it happened. For just a moment, our eyes caught one another. We connected, really connected. And that’s when I knew i wasn’t alone. That connection brought a calm to my soul and I was able to enjoy the service. And more: I understood that I wasn’t alone and that it was important to go on living as best I could.”
The smile and warmth of a stranger might have saved this person’s life. And I knew the woman of whom she spoke. And I knew that she would never, in a million years, think of herself as someone capable of helping someone else, much less saving a life.
We have members coming who need something as small as seeing you there on the screen. Members who need to know they’re part of this community. As we struggle through these times, it’s important that we struggle together.
We have members saying Kaddish for loved ones. Kaddish requires a minyan – at least ten of us. There have been several times when we have not made the quorum and our friends have not been able to recite Kaddish to honor their loved ones.
Likewise, someone always learns something from your contribution to our learning. Someone might be inspired by something you say. Someone may be comforted or feel joy by your being there. It happens. I know it does. People have told me so.
First, then, consider how other members will benefit from your presence. That includes, I confess, me. An important part of what has sustained me these last eight months has been knowing that I am part of this community and that I have important work to do in serving you. And I feel a great deal of joy when I see you as we gather.
Second, consider how the community as a community benefits from your participation. There is a power and energy and enthusiasm – even over Zoom – when many of us are together. There is a strength that, I believe, grows exponentially with each additional member in the room. That’s true in person and it’s true over Zoom.
This is true for our long-term strength as well. My goal is that B’Chavana comes out of this pandemic stronger than when we entered it. That we meet the challenges it presents and learn from them as well. That we deepen our connections and knowledge of one another. That we learn and create new ways of “doing B’Chavana” that will not only carry us into the future, but that we might also carry into the future.
Typically, when I close my posted program announcements I do so with words something like “I hope to see you there.” That is not just a salutation, a formality. I mean those words. I do hope to see you there. Because, when I do, my life is always enriched.
We have several months of winter weather ahead of us. Days will be shorter, darker, and colder. But they need not be spiritually darker or colder. We only need answer the call to come to community to keep that from happening. To create light and warmth with and for one another through the winter months as we have done successfully for ten years.
I hope to see you soon. Really.