Students at Temple Beth-El in Birmingham, Alabama, listen in rapt attention to The Rabbi and the 29 Witches. We love everything about this image, from the beard and hat on our Ed Fellow (hey, sometimes you have to be the rabbi AND the witches!) to the cute cuddling yarmulke buddies.
Shabbat shalom, y’all!
This blog post was written by ISJL Education Fellow Missy Goldstein.
It is almost without fail that calling my Bubbe leads to a question or two about my love life.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Or, more specifically: “Have you met any nice Jewish boys?”
My response is always something along the lines of: “Bubbe, I live in Jackson, Mississippi. There aren’t a whole lot of Jewish boys my age around here. The ones I do know I work with. Two have girlfriends, and one of those is also my roommate.”
I grew up hearing sweet and genuine love stories, such as that of my parents who met as USY advisors at International Convention, or my camp counselors who had their first kisses under the kissing tree at camp, or seeing the beautiful pictures from a wedding of a friend who met her husband freshman year of college at Hillel. All of these beautiful relationships have created the pressure for me to find a nice Jewish mate.
But after 13 years of Jewish summer camp, 12 years of religious school, and 4 years of Hillel involvement I have a lot of amazing friends, none of whom I want to date. Sorry, guys.
Recently, I read 40 Days of Dating—a blog about two people who had been friends for many years before starting an experiment to see if they could make it as a couple. Just like any other experiment, theirs has rules by which both parties have agreed to live: Seeing each other every day, visiting a couple’s counselor once a week, and, of course, documenting everything.
Imagine: changing the dynamics of a relationship with someone you’ve known for a long time.
Imagine: creating possibilities where there seem to be none.
In the South, some of our Jewish communities are very insular. We’ve been going to camp and Sunday school with the same people from such a young age that we can’t help but see them as siblings, or those crazy kids who pulled the stupid prank. But what if we tried this experiment with a friend? Even if it doesn’t work out, we’ve spent 40 more days with a great friend, learned about ourselves through self- and couple- reflection, and are potentially that much closer to finding our beshert (soulmate). OR you could find that you really do have romantic feelings for each other.
I don’t want to ruin the end of their story for you, so I will just tell you that the two people who dated for forty days struggled with themselves and each other; they addressed problems and learned from one another; they became more aware of their actions. Who couldn’t use a little bit more of that in their life? It was inspiring – although I doubt I’m going to try a 40 days of dating experiment any time soon, I now have an idea for a “36 (2 x chai) Days of Judaism” program that I’m stoked to create for the religious schools I work with.
And Bubbe, don’t worry about me too much…just like many other Jews who have moved somewhere new, I ignored the Christian Mingle e-mails in my inbox, and I joined JDate.
On Yom Kippur this year, the few remaining families of the 161-year old congregation of B’nai El in St. Louis, Missouri, entered the large sanctuary of Shaare Emeth. All of the members representing Shaare Emeth’s 1600-plus households simultaneously rose to their feet in honor of the Torahs held in the arms of B’nai El’s remaining few members. They, along with the Torahs, were being welcomed into their new spiritual home.
For those who may not know, B’nai El (established circa 1852) was the first Jewish congregation to build its sacred dwelling west of the Mississippi River. After a brief period of existence as an Orthodox congregation, B’nai El joined the Reform Movement, and in 1874 was among the founding congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism.
B’nai El was also my hometown congregation.
I say, “was,” because – as of this year – B’nai El closed its doors, due to a great decline in membership over recent decades. Facing this moment has not been easy for any of us. Yet, thanks to a dedicated board and a compassionate interim rabbi, the congregation of B’nai El made thoughtful, though difficult, decisions that brought great honor to its history, ensuring its lasting legacy.
These brave acts included offering me (as a son of the congregation) the complete contents of their Sisterhood Judaica Shop. As their Sisterhood president Maryellen McSweeny told me: “Just because we are closing doesn’t mean that we can’t still make a difference, an impact in the Jewish world. Please take these items to impact your work with small congregations in the South.”
In B’nai El’s name, I have done just that. During a Bat Mitzvah service in the Mississippi Delta, a brilliant young lady received a beautiful B’nai El tallit. Every time she wraps herself in it, the generations of B’nai El embrace her. During a funeral in Alabama, the mourners received a special yahrzeit candle holder. Every year they light it, memories of both their loved one and the congregation will be illuminated.
And, during a Shabbat service with the small college town congregation of Am Shalom in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I noticed that the Torah was without a yad for reading. Upon my return to the office, I went to the ISJL closet filled with B’nai El’s generous donations. From it, I pulled out a yad. I sent it to Am Shalom with the message, “May it continue to point y’all forward with God’s loving touch in this coming year.”
Am Shalom’s president, Laura Jacobs, wrote the following to Maryellen McSweeny in response:
We very much appreciate you sending us your yad. We are a very small congregation of about 15 families. We meet about one time per month for social and religious events. We are lay-led and so appreciate Rabbi Klaven and all he brings to our small congregation. As you know, he is a special person, making Judaism come alive for the young and old. We are blessed he chose to share your yad with us. Know that we will put it to good use. I’ve attached the pictures of some of our members on Yom Kippur with the yad on our Torah. L’shana tovah to you!
What I have come to appreciate even more through connecting some of the remaining items from my hometown congregation of B’nai El to other Jewish communities in need is that our story does not end when we find a place to call home. Rather, just as it was for our ancestors, coming home marks the next chapter of our development, as we continue to honor our history and live our legacy.
Image above: B’nai El’s Yad brings new blessings to its new home at Am Shalom.