Kehilla, community, is paramount.
What is it? We are born into or decide early on to form a relationship with a group of like-minded people who offer us safety and/or warmth, as well as resources, the ability for us to give, and basic and complex human interaction.
Community controls space. Our people are extraordinary at creating it, even in the concentration camps.
The macro-Jewish community is a place where we can access funds given by the collective to send our children to day school; garner a sense of security when terrorist attacks are perpetrated, and access broad programs that relate to our Jewish values.
Then there is the shul, synagogue or temple – a micro-community that offers us something more intense and regular, such as a place to go to actualize Halachah and learn Torah; a personal rabbi, who consoles us and celebrates with us during crisis or festivities; committees to join to make our mark; people we communicate with who give our sense of belonging borders.
(In truth, family is our first community, and likely the most important one. It’s the environment where we learn how to choose our other micro and macro communities, or discover them.)
Leonardo Da Vinci would invite street people to his home, feed them and give them drinks to imbibe so they would be even more animated, then sketch them. He believed that this population, when looked at closely, created the greatest option for characters on canvas – individualism par excellence.
When we look closely at our shul/synagogue/temple, we can see the same, the individuals and characters who make up are our community.
Who sits in front of us at shul? The family who gave us a sweet purple silk blanket for our son’s brit. Who sits behind us? A newcomer, the lovely woman from Saskatoon. Who’s the man on the bimah? He’s the gabbai, the guy who seems to have been built with the shul – always there, with a booming voice – and who rarely calls me up for an aliyah. (Complaining and being marginalized is part of belonging).
Then there’s the person the shul takes care of. He’s the middle-aged man, likely diagnosed in his younger days as being cognitively impaired.
He’s the one with two dozen families lined up to invite him on any given Shabbat or yom tov. We see him at every minyan saying something cute, compelling or annoying to mostly everyone. He has a unique relationship with more people than you or I could manage, because interaction is his modus operandi. It’s his key to survival. In a most compelling way, the shul-man represents the main principle of community – being taken care of.
Like Da Vinci visitors, the shul-man is usually animated and fun. His sense of humour trumps ours, because he sees life in a younger way. His giving comes through sound bites that make us chortle. But then there’s his wise side. He stands up in front of olam and says, “God is in charge of all of us, and when mashiach comes, I will have family just like you.” (A true quote.)
Judaism discourages the isolated lifestyle of the nazir. One of the severest punishments handed out by the beit din is ostracization from the community, or cherem. Kehilla is paramount.
If you don’t belong, consider it. It can be exasperating but highly soothing in a life where our existential anguish can throb like a sore ligament.