Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Beyond Google: Why We Are In the Place We Are or Are You My Shul?
I have often said that our lives and what happens to us is as much about timing and place as anything. Those who watch and go by the stars or astrological signs say something so similar. I have been doing wonderful things in the past several years professionally and am really enjoying the path my life is taking at this point as I continue my passion of teaching (i.e. learning with) people of all ages in so many different settings. That having been said, I have often felt that if I was not located in this place – Elkins Park, Pennsylvania in the Greater Philadelphia area, my life would have been so much more gratifying professionally. Why did G-d ordain that this was where I was to play out the involvements and elements that are my life? In terms of both my profession and personal life as a Halachically (referring to the laws and dictates) observant and well-educated Jewish woman and as one who truly believes in Klal Yisrael – that is all Jews are part of this community regardless of where they identify ideologically, and beyond that as one who believes in the rights and our responsibilities toward all human beings as all are created by G-d and in the image of G-d – BeTzelem Elokim, Philadelphia has not been an easy place for me to be, to say the least. That being said, I have been fortunate, humbled, and honored to be involved in the facilitation of learning experiences and programs for tens of thousands of fellow Jews and human beings of all ages and in all settings through the years (decades, actually). For me this has been enough…. On many levels more than enough and it fills me with an ongoing sense of awe and gratitude.
That being said, when people ask me “What shul (synagogue) do you belong to and what community provides sustenance for your personal Jewish soul and experience?” -- which is a normative and expected question for someone like me, I really do not know what to say. What shul do I belong to anyway? While the answer should be simple enough, I always feel like the ongoing message of the three little bears and Goldilocks – except I have a hard time finding the fit that is “just right” on any level. I teach in one place, I feel embraced in another place and I belong everywhere in general but nowhere in particular. My shul of choice is located in another community and I do go there as much as possible (Go Mekor!) but I live in the community I live in and have resisted moving away from because there are so many other things I LOVE about where I live – as a community of intentional diversity, long standing relationships and friendships, beautiful and peaceful environs, and so much else. I am so committed to and enmeshed in this location. These connections are to me critically important components of the community I want to live in so I gave up on finding THE SHUL that works for me and just deal…
Nonetheless, I have recently figured out the answer to this quandary and know now why I am supposed to be here at this place on the Google Earth map, confined to walking distance in finding MY community for Shabbat, indeed a special time for me as a Halachically observant Jew. We have such a special group at our home one Shabbat a month on Friday night to doven and enjoy each other’s company over Shabbat dinner, bringing together a wide swath of Jews with different levels of observance and affiliations – and WE ARE community! I, as an observant Jewish woman can and do exercise my right to doven (pray) as an individual not bound by or to the parameters of a specific prayer quorum. So I take my Koren Siddur (thank you Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) and spend Shabbat in an array of different communities, being part of a group and simultaneously praying on my own to G-d, no different than Rebbe Nachman of Bretslov (for those who understand that reference), praying alone in his corner. And then lo and behold, I found a true treasure about four months ago. It turns out that there is this lovely little Conservative Movement identified shul (Yay MBIEE) that IS JUST LIKE THE SHUL I grew up in as a Jewish Law/Halacha Abiding Jew in my youth in Baltimore. There is a full Torah reading, prayers for the State of Israel and for the country in which we abide, full dovenning, and so much else. I sit down in this space with my Siddur and I feel embraced by the memories of my childhood, in which I learned and was schooled in what it means to be a knowledgeable and committed observing Jew, while also being concerned about and involved in the world around me, putting the foundational Jewish values I hold so dear into important and needed action. I now feel like there is a place where I belong in addition to being able to travel in and out of the different shul communities that exist within the Shabbat boundaries that contain my movement. I am happy!
The Lubavitch Jewish community has this concept called and lived as Shlichut. Mormons call it their Missions. What is this? It is when individuals are sent or placed in specific communities to live as an exemplar of the foundational values and teachings of this way of life to which they ascribe. The Rabbi of this wonderful little shul, Rabbi Charles Sherman (who it turns out I met very long ago when I was a USYer and part of one of the last LTF cadres of that group) referred to me as a Community Jew. Yup, that’s me, a Community Jew in a Community of Jews…. And this is my place and now I feel like I have landed. I am indeed comfortable anywhere and everywhere but it is nice to know that there is a “base” that you can feel is yours. For me that has always been my family, which is also the case for Lubavitch and Mormon communities, by the way. That being said, its important that we all have various spaces to feed our soul in the many different ways we need.
So here is my challenge to all of us. I do believe that we all have our mission or Shlichut in this world. Hold onto that and maybe, just maybe, you too will figure out why you are where you are on the Google map and what it is you are supposed to do there to make a difference as well as how to find the surprise place that will feed your soul.