Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Many of us are feeling buffeted by politics, angry dynamics in public discourse, and fears of what may lie ahead. In the midst of unsettling times, our congregation, like many, have been navigating these waters and asking ourselves what role a faith-based community can play in providing for the needs of our people. There is more than one answer to that question, and different communities are charting different paths. In my congregation, we’re placing the practice of kindness at the heart of our deliberations. While that might sound like a rather obvious, or even simplistic affirmation, it is, in fact, so much more.
Take, for instance, our monthly Spiritual Journey Group. A small group of people who seek out learning and reflection that can help guide their everyday living, we have had profound conversations about empathy, and about the role of loss in our lives in enabling us to deeply experience kindness. We’ve experienced Buddhist-inspired Metta meditation and talked about the equanimity that can come from centering our own ways of responding to others with kindness, even as we witness hatred and thoughtlessness being expressed more openly. It is a radical spiritual act to place kindness at the heart of how we act and where we place our energies to walk our own walk.
We’ve also expanded the way we perform acts of loving-kindness in our community. Like many congregations, we used to have a small, dedicated group of volunteers who helped a family in mourning at a shiva, brought meals to those recovering from illness, etc. This year we launched CBS Cares, creating a means by which everyone in the town of someone in need is informed when helping hands are required, without invading the privacy of our members. The whole congregation is now part of a network where we have the opportunity to take responsibility for our neighbors at their time of need. This provides a shift in awareness that helps to foster a desire by more people to be part of a communal effort.
Our social action team recently hosted a wonderful gathering that has inspired new people to step forward to expand the ways we help the homeless and the hungry, involve more of our members, and reach out to organizations that are supporting the urgent needs of refugees. The message is clear… we are not interested in amplifying the voices of those who would divide us, but want to make our work to respond to the most vulnerable with kindness more impactful.
Even the music that comes forth from our congregation is bringing sharpened focus to this purposeful expression of kindness as the work of this faith-based community. We have an upcoming Concert for Kindness to raise funds for the ADL, providing an opportunity to learn more about the ways our local chapter is supporting those who face prejudice and hate.
Each day the news headlines and events around us call upon us to make choices. There are multiple venues and organizations by which each of us can choose how to respond and when we feel called upon to act. In the midst of all this, the spiritual practice of kindness can serve us and our communities well in a multitude of ways, providing an anchor to help us stay afloat when times are stormy and continue working to be who and what we aspire to be in this world.