Don’t Forget Small Jewish Communities

This is a guest post by Zahara Zahav, Rabbis Without Borders Program Manager

“Thank you for not forgetting about us, Rabbi.”

These are the words of a member of one of the 20-plus Small but Proud Jewish communities that Rabbis Without Borders has served in the last six months since launching the Rabbinic Service Corps in 2015. Small but Proud communities are places around the U.S. that have lost Jewish organizational support over the last five to 10 years and are currently underserved to the extent that they are in serious danger of ceasing to exist in the next five to 10 years. In addition to loss of Jewish federation funding and other forms of institutional support, these communities no longer receive consulting services and student rabbis from the  large  denominations. These communities are in need, and we are stepping into the breach.

Rabbis Without Borders are specifically qualified to serve these communities because our rabbis have a willingness and investment in meeting people where they are. They understand the shifting definitions of membership, community, and Jewish life in general and feel comfortable working in situations that would challenge other rabbis. They are creative with ritual so that Jewish wisdom can be as accessible and as impactful as possible. Moreover RWB rabbis believe in the possibility for vibrant Jewish engagement in any stage of a communities’ life, whether it is growing or dying. It is about serving the real need of the people in front of them.

And those real needs, as we have learned quickly in these six short months, are indeed diverse and personal. One Service Corps rabbi offered grief counseling from thousands of miles away by phone for months, as one community dealt with the fatal illness and death of a beloved and central lay leader. Another led Shabbat services that brought in Jews from up to four hours distance away. While a third community benefited from their local “para-rabbi” receiving a rabbinic mentor from among our group, to be available for the small and large questions that arise when one is leading a community without formal rabbinic training.

As we continue to discover how best we can serve these inspiring undeserved Jewish communities (one member related to me, “You have to love Judaism with everything you’ve got in a place where you’ve got so little.”), we are thinking creatively and using the best tools of our talented Rabbis Without Borders in new and different ways to rise to an emerging Jewish communal landscape — one less and less determined by age-old assumptions about who Jews are and what they need to lead meaningful, vibrant, committed Jewish lives.

We, for one, are not forgetting about those Jews.

If you would like to be served by one of our rabbis please visit: http://rabbiswithoutborders.org/what-we-offer/

Discover More

What Happens in Synagogue on Rosh Hashanah

Highlights of the Jewish New Year prayer services.

Why I Don’t Officiate at Intermarriages

Effective counseling of intermarried couples makes the difference for the Jewish future--not officiating at their weddings.

Why The Mishnah Is the Best Jewish Book You’ve Never Read

This almost 2,000-year-old text flies under the radar -- but it's immensely important to Jewish life.