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From the Rabbi – Beyond 40 years — a glimpse into the future

Over these past few months, I’ve shared insights gleaned from investigating forty years of our archives, and I’ve sought to articulate some of what we stand for as a congregation today, building on our past. This month, as we arrive at the pinnacle weekend of our year of celebrations, I’d like to take a glimpse into the future.

When some in the Jewish congregational world look to the future, their response is one that is infused with anxiety, fretting over what exists today that may not exist tomorrow. For sure, we have seen a great deal of shifting in the ways that many people seek out the spiritual life and express their Jewish cultural identities, but I look out at the same landscape and feel energized by the possibilities. Many of us who are part of Jewish community life know that our expression of Judaism is not the same as our parents’. And that is nothing new. In fact, one of our founding members and early Presidents, Marshall Gould, expressed that desire to create a different kind of community culture from the congregations of his parents’ generation when our teens interviewed him earlier in the year. Every generation redefines and remakes Jewish community in ways that are reflective of their values and the broader culture that we are a part of.

It is not surprising that in an age of disruptive innovation, curated experiences, and a search for meaning, the same forces that are creating shifts in many aspects of our day-to-day life would have an impact on how we think about our spiritual communities, too. We are not the custodians of a ritual museum; while our Judaism is deeply grounded in our heritage, it cannot and will not survive if we are simply re-enacting ancient rites. Rather, Judaism remains relevant and vibrant when we are engaged in the ongoing process of redefining its value and meaning in our lives.

Every time we celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah, I look to our students to begin to articulate that meaning for them in their own words. Over this past month, I’ve been invited in to Mill Pond School three times, speaking to two hundred 5th grade students, to help them think about the connections between spirituality and wellness. Utilizing the wisdom of positive psychology and character trait development, we can find so much in the spiritual tool box of our own tradition that contributes to overall wellness, including mental health, resilience, and measures of happiness. Our rituals lift up opportunities to express gratitude, to notice and bless the “wow” moments in our lives, and to recognize the messenger angels who, through a conversation or a word of encouragement, help to redirect the trajectory of our lives to open up new vistas for us. A recent Pew research study found a significantly higher expression of happiness in life among people who engaged in religious community on a regular basis, especially if that engagement included deeper social connections and opportunities to do volunteer work to make a difference in the wider community. Our work is to create meaningful and accessible ritual gathering spaces, social action opportunities, and engaging social and cultural activities that continue to bring us together as Jewish community.

So much of the work we have done together over these past years has been about evolving what we do, how we do it, and the choices and options we make available, to provide multiple entry points for all who seek this kind of spiritual community life. But just as culture is ever-evolving, so we are never done in our work to evolve and do more to remain a vibrant hub of Jewish community life. We have 40 years of experience as Congregation B’nai Shalom and almost three millennia of evolution as the Jewish people to build upon. Our future may look different from our past, but, together, we will continue to create

Tue, March 26 2019 19 Adar II 5779