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Engaging in the Life of a Synagogue Community

05/28/2019 11:47:21 PM


The following remarks were delivered at the Annual General Meeting on May 26, 2019.
Engaging in the life of a synagogue community is a radical act, and a spiritual act. It represents the essence of defining spirituality, and of challenging the predictable social order.
How is offering of yourself a spiritual act? Simple. It is, at its core, contributing to and being part of something larger than yourself.
That’s why, in essence, there’s only one core element, one feeling/thought/ emotion that must prevail at the conclusion of any OrH service or event -- an experience of belonging, blanketed by a sense of purpose.
Purpose and belonging – what more can one ask for of a chosen community? For we are all chosen – not in the sense of the chosen people, but rather the choosing people. (Those who attended the marvelous Kaplan seminar this past winter, or have read some of Mordecai Kaplan’s works that provide the theoretical and theological underpinning for Reconstructionism, will know that we do the opposite of holding up the notion of Jews as the Chosen People!)
But in choosing to be a part of OrH, indeed and particularly, to see yourselves at the heart of this community, is to defy the predominant ethos of the 21st century – that you can procure most, if not all, of what you need in life, on an as-needed basis, and mainly via digital means.
Thirty years ago this November, at a time of great growth in Reconstructionist affiliation, this community formalized itself as a constituent havurah. A generation and a bit down the road, many, many things have changed.
But the change around affiliation, and joining – that it has become a far less common phenomenon in the Jewish world at large, is, in part, what makes what we continue to do in sustaining our little community so exciting. For what does NOT change is the human need to belong, and to find meaning and purpose.
I was amused, but not that surprised, to see these three themes I spoke of at our first AGM together:
*Change and Growth
*Resources and Priorities, and
*Fluctuating Frameworks – in the Ottawa Jewish community, as well as on the North American and international Jewish stage
From each theme, I’ll offer one highlight for this moment:
-           leadership development and organizational change moving forward with grace
Five years ago we celebrated my installation. We had just concluded our first year of lay-rabbinic partnership, as OrH vaulted from its role as a provider of internships to rabbinical students to a community with a resident part-time rabbi. I would say that not only have we Changed and Grown, but we are recognizing that we need to do so constantly, and that leads to the second still-relevant charge, under Resources and Priorities:
-           making time spent match available resources (lay and professional)
Here is where we have all worked so diligently this year, last year’s and this year’s board especially, in discerning how we sustain our governance without someone sitting in the president’s chair. It’s a vital part of what lies ahead for 5780 and beyond, so it bears recalling a third area of inquiry, under Fluctuating Frameworks:
-           Gates, tents, portals, platforms – where we “congregate”
We are not alone in wondering about how we use and integrate technology not only in our outreach, but in our very communal experiences themselves.
So along the lines of a classic OrH devar torah – and sneaking in one more of the themes articulated five years ago – that of planting seeds and having wild visions - I have some questions for you:
-           Raise your hand if you have downloaded music from the web to a listening device in the past year? Maybe you can create the team that sources, or records, and sets up the OrH Music Library on our web site, so that more people can learn our tunes, develop service leading and maybe even Torah reading skills, and prepare to join in the singing at upcoming holiday and festival parties!
-           Raise your hand if you have compiled or downloaded photographs and videos in the past year? Maybe you can be part of the Art and Archives team, finding and crafting beautiful visuals that illustrate and celebrate who we are and what we do.
-           Raise your hand if you have read a thought-provoking book, or blog post, and discussed it with a friend, family member or colleague? Maybe you can be a part of a one-time or repeated gathering of learners, who yearn for intellectual and spiritual growth for its own sake.
Your hands are the Many Hands that enrich and sustain us. In the desert, Bemidbar, the parshah we will be reading this coming Shabbat, the Israelites find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, a wilderness without clearly marked pathways. Yet it is there that they discover who they really are, along with the boundless possibilities for what they can do - and they start their journey by being counted.
If we all count ourselves in, and remain open as our ancestors did to the ebbs and flows and transformation and revelations that occur in the wild open spaces, then we will surely discover new gifts, hidden strengths, and blessings we did not know we had just waiting for us.
- Rabbi Liz

Thu, June 4 2020 12 Sivan 5780