I’m new to Boston. How can I get to know my community?
This is a great question! I remember reading an article by Rabbi Jill Jacobs on community where she pointed out that Jewish people call themselves “Am Yisrael” — “the people of Israel” — rather than “Dat Yisrael” — “the religion of Israel” — to emphasize that community has long been one of our central characteristics.
The Talmud tells us that a community needs to have 10 components: a beit din (court of law), a tzedakah fund, a synagogue, a scribe, a bath house, a bathroom, a doctor, a craftsperson, a butcher, and a teacher of children. In other words, communities have to provide the things that its members need.
Thus, acclimating to a new community necessitates finding out about these critical components – how they can serve you and perhaps more importantly (certainly more “Jewishly”) how you can serve them.
Having just joined a new community myself, I can tell you that a lot of asking questions and listening to the answers is involved (two very Jewish activities!). In the past few weeks I’ve asked about, Google’d and needed directions to the DMV, local charities and social justice programs, doctors’ offices, grocery stores, furniture stores, the gym, swimming pools/the beach, schools, synagogues, and many, many bathrooms!
But beyond locating these places is finding out how I can fit myself into the important work going on around me. What things does this community do well? What still needs to be done? What unique skill-set do I have to offer this community to advance their progress?
Jewish tradition considers participation in the community a religious obligation. In fact, there’s a midrash that compares removing oneself from the community to destroying the world! Although our Jewish communities have changed over time, membership in a community has always required a sense of shared commitment to the future of the community as well as a shared obligation to care for and celebrate with one another.
So first and foremost, find out what your new community is all about, what needs you can assist with, and most importantly, when the food is being served!
Photo in article copyright 2012, Stephen Shames/JFNA. All other rights reserved.