Homegrown Judaism: Co-creating community

10 TISHREI 5780 / OCTOBER 8, 2019

Now and then, when people ask me
whether I always knew I was going to be a rabbi,
I tell them what my dad used to say:
He said I was always going to be an R, as in the letter R:
as in—either a Rabbi or a Rock Star.

It’s true.
For a quick minute, years ago,
I considered pursuing a musical career.
But after some time giving music performances at venues
and also leading prayer in synagogues,
it was clear to me—
I didn’t want to spend most of my time “performing.”
I chose the path of rabbi because
I believe in the power of community.
Not performance, not putting on a show,
but the power of creating experiences of meaning together.
I chose being a congregational rabbi because I believe
in us co-creating our community.

Tonight, we have arrived
at our most auspicious moment of the year,
another year behind us,
another year ahead—
a time of searching within the heart for purpose and meaning,
a time to account
whether we are living lives of meaning and impact,
as individuals and as a community.

In the words of the
20th century Jerusalem-based Slonimer Rebbe:
“You see, just as this (season of reflection)
is a time of accounting for the whole world,
every person is a small world unto her or him self.
So it is a time to consider whether one is fulfilling
their own unique יעוד ותפקיד/Yi’ud veTafkid,
their own purpose and role.
This is our task at the start of the year,
to think and give an accounting.
But here is the main thing,
this is not an accounting for the past,
but of the future,
how shall I pass through this gate?
As an accounting of the future,
(we must) reclaim our purpose and role
and to search out what needs to be done differently
in the coming year.”
(from vol. 5, p. 102, 233)

Each of us is a small world,
amidst the larger community and society,
a fraction of the cosmos and universe.
Yet, we matter enough that
we each must account for our actions.
The world begins with each one of us.
We must individually reclaim our purpose and role in life.

We find our purpose in the many parts of our lives:
in how we treat our own selves and others
in finding the right balance of self-care and being in service;
whether within our families, our communities,
or our greater society.

At this season,
don’t look back,
says the Slonimer Rebbe,
no—look ahead.
Look towards the threshold of the closing gate
that you will soon cross.
Look towards what is possible
in the hours, weeks, months ahead.
Reflect on what you will give and receive in this coming year.
Contemplate your purpose—
where you uniquely fit in at this moment.
What does the community need at this time
and what can each of us offer?

Tonight, I’d like for us to consider
how each one of us finds purpose within the greater community.
And when we do this,
how that sense of purpose
can transform each of us individually
as well as the collective.

When I lead a wedding ceremony under a chuppah,
I always remind the congregation of family and friends that assembles of their purpose.
They are not spectators.
They are not an audience.
They are witnesses and co-celebrants.

In fact, this is true of all of life and all of our relationships.
None of us are ever spectators,
never simply just looking on.
Each of us has a purpose and mission,
in each moment, and in each place.

I do not put my faith in transactional community,
but rather in the power of covenantal community—
where members give and receive out of love
in support of one another.
I believe in creating shared purpose together,
where each person contributes l’fi orko,
each in our own way and ability.
I believe in empowerment.

What JCOGS has built over its many years
is nothing short of remarkable.
From a group of Jews “in the closet” in an unwelcoming town
meeting for potlucks in people’s homes now and again,
to a rural synagogue
with exceptional, varied programming and activities.
We have built this community
through members offering their painstaking hours
of purpose-driven, G-d given, talents to this place
while also our members taking risks
and learning new skills along the way.

What I am most proud of within JCOGS,
and where I believe we truly find
our sense of communal purpose and mission,
are the small ways that we come together in community
to help one another.
It is amazing to see our B’nai Mitzvah students and families
supporting each other during their simchas;
or how one of our members hosted another’s wedding;
or how our children and youth every week at Olam Chesed
write simcha celebration
and misheberach “get well soon” cards for members.
As one of our members said,
“How do I even quantify (the caring between our members)?
It’s like air: always there.”

It is abundantly clear how our community
finds its purpose
when a loss is mourned or a simcha celebrated.

But I ask us tonight:
what about the in-between times?
How is community deepened then?
How do we make our communal lives more purposeful,
more interconnected, more impactful?

