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Desert Island Judaism?

On Sunday, January 22, 2017

An old joke:

A Jew was shipwrecked alone on a desert island for years and year. When he was finally rescued, the ship’s crew discovered that in his time on the island, he had built a life for himself – a shelter, access to food, and TWO synagogues.
“The puzzled rescuers asked him: “If you’re alone here, why do you need two synagogues?”
“Simple,” he answered. “This one is where I pray. And that one over there is the one I wouldn't set foot in."

On the one hand, this is a cynical joke about the ways that Jews don’t get along – it’s sad to think that even on a desert island there could be a synagogue we wouldn’t attend. But I prefer to read it differently. I’m amazed that the Jew on the desert island built synagogues to begin with! Alone on an island for years, and all the time he was creating communal prayer spaces. He must have been absolutely starved for community.

Judaism is built around community. Being together is our antidote to a sometimes-frightening world, and it’s our vehicle for bringing the most goodness and holiness into our lives. In the Talmud, it teaches that when we pray or study or even eat together, “the divine presence rests between us.” In other words, the things we do together bring God into the world.

We need each other. Today, more than ever. In the 21st century, society tells you to be an individual, to fend for yourself. And though we most often tag our neighbours to the south as the “rugged individualists,” we in Canada are also the children of the Enlightenment – we believe in building our OWN identities, our OWN careers, our OWN sense of self-worth. There is a great deal of goodness and empowerment in this worldview. But we don’t have to do it alone. We are not living on a desert island, and we are strongest as individuals when we build a supportive and holy community around ourselves.

A few years ago, when we began to subtly shift our language away from “Temple” and toward “Congregation,” it was with these thoughts in mind. A temple is a building – a place of prayer and study. But a community is a group of people who come together to bring holiness in the world. Kol Ami is both of these, but it is primarily and especially the latter.

Help us continue to build our Kehilah Kedoshah – our Holy Community. Each time you are present for a service or class or program, it makes us a little stronger both as individuals and as a community.

Here’s a new opportunity: come check out our “Challah Club” on February 15. It’s a chance to be together, to do some learning, and to produce homemade challah regularly. See the Voice for details!

Thank you the role you play in building this Holy Community. I feel continually honoured to be a part of it with each and every one of you.

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Sat, September 23 2023 8 Tishrei 5784