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.
Last Thursday my family moved to a new house. I love our new house. It’s beautiful, bigger than the old house and it has a driveway. In Brooklyn. Already this has changed my life for the better. I am filled with gratitude, and my house is filled with boxes.
The unpacking job is huge. I don’t know where things are. We also can’t unpack many of the boxes yet, because we don’t have anywhere to put the stuff. Our old house had a wall of built-in bookshelves and a large cabinet and shelf unit that didn’t come with us. The new house has no built-in bookshelves, and the closets don’t even have hanging rods in them.
We have to get more furniture before we can unpack our stuff, so we have a place to put things. This feels unsettling. We have to live with the boxes because we want to choose furniture carefully, and even when we get it it won’t be in the house immediately. We’re also still figuring out how we want to arrange the house, and want to decide carefully how to place furniture. And we’re hosting the seder for the first night of Passover in less than three weeks, so we have to be pretty settled by then.
I’m not saying this to complain or ask for encouragement. I’m saying it because it reminds me of entering into Judaism. There is a huge, long, rich tradition of liturgy, interpretation, music, and ritual. If that tradition is the house, we could consider the Hebrew language, the denominations, liturgy, Jewish texts, music, and prayers the furniture. Our stuff is our longing for connection with Jewish community and with God, our need for comfort, our desire to find the purpose of our lives.
How do we unpack this stuff, how do we find our answers and get what we’re looking for, when we don’t know anything about the furniture? Maybe the prayers of the liturgy are the place to find connection to God, but that’s not true for everyone. If you are unfamiliar with the service, it can be hard to ascertain if that is the way for you. Maybe attending Torah study regularly is a way to both be inspired and to become comfortable as a part of a Jewish community. Before you know anyone, though, it can be hard to tell.
The other day my husband and I chose a place for one of our cabinets and put it there. A few minutes later, I said, “I don’t like it there. I think we should put it on the other side of the room.” My husband said, “We just put it there. We can’t tell if we want it there so quickly. We have to live with it for a while and then decide.” He was right, but it’s hard because I want everything to be in place and beautiful and unpacked. Yes, I do want instant gratification. I think I’m not the only one.
So it is when we first come to a Jewish community. We will probably not be able to unpack all our needs and desires at once. We have to live with the uncertainty of whether this is the right community for us, meanwhile noticing small connections that we start making from the beginning. It is the community’s job to include newcomers and help them feel comfortable. It is the newcomers’ task to recognize that the knowledge and belonging will come, but it will take time and patience, and a willingness to live with the situation for a while to see what develops. In time, that settled-in feeling comes and the new place becomes ours..
Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order”; usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.