Our Living Room Conversations are off to a great start, and I want to share one of the themes beginning to emerge, as well as some of my own thoughts on my personal aspirations for a synagogue community. Overwhelmingly, individuals spoke about the feeling of warmth at Temple Beth Israel, the experience of other congregants as genuine and real, the many moments in which they or their loved ones have felt invited in and cared for, and the general feeling of being welcomed. Several noted, though, that even in our small congregation, there are many congregants who do not know each other or have not connected with each other in a deep way beyond Kiddush chatting. Many have not been in another members’ home. These Living Room Conversations are a way for us to begin to engage with each other in a deeper way, to develop habits of conversation and communication that can open up our souls to one another.
One of the most beautiful descriptions of a synagogue I have found is that given by Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l, my mentor, colleague, and friend, in a Kol Nidre sermon at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco. He described how the root pa’er (ornament) is used throughout pesukei d’zimra, the first part of our morning prayers, and that the verb form means to cover something with ornaments. Rabbi Lew said that it feels as if we are clothing God with our prayers, “ornamenting God, and thereby rendering God visible, like Claude Rains, the Invisible Man, who was rendered visible by the bandages with which he covered himself. And we do the same for the soul. We ornament the soul by our prayers – we render it visible too.” He describes the synagogue as a place where this happens: “It isn’t a building, nor a clubhouse, nor a place where we can focus on doing Jewish things and being Jewish as if Judaism were some kind of hobby….No, the synagogue is a gesher, a bridge to our souls, the place where we connect to our souls; a pa’er, an ornament by which we render our souls visible….A bridge connecting us to our deepest sense of self, a place where our lives ake on an added dimension, a place where we study and pray and are touched at the root of our souls. And a bridge connecting us to each other, a place of authentic spiritual community where we have supported each other with compassion and caring, where we have begun to heal both our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world.”
One of the questions we have been exploring in our Living Room Conversations is what our ideal community would look and feel like. For me, it would be a community in which our own souls are rendered visible and in which each of us renders the souls of others visible. This might happen in different contexts for different people– and part of the goal of these Conversations is to see what emerges as primary places in which to focus our communal energy and resources in providing opportunities for soul visibility. For some this will be through prayer, song, or music; for others through shared learning; shared meals; providing meals for those in a time of need; through interfaith dialogue and action in Waltham; or working together for social justice and local and global responsibility. I am looking forward to our remaining Living Room Conversations and their followup. If you still want to join in a Conversation but you were unable to in this first round, please let me know by emailing me at email@example.com or calling 781- 894-5146, for we are already arranging for at least one more in the few weeks. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing more and more of the fullness of each of our souls.
-Rabbi Tracy Nathan