The Role of Community in Life Cycle Events

Private rites can lead to a stronger connection to community.

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The following passage is excerpted with permission  from Finding Each Other in Judaism: Meditations on the Rites of Passage from Birth to Immortality (UAHC Press).

A child is born, a wedding is in the offing, a death is pending. The family is gathered, and something must be done, something must be said. These are the emotionally charged moments when it is not good for us to be alone and not good enough to offer a handshake, a cigar, a card announcing name, height, and weight.

On such occasions, even those most distanced from Jewish community and tradition seek out a synagogue or rabbi, sensing the tug of an invisible cord, a tie to "obscure forces and emotions, all the more powerful the less they were to be defined in words" (The Complete Work of Sigmund Freud, 1959). In the same way, a secular Jew like the American philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen, who thoroughly repudiated supernaturalism, singled out for appreciation "the ancient cere­monies that celebrate the coming and going of life, the wedding ceremony, the birth and burial services which give an expression to the continuity of the spiritual tradition that is more eloquent than any phrase of my own creation" (A Dreamer's Journey, 1949). We seek a community that shares the sanctity of these events, commemorating them with a meaningful choreography.

 

Beyond the public festivals and fasts of Judaism, it is in the private domain of rites of passage that make up the stages of our lives that we find deepened and broadened relationships. Through the rites of passage, the "I" draws closer to the "we," to the members of the family, and to the community present and past. These singular intersections present unique circumstances in which to find one other in Judaism. Laughter and tears crave community.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis

Harold Schulweis is the senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California. He is the founder of Jewish Foundation for Rescuers and the author of For Those Who Can't Believe.