Presented here is the text of Rabbi Azriel’s most recent Tidings column. See the newest Tidings here.
I want to share with you what I believe to be our overarching needs in this special hour of dedication, and a vision of what our synagogue, which is able to serve those needs, must become. The first need is for the synagogue to be creative and flexible enough to validate the right of each member to conduct an individual search, at his or her own pace, for personal identification with Jewish heritage. And the second need is to reactivate our commitment to structuring the synagogue as a “caring community.”
Every adult member is a member by choice in the fellowship of the Jewish people. And that commitment can be brought to fruition by a wide range of thoughts and actions. There are, after all, 613 opportunities for Jewish self-expression. All of them are different and equally meaningful touchstones to the heritage of what it has always meant to be a committed Jew, whatever the time or place. And the role of the clergy in this exercise is to assist the individual in his or her own search by placing before the members, with patience and encouragement, the widest possible range of options for observance and participation.
When dialogue takes place between mutually respectful and caring members of a synagogue community, honestly conducted and patiently pursued, then every individual member can find personal fulfillment in the midst of that community because one knows that the commitment of others is equal to one’s own, even though it may differ in form and detail.
To create and sustain an environment in which this can occur requires the development of many new inlets for participation in the synagogue in addition to the successful models of the past. It must be recognized that each individual member can bring only his or her distinctive skills, temperament and time to bear on the community’s needs, aims and desires. All we can be sure of is that each one of us can do something, and do it well, if given the opportunity.
When these qualities exist in the life of the synagogue, it becomes a place where people are able to relax with one another; to be patient with one another; to trust one another enough to be able to let someone else take the lead; and to return again and again to share in the experience and labors devoted to bringing about their common purposes. Such a synagogue means more than just a building: it is a place where friends are met and food is shared; where births and marriages and growing up are celebrated, and deaths are mourned; it is the classroom where we study and teach; it is the extended family whom we feed and clothe; it is the home we design and decorate and beautify. It is more than building and grounds. It is first and foremost people, people to whom we are related by the myriad of shared experiences; people with whom we laugh and weep, labor and play, worship and dream.
Decide for yourself, as if you were one of the founders of Temple Israel, what kind of synagogue you would establish were you now called upon to create it from scratch? The fact is, in a very real way, the very same decisions which had to be made 142 years ago are being made again now. You are there, right now, at the beginning, so choose your own route from the dozens of paths before you.
Everything is possible! It’s all open before us, as well as so much more! Am I a dreamer? Then dream with me if you will! We cannot turn back the clock, but we can wind it up again. Let us never forget, “Nothing happens without a dream, and nothing great happens without a great dream!”