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Creating Holy Community

March 1, 2024


Rabbi Nathan Martin

After the dramatic story of the Exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, the Torah portions in the latter part of the book of Exodus cover a tremendous amount of details concerning the material requirements for designing and building the desert Tabernacle, the mobile sanctuary that accompanied the Israelites on their wilderness journeys.

One of the takeaways from this description is simply the observation that details matter. That, if there were an incorrect number of planks for the tabernacle structure on one side, the whole structure might not stand.

We believe that this same lesson is relevant for our community of Beth Israel as well. At our December congregational meeting, Rabbi Linda and I shaped an exercise where we asked the assembled members to go into detail about what is working well for them and where our community might want to do more to support our core elements as we work to construct the sacred, those elements being: Nurturing our members, Being a welcoming community, Celebrating Jewish spirituality and culture, Engaging in lifelong learning, and Working to repair the world. Each of these elements can be considered as if they are an element of our mishkan, our sacred community, and that here too, by paying attention to the details on how we engage in these activities, we can enhance the sacredness of our work together.

We so appreciated the many and varied responses that people shared in this particular exercise. It was as if each response was a different thread helping us to create a multi‐colored canopy of creative thought. Some really interesting suggestions, in particular, of new ideas and directions for our community included:

  • Deepen the support and opportunities for BI members to learn more about our collective Jewish ritual life, the prayers we say, the holidays we celebrate, and connecting to contemporary spiritual practices as well.
  • Explore teaching and learning models that can draw from expertise within our community, that can bring together members intergenerationally, that might connect us to other parts of Jewish Philadelphia, and/or that might speak to particular subgroups in our community (e.g. parenting in interfaith families).
  • Continue to work on approaches that help new members feel welcome and more integrated into synagogue life, whether this would mean being hosted for a home Shabbat, connected to a more seasoned member as a buddy, or other approaches.
  • In addition to our spiritual practice and connection, find ways to further accentuate our social connections with one another with initiatives and programming that can build upon or expand some of the connections we have been making in our "Fourth Friday" gatherings this year.
  • Continue to explore ways in which our community can connect to and have an impact on issues of fairness and justice in the world.

While we are contending with very challenging situations that are confronting us in the world right now, we found that having the opportunity ‐ in spite of these challenges ‐ to stop and reflect on ways we could continue to build our holy community was a powerful and positive exercise.

When the wilderness Tabernacle was finally constructed the Divine presence dramatically came into the camp and dwelled among the people. We too believe that if we can construct our community on firm foundations, that help us to welcome each other, grow and learn together, and care for the brokenness in the world, that we too will create a place for the Divine to dwell amongst us as well.

And of course, it almost goes without saying that each of us has a role to play in making this happen. We would like to invite you to consider how you might want to help our community continue to grow and thrive. Perhaps one of the ideas shared above is sparking your interest. We would love to talk with you about your ideas! And we look forward to this endeavor of together creating an enduring, vibrant, and holy community.

Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784