This morning, my wife Linda and I continued our ongoing conversation about moving.
We love our house that we have lived in for almost 29 years. And we love Montclair, NJ as well as our synagogue community at Temple Ner Tamid in neighboring Bloomfield. I guess this is what many people at our stage of life are talking about. In 2 years, our youngest child will finish college and our oldest has lived in Israel for the past 8 years. Should we downsize? Where would we go?
While the thought of moving scares me – all of our stuff, the physical move itself – what also scares me is finding a community that would even come close to the one we have now.
For many years, Temple Ner Tamid has been a big part of our community and of course our support system. To us, it seems logical that feeling a part of a community is part and parcel of synagogue membership. As many of you know, there have been many many blogs and articles written and workshops offered about how often this doesn’t happen.
When it comes right down to it, most people throughout life are looking for community. Parents want their young children to be a part of a playgroup – and they want to form a bond with the other parents. In college, we gravitate to people with similar interests with whom we could solve the problems of the world, play basketball, listen to music and hang out. As adults we want to get to know our neighbors or even the people on our commuter train.
Joining a synagogue follows this theme.
Millennials are finding community through Facebook and other forms of social media. I don’t think they can solely rely on their laptops and smartphones for community. At some point, a desire for human contact will kick in. There will be the rare individual who would rather be a total recluse and choose most often to keep to him or herself.
The buzzwords today that we use for synagogues to build community – “engagement”, “relational Judaism”, “Chavurot”, “outreach”, “membership”, “organizing”-all have a common theme to bring people together as a part of a sacred community. There was an interesting article yesterday on ejewishphilanthropy.com by Robert Evans and Bryan Schwartzman that highlights the weekly small group gatherings within the 25,000-member Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, CA. While many of us might not agree with Pastor Rick Warren’s views on a few social issues, he has been able to build an amazing sacred community.
Synagogues as we know them will certainly never approach the size of Saddleback. The challenge to engage people so that they feel a part of a community is similar, no matter the size of the synagogue or church. The concept of the Saddleback ongoing meetings is certainly akin to that of Chavurot. You can check out my blog on this topic last year.
The biggest challenge for synagogues is starting up such a program. Involvement of clergy to initially bring groups together and lead initial programs and provide ongoing ideas to help nurture Chavurot is critical to success.