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Temple Aliyah

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Getting to know our people to properly help them

Posted on January 1, 2018

The following is a story told to me by one of my teachers, Rabbi Elliot Dorff.

The first story I heard about Jewish law, in fact, came from my father. My grandparents and their children lived across the street from a large Orthodox synagogue, of which they were members. Because of the proximity, my grandparents often hosted guests of the congregation for Shabbat. One Friday afternoon, my grandmother sent my father, then a lad of 15 or so, to ask Rabbi Solomon Scheinfeld when the guests for that week were expected. Rabbi Scheinfeld served that congregation from 1902 to 1943, and, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica, he “was the recognized head of the city’s Orthodox congregations during his tenure.”

When my father entered the rabbi’s office, he was literally in the process of deciding whether a chicken was kosher. As Rabbi Scheinfeld turned the chicken over in his hands, he asked the woman who had brought it many questions about the physical and economic health of her husband and family. After he pronounced the chicken kosher and the woman left the room, my father asked him why he had asked so many questions about her family. The rabbi turned to my father and said, “If you think that the kosher status of chickens depends only on their physical state, you understand nothing about Jewish law!”

Rabbi Dorff relates this story to illustrate that in order to properly help our congregants, part of the job of a rabbi is to get to know them as people. Judaism is not lived in a vacuum, and what is good for some people is not good for everyone. The only way to determine the best course of action is to get to know someone as well as possible and help them make the decision that is right for them.

A few months ago, at High Holy Day services, I made an offer to all the members of our community. I said that I would happily buy a cup of coffee for anyone who is interested in sitting down and having a conversation. Part of the motivation behind this offer is to get to know our community, and as many members of our community as possible.

I have to tell you that I have already met with some wonderful members of this great community. We have laughed and we have cried as we’ve gotten to know each other. We spoke about successes and failures, we spoke about times when we have felt close to Judaism and times when we felt that Judaism failed us or failed to live up to our needs.

As I’ve engaged in these coffee conversations, I have noticed a couple of themes that I would like to share with you. The first is a feeling. While almost every person I’ve spoken with has expressed a love for our community, and overall, everyone I’ve spoken with has been very happy with our community, I have heard about some disappointments they’ve felt on occassion. Perhaps it was the fact that their child never felt engaged by our community, or maybe it is that they have a spiritual thirst our community has failed to satisfy.

The other theme is a sense of longing. In contrast to what some demographic and national studies might tell you, the people I’ve spoken with have expressed a real desire to be involved in religious life. They have spoken about wanting to help, wanting to roll up their sleeves and get involved and wanting to fill a spiritual need that has gone unfulfilled.

As some of you may know, our community recently embarked on a process of strategic planning. Part of this process has been listening to the members of our community to try and better figure out how to meet our changing needs. Between the focus groups, and the survey we sent out, our listening campaign has helped us learn so much about our members. Like the rabbi in the story, we need to listen to determine the best course of action.

If you haven’t yet voiced your opinion as to the direction you think we need to go, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Whether it’s sending an e-mail, participating in the strategic planning process or having coffee with me, I would encourage you to be a part of this process. We want to get to know you, your needs and your hopes for future of our community. In order to ensure a thriving future for our community, we have to know the needs of its members. We have to ask questions of ourselves and our tradition to secure a future for the next generation of Jews. Come be a part of something special, help us build a brighter future for Temple Aliyah and for all of Israel.

—Rabbi Ben Goldstein

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