Building a Vibrant Community During Difficult Circumstances

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This article was written for the 2009 Why Be Jewish Gathering: Renaissance in a Time of Ration, a project of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation’s Bronfman Vision Forum.

Rachel-portrait-43a_1.jpg Three years ago, I launched an organization called Kavana, a cooperative, non-denominational Jewish community located in Seattle.  My decision as a young rabbi to explore this untested path in the Jewish world would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of a retired 36-year-old former Microsoft employee.  In her, I found a true visioning partner – someone who brought excitement, ideas, energy, passion, and the financial resources necessary to get this off the ground.

Together, we dreamed of building a new communal model – one that was intimate and local, that focused on intentionality and offered a personalized approach to Jewish involvement, and that called on “partners†in the co-op to play active roles in creating Jewish life for themselves and for the group.

And then this past December, the same individual – with whom I’d had so much fun over the last three years brainstorming, writing a business plan for Kavana, recruiting a launch team, and beginning to bring our dreams to fruition in Seattle – walked into my office and asked, “Do you know the name Bernie Madoff?â€

And boom, the bottom fell out.

In thinking about the theme of building community during these difficult economic times, I find great inspiration in the Torah’s narrative of revelation.  In reading Parashat Yitro this year, I watched with interest as Moses ascended a Mount Sinai that was trembling with thunder and lightning while God descended upon mountain for the encounter of revelation.  I’ve been wondering how Moses must have felt in those moments on the mountain with God.  I suspect he felt that he had achieved precisely what he had set out to achieve when he left Egypt.  I imagine this as a moment of great excitement and visioning – with Moses dreaming about what the world could look like, now that God and Israel were to be permanently aligned, with electric sparks flying.