The strength of community

Religion, October 2009

By Rabbi David Sofian, Temple Israel

October 2009

Let me begin by wishing you a happy, healthy, and wonderful new year of 5770. Even though we have completed the period of cleansing teshuvah (return) and are now looking forward to all the possibilities the New Year holds, let me take a look backward toward last year one last time in order to make a point.

Rabbi David Sofian

Think about how, shortly before 5769 began, Dayton experienced an unbelievable windstorm. Some people were without electricity for weeks. But that was just a physical manifestation of the economic hurricane that then was starting to blow and continued throughout the year.

We watched the ever darkening clouds of our economy gathering in earnest. We sat in disbelief as our housing values, savings and endowments dropped while unemployment climbed.

And of course there were the Wall Street scandals involving far too many Jewish sounding names and the fear of pandemic flu as well. If we are prone to exaggeration we could think of last year as one filled with biblical-style catastrophes. At a minimum we will remember 5769 as a year of doubts and uncertainties, anxieties and nervousness.

What lesson should we learn from that experience which we can carry forward? Of all the possible lessons, this is the one I think matters the most to us as Jews. I pointed out last year’s gloomy experience because it taught us dramatically just how much we need each other; to put it bluntly, just how much we need our Jewish community.

We need the support it offers each of us through its synagogues, community center, federation and other organizations. Even more importantly, we need the opportunities Dayton’s Jewish community offers us for involvement and commitment through which our lives can be filled with meaning and significance. And this is true regardless of the difficulties in the outer environment.

Of all our Jewish institutions of course I know the synagogue the best, so let me use it as my example of support and opportunity.

Contrary to the image many have of rabbis, I find myself often thinking about how tired I am on Friday afternoons (after the long week) rather than how anxious I am to go and lead services.

Nevertheless, I can also say without hesitation that once I am in our sanctuary and participating in services — seeing people from every corner of our community singing those traditional words with everyone else thereby connecting me both to those present and to those Jews who came before me — I never, ever regret the effort.

And it is not only because the prayers and the music are beautiful, or in anticipation of the taste of the oneg Shabbat goodies or because I enjoy the glow of the Shabbat candles in our sanctuary.

It is because Jewish community comes alive at those moments. Here is the tangible community supporting each of us regardless of our worries and burdens. Here is the tangible community offering each of us the opportunity to feel closer to God and thereby uplifting our spirits.

Being with each other is like vitamins refreshing our souls from whatever trials are in our lives and fortifying our being for the future before us.

As I said, I know the synagogue best, so it is my reference point. I believe the same lesson could be articulated about all of our other Jewish organizations.

We have all lived through a year of apprehension and disquiet. Yet, we do not have to be alone with that experience, nor should we. Being with each other — being a true community — makes that or any other burden more easily bearable.

Our bonds to one another make us stronger and that is what we should carry forward into our new year.

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