A shul is often thought of as a place of prayer. The largest room in the Heights Jewish Center building is the sanctuary after all. Yet I think that we need to enhance our perspective. I have started to think of the shul as something that strives to be a gathering place for Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chasadim.
The scheduled shiurim offered at our shul are only the beginning of the commitment we have to Talmud Torah. Private learning is going on all the time. All a person has to do is ask! Our davening is sincere and taken seriously by those who are fortunate enough to join us. Our commitment to those who need help is strong. The community we have been creating for 150 years, that currently spans three and even four generations of members, is something we can all be proud of.
There is something that encompasses all three of these pillars. I have been trying to find the right words to describe it. I think I have recently found the word. That word is tribe. I know we associate that word with our baseball team–or with the twelve tribes of Israel. Some use the word as a euphemism for the Jewish People as a whole. A slang term for Jew that has appeared in the last few years is MOT, Member Of the Tribe.
Beyond the broader meanings of the term, there is a tribal identity that we create with a much smaller group of people. This tribal identity is not about what clan you are born into. It is not about neighborhood. It is about sharing your Jewish sense of life and ideals and gathering together a community that connects to those things. I think that is why we call a shul a “Beit Knesset”, place of gathering together.
Some tribes’ shared traits are superficial, like profession or fashion sense.
What is at the root of our Tribe? What traits are our members proud to share?
All over the city, it is known that:
We are frum, while open to others.
Our members are serious about Torah and Mitzvos, but not snobbish.
Committed to our Faith and Devotion, we are also intellectually open.
We have high standards as well as compassion. These two are often seen to be at odds with each other. In our “tribe”, our Beis Medrash Hagodol, they are in harmony.
Very often, a tribal identity excludes others. Yet it is known to one and all that our shul welcomes one and all, member and non-member, committed members of other shuls or of no shul.
Purim stands for the ideal of Ish L’Reyeihu U’Matanos L’Evyonim: Bringing a man close to his friend and giving to the not-as-fortunate. We have taken people who would otherwise be mefuzar u’meforad, wandering and alienated, and brought them together. All of you who understand and internalize this are proud friends and members of the group I am proud to call my Tribe.
Deena and I wish you all a Freilich’n Purim.
Rabbi Raphael Davidovich