Reflections on Community

Nov 8, 2013 by

By Rabbi Jeff Brown, Scarsdale Synagogues Temples Tremont and Emanu-El.  Cross posted with permission from their blog.

2259614Our community is privileged to be included in a new UJA New York initiative called Connected Congregations. SSTTE is one of six synagogues in the NYC metro area to be in this first cohort of communities that are learning and reflecting together on Jewish communal life in the 21st century.  Our first gathering was just a few days ago.

Since then, the question of community (and what it means to create it) has been on my mind.  And it all sort of bubbled to the surface, somewhat unexpectedly, as I took my two kids trick-or-treating on Thursday night.

It occurred to me, as we went house to house, that trick-or-treating is basically the only time each year that our secular culture permits or actively encourages us to visit the other homes in our neighborhood.

What about the present Jewish culture of our community?  As a rabbi, one of the things that I prize most about my job is the opportunity to meet with people in their homes.  Whether it is in connection with a joyous celebration, or to comfort a family after a loss: it is a sacred honor for me to be able to be invited into people’s homes, regardless of how long, or how well, I know a family. 

Halloween (and the superficial opportunity it allowed for me and my kids to “visit” with the other people of our neighborhood in their homes) reminded me that we, as a synagogue, should aspire to build a stronger connection to one another by spending quality time in each other’s homes. 

For an American Jewish community that has historically been obsessed with things like Building Funds and substantial edifices, this suggestion will no doubt seem counter-intuitive to some.  But we experimented with it last year and enjoyed great success: four times during the year I helped to facilitate a new, informal Adult Ed opportunity that we branded as a “Salon”….on Saturday nights, we gathered at a home of a congregant and studied/reflected  in a relaxed setting (with ample wine, coffee, and homemade treats).  Equally important: the evenings gave us the chance to socialize with one another in a new setting.  Havdalah always punctuated the gathering and added a spiritual component to the evening.

The Salons will be continuing this year!  (Mark your calendars for Jan 18, Feb 8, Mar 22, and Apr 26.)  And in addition: we have a task force that is actively considering a new initiative that would potentially encourage volunteer hosts to welcome fellow congregants into their homes for Shabbat dinner.  More details on that to follow.  

Jane Sherwood Ace, an American radio actress in the early 20th century, once remarked that “home wasn’t built in a day.”  But in this post-Halloween season, as we are once again aware of the significance of visiting in each other’s homes, let us seek to begin that sense of ‘building up’ so that we, and our communities, might be strengthened in the process.

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