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.
This past week, I had the sad yet reaffirming opportunity to visit Temple Emanu-El in Livingston, New Jersey.
Sad because Temple Emanu-El notified its 300 family members that they would close their doors in June, after 61 years of being a thriving Reform synagogue in the New Jersey suburbs. Sad because Temple Emanu-El was a small, heimish (friendly, unpretentious) community focused on social justice, high-level learning and programming for children and adults. Sad because Temple Emanu-El successfully created and a welcoming and compassionate Jewish community. Like many synagogues across the country, Temple Emanu-El went quickly from being a vibrant Jewish community to having no possibility of maintaining financial stability and therefore needed to close its doors. The congregation actually voted to merge with Temple Sinai of Summit, NJ, where many of its members will strive to find a new spiritual home.
What was the purpose of my visit to the building? As a rabbi who founded a new model of a Jewish community on Long Island two years ago, I seek to find a home for some of the items that synagogues treasure, when they no longer have a need for these items. Our community works hard to honor the history of these synagogues, to allow their memories to live on in our new community, just as we Jews honor the memories of loved ones long after they are no longer physically with us in this world.
In many ways, this seems logical: as one door closes, another one opens.
And yet, our own experience over the past two years, is that synagogues are hesitant to let go of any of these items, or even angry that these new communities have somehow caused the closing of their synagogues. This could not be farther from the truth; but in mourning, our perspectives are sometimes skewed.
What was so reaffirming about my visit to this building? Even in their sunsetting as a congregation, they behaved just as they did in the height of their life – pure mensches. They invited us to their home, offering us prayer books, library books, Hebrew books, office supplies and ritual objects. They were so happy to know that these items would find a new home, and would help a new community to become more established. Despite the many stories we heard of sadness and pain at the closing of this beloved synagogue, we also heard optimism and joy, and even an eagerness to learn what they might learn from our community, to be sure they don’t close their new doors as well.
We are creating new memories with their beloved books and ritual objects. When we use our new Tanachim (Hebrew Bibles) at Torah study, when we use our High Holy Day prayer books, when we set up our new lending library, when we utilize our new supply of Hebrew books for children, and when we light Shabbat candles in the beautiful silver candlesticks, all given to us by Temple Emanu-El, we will give honor and pay tribute to a wonderful community, one that is eager to help open new doors, even as they close the doors to 61 years of history, community and family.