Drawing Comfort from Community | Reconstructing Judaism

Drawing Comfort from Community

News

I frequently describe myself as an evangelist for progressive religion. I spend much of my time making the case for why folks should belong. Why belong to any religion? Why belong to the Jewish people? Why belong to a synagogue? Why belong to the Reconstructionist movement?

The crux of my answer to all of these questions is that belonging connects us to something larger than our own individual experience. I belong to the Jewish people because claiming this connection enters me into a millennia-old conversation and joins me into community both vertical—all those who came before me and all those who follow—and horizontal—the Jews of today, in all our rich and sometimes maddening diversity. I am a religious Jew because religion invites us to ask ultimate questions.  Why are we, all of us, here?  Why am I here?  What am I supposed to do while I am here?  A religious perspective presumes that the answers are more than individual answers. It presumes they are moderated through those vertical and horizontal communities. And I am a Reconstructionist because a Reconstructionist approach presumes that that the contemporary community’s answers are constantly evolving—and that these changes can be good and can be infused with the divine. A Reconstructionist approach is willing to do the hard work of making space for other people’s interior journeys, reflecting on how to truly celebrate diversity, learning across differences, living together, in varying degrees of comfort and discomfort, and embracing this hard work as a collective process, a part of the Jewish civilization and the human experience. 

These last weeks, I have had powerful experiences of the benefits and importance of belonging. One was extremely intimate, the other of national (American) significance.

Shortly before Shavuot, my father, Edward Waxman, died. He lived a long and happy life and he had what we might call a “good death” at age 87 after a period of decline. Friends and colleagues who attended his funeral told me that it was clear that he loved his family and that we loved him back.

I often say that we join into community so that we can celebrate and mourn together. This was my first experience of mourning the loss of a parent, and I was tremendously moved by the outpouring of support that my family and I received. I felt—and continue to feel—held up and cared for by people near and far, since I am lucky to belong to multiple communities. Members of all of them stepped forward to support me. My gratitude is boundless and the learning deep about what it means to show up for other people, as Jewish tradition teaches. And I wonder how to communicate to folks who do not belong what it means to be a part of such caring communities and how to urge them to join in before they suffer a loss, before they are in need.

My experience of the significance of belonging from the national perspective arises out of the horrific policy of family separation has been implemented at the American border. This policy feels profoundly un-Jewish in both my understanding of Jewish religious values and lived Jewish experience. Every year at Passover, we remember that we were once strangers in a strange land, and this message of remembering is repeated 36 times in the Torah. Countless scholars, classical and contemporary, conclude that this overwhelming repetition makes the point that we must move from learning to empathy, from memory to action. And centuries of Jewish experience, including within the lived memories of the parents or grandparents of some of us, teach us in our bodies the experience of persecution and the deep yearning to find a place of refuge.

I have been so grateful to leaders and members of the Reconstructionist movement who have stepped forward to ensure that Reconstructionist voices loudly protest this and related policies as a movement, and to rabbis and lay leaders who have put their bodies on the line. Under the leadership of Angela Milstein and Rabbi Renee Bauer, co-chairs of the now-forming Tikkun Olam Commission, the Reconstructionist movement has signed on to a wide range of initiatives opposing policies toward immigrants seeking asylum. And dozens of Reconstructionist rabbis have participated in protests and visits, through their own efforts and through initiatives jointly organized by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and other agencies. Click here for a summary of the actions we have taken.

Now more than ever, it feels important, essential even, to belong. May you find the same kind of support and comfort from your community that I did in the wake of my father’s death. May you find the same kind of comfort and courage that I do from the translation of Jewish values into action by the larger Reconstructionist movement.

President, Reconstructing Judaism; Aaron and Marjorie Ziegelman Presidential Professor, RRC

Related Resources

News and Blogs

Jewish Ethics, #MeToo, and Crowd-Sourced Responsa

This article was originally published on eJewishPhilanthropy on September 13, 2018

News

The Founding of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

A history of the beginnings of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Article
News and Blogs

Atlanta Congregation to Share Its Passion for Music at Convention

The musical services at Congregation Bet Haverim are a phenomenon. This November, a contingent of more than 30 members of Bet Haverim’s chorus and band will be featured at the Reconstructing Judaism 2018 Convention in Philadelphia.

News
News and Blogs

Gathering Together

As we continue to develop new ways to build community across time and distance, we must also continue to find ways to “be there” for one another.

News
News and Blogs

The Poor People’s Campaign, a National Call for Moral Revival

The RRA recently became a partner of the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). In the last two weeks the PPC has coordinated rallies and acts of civil disobedience in over 30 state capitals, including the participation of over 15 RRA members. 

News
News and Blogs

Reconstructionist Communities Make Disability Inclusion a Top Priority

With a welcoming ethos and a drive to break down barriers, Reconstructionist congregations and havurot have been part of a revolution that’s taken place in the public awareness of the importance of disability inclusion and related services.

News
News and Blogs

The Aviv Revolving Loan Fund Helps Synagogues and Havurot Spring Into Growth

The Aviv Revolving Loan Fund is one way that Reconstructing Judaism is marshaling its resources to strengthen affiliated communities and foster innovation.

News
News and Blogs

Reconstructing Judaism: Evolution in Action

Judaism as an “evolving civilization” has been a Reconstructionist catchphrase for decades. But as board chair Seth Rosen writes, a deeper understanding of evolutionary biology gives fresh insight on the path ahead.

News
News and Blogs

Israel Mission Trip, March 2018: A Travelogue

When we began our Israel journey together in Tel Aviv on March 7th, we were 25 people representing 11 Reconstructionist communities who travelled there on the promise to go places and meet people that even veteran Israel travelers hadn’t visited or met. And on that promise, the Reconstructing Judaism Israel Mission Trip delivered.

News
News and Blogs

How Judaism Elevates Modern Discourse: The Topic at the Table for Chesapeake Day of Learning

The 2018 Chesapeake Day of Learning addressed difficult conversations in progressive Jewish communities.

News
News and Blogs

Why Belong?

Why belong to the Jewish people? Why belong to a synagogue? Why belong to the Reconstructionist movement? These are some of the most important questions that I am asked and that I, along with all of us at Reconstructing Judaism, strive to answer powerfully and convincingly.

News
News and Blogs

Reconstructionist Movement Updates

Though we count time Jewishly, by any consideration the secular year 2018 is an exciting year for the Reconstructionist movement.

News
News and Blogs

About Our New Name

We’re changing our name to Reconstructing Judaism. Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructing Judaism, explains why.

News
News and Blogs

Movement Update from Rabbi Deborah Waxman

Reflections on the state of Reconstructionist Judaism as 2018 begins.

News
News and Blogs

Leadership Message - December 2017

Board chair Seth Rosen lays out his plans for the development of the Reconstructionist movement.

News