This is the task and mission that JCOGS founders set forth
when they built this community.
Intentionally calling this place
“The Jewish Community of Greater Stowe”,
we are a community—first, foremost, and always.
We are a Beit Knesset, a house of gathering and belonging.
How do we deepen this mission?
How might we continue to create a sense
that each member’s purpose is intertwined
with the interests of others?
How could we address
the layers of isolation felt in rural Vermont,
that takes us away from our sense of purpose?
And how might our tradition and values empower us
to come closer together and to make a collective difference
in our greater community and world?

For community to find its purpose, each person—
whether you are new to JCOGS or a veteran member—
must find their own sense of self,
and then understand how their purpose
combines with the greater community.

From out of this spirit,
I wish to roll out a new initiative at JCOGS, tonight,
something that will take that sense of individual purpose,
and tap each of us into the collective spirit
of community-making;
to take what we have built
and help our roots grow stronger and our branches higher.
The initiative is called Homegrown Judaism.

Through Homegrown Judaism,
I propose three parts.
One, we get to know each other better
through one-to-one meet-ups, shared meals,
and community events—
all while creating a sense of shared purpose and connection.
Two, we co-create and lead services together,
and three, we increase the small acts of lovingkindness,
of chesed, for each other.

Much of this initiative is about enhancing and expanding upon
what we are doing already,
while some of it will be new.
And it will evolve as we co-create this community.

Perhaps you’ve been to a Homegrown Shabbat,
where I co-lead services with our members.
We have learned members at JCOGS,
we have poets, singers, artists, musicians, and sermon-givers
in our congregation.

I kvell when I see our members
bringing their natural talents to this congregation,
as they learn or teach a new Jewish skill,
finding a sense of communal purpose
that aligns with their own spiritual development.
We are building a cadre of members who feel empowered,
where their individual spirituality
infuses into our public prayer life.

Or if service-leading is not your thing,
come one, come all, you balebustes,
and show off your culinary expertise
for the potluck that follows
each monthly Homegrown Shabbat service.

In Vermont, it is so clear that
we each must engage in acts of giving
to sustain and build a vibrant centre of life.

Homegrown Judaism will activate
a collaborative relationship among our members,
drawing us closer together.
When members are in need,
others will naturally step in to care for them.
JCOGS will continue to live into its mission
where all feel a sense of belonging and connection.

And of course, there are so many ways
that members and friends currently give.

Take a moment and grab your program.
Have a look at the very last pages:
Homegrown Judaism: Co-creating community.
Have a look at a list of ways you can help.

Here are a few examples:

  • Bring a meal to someone in need in our community
  • Tag JCOGS on social media and share our posts
  • Host or plan an après-ski
  • Serve as a greeter and door monitor at Friday services
  • Help setup or clean up at an upcoming Homegrown Shabbat potluck
  • Have a coffee date/walk with a new JCOGS member (or even just give a call!)
  • Jump in when you see help is needed.
  • You can brainstorm your own idea of getting involved and speak to me, our President Emily, our Director of Family and Youth Education, Beth, any of our staff, or other community members about how to make it happen
  • And even reading our emails and being present are ways you can help. Stay tuned for more about Homegrown Judaism.

Each of us is a small world with the potential for great impact
when we live lives of purpose.
We more than double that effort
when we bring that purpose into communal living.
This is not a show, not a performance.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

We need to be there for each other.
We need to get to know each other better
and be more interconnected.
We need to continue to evolve as a community, together,
l’shmah—for the sake of the act of building community itself,
but also for the sake of our past, present, and future.

Tell me,
this coming year:
What do you need?
What do you want to do differently?
And what is your own sense of purpose?
What does the community need of us at this time
and what can each of us offer now and into the future?

In addition to this moment in history
marking the new year of 5780,
it also marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles
seminal album, Abbey Road.
Far more than just performers,
the Beatles revolutionized connections among people.
I believe in the words of the Beatles from that album.
Would you sing with me?
“And in the end, the love you take
is equal to the love you make.”
Kein Yehi Ratzon.
May this be so in each of our lives as we pursue our purpose,
may it be so for our Jewish Community of Greater Stowe
as we connect our individual purpose to that of the collective,
and may the love made at least equal the love taken
across this great world.

Gmar chatima tova,
may we all be inscribed for a year of blessing and purpose.