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.
Do you want to feel like your life has meaning? Do you want to be connected to other individuals like yourself? Do you yearn for a connection to a higher power or divine source?
You are not alone.
In our hyper-focused individualized society we often forget that humans have been seeking out connections with the divine and with each other throughout the millenia. Though our struggles for meaning and connection seem unique, they are not. We are not alone in these struggles.
I was reminded of this recently when I participated in two days of study sponsored by Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the two days, a group of 10 rabbis studied with scholars who presented on Jewish life at different points in time. Dr. Eva Mroczek presented on the different variations of prayers found in the Qumran (Dead Sea) Scrolls and on the community of people who lived in ancient Israel who wrote the prayers. Dr. Rachel Werczberger presented on the modern day Jewish Renewal movement in Israel. On the surface, the two topics could not be more different: one ancient, one modern, one seemly full of structures, the other seemingly more open.
The more I reflected on the two communities; however, the more alike they seemed to me. Both were populated with people who were not finding meaning and connections in the established religious expressions of their day. The community members at Qumran purposefully separated themselves from the Temple cult that existed in Jerusalem at that time. They saw the cult as corrupt, not a true way of worship, and were experimenting by setting up their own community with their own rituals and prayers. Their worship was based on Israelite religion, but they interpreted it in new ways. Many of the prayers found from this community are similar in style to the Psalms and texts we consider to be sacred today, but the texts themselves are very different. This community was forging its own path in order to find higher connections and meaning.
Modern Israelis who join the fledgling Jewish Renewal communities in Israel are also breaking free from established religious structures. They are not inspired by the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate. In many cases, they grew up completely secular and learned about different approaches to Judaism through their travels to India and other countries after the army. In forming these Israeli Renewal communities, they fused Jewish and Eastern practices like meditation and chanting to help them connect spiritually.
We are all seekers in some way. We seek connections with each other, with God, with family, friends, and co-workers. We may seek different kinds of connections, but as humans we are hard wired to want to connect. These connections bring meaning to our lives and work. No one can live as an isolated individual.
Finding these meaningful connections is not always easy. Some people spend their lives looking, trying different religions and communities of people. At this time of year, headlining in to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, it is easy for some of us to feel very connected to loved ones, and for others to feel disconnected and alone.
For those who feel connected, I hope you will use Thanksgiving as a time to show your gratitude to those people who are meaningful to you in your life. Tell them how important they are to you. It could make a big difference in their own sense of connectedness.
For those who are feeling alone, I want to encourage you to take a risk. Reach out to someone; invite them to share a meal. It could be your first step in finding a community for yourself.
Like the ancient Israelites at Qumran or the modern Israeli Jewish Renewal members, you can find ways to buck established systems and find a place for your heart to sing. We all want connections. We all have the power to be part of a chain that links people together. As we head in to Thanksgiving, I hope we can consciously work to build more connections in our chains. Our lives will have more meaning and fullness because we have sought out those connections.
May you find someone to celebrate life with this week.