Every generation sees itself as unique. No other generation before us has faced our particular challenges, problems or crisis, so the thinking goes. And though each and every era has it’s unique set of circumstances to be sure, crisis has existed in each and every era. Or in the words of Admiral William Crowe, “in times like these you can be assured that there have always been times like these.”
Two thousand years ago a crisis befell the Jewish people far worse than any of our modern Jewish communal crisis’, no matter how bad they might seem. And two thousand years ago we faced the crisis and turned it into an opportunity thanks to great leaders and spirits like Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. We read every morning in our siddur as part of our daily prayers the following:
Once, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Yehoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Yehoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said: “Oy for us! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel – through the ritual of animal sacrifice – lies in ruins!” Then Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: “Do not be devastated, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining atonement even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain atonement through deeds of loving kindness.” For it is written: “Loving kindness I desire, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).
Each and every turn in Jewish history we have known loss. We had both of our holy temples destroyed. We have been exiled from nearly every country (save this one) we have ever lived. You name it we’ve suffered it – we Jews have known our share of tzuris. So it should be of no surprise to anyone in this community that we are experiencing tzuris once again. Thank God it isn’t the loss of liberty, destruction of life or anti-Semitic persecution variety our people are all too familiar with. Rather, if we have to face collective struggle and suffering this is probably as good as it gets. But suffering is suffering and what is going on here, on Boston’s North Shore is difficult to say the least.
For anyone who does not know – our Jewish Community is facing incredible challenges. Our JCC in particular, but many institutions to be sure, have crucial decisions to make. No matter how challenging things might be, however, we need to hear the words of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai loud and clear on this – do not be devastated. Be saddened about challenges but do not become stifled by your sadness. It is not over. We are not done. Our mission is not through.
Perhaps there will be a radically changed JCC. Maybe there will or maybe there won’t be a building or a campus (that is for them alone to determine). However, as Rabbi ben Zakkai reminded us thousands of years ago what we loved about the Temple was never the bricks and mortar. Rather, what was loved and revered was what those bricks stood for – the values of Judaism, the commitment to our ideals, the eternal nature of the Jewish spirit. Although the Temple was destroyed, says Rabbi Yohanan, we will live to fight another day; we will translate our spirit in many other ways. And so we did.
So too, the JCC as the institution we knew and loved is changing, is and will continue to remain open, but will be transformed nonetheless. In some way, shape or form it can, must and will continue to exist. The JCC, like the Temple, was more than an institution, a building or a set of programs. Rather, it was an idea – the idea that Jews could survive in the diaspora, Judaism would survive if we came together in space and time to live our lives fully and completely in Jewish community, in camaraderie and support for our fellow Jew and our fellow man.
So yes, shed some tears during a challenging time. Absolutely process your feelings of anger, betrayal or loss. But then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get busy learning the mistakes of our past and exploring the possibilities for the future. Resolve to carry forth our sacred ideals, look to the future with vision and willingness to change; roll up your sleeves and start building anew. No, it won’t be the same, but as long as we survive the JCC survives. As long as we are committed to what it stands for we will build it in different ways, in alternative directions growing wiser, stronger and more resillient for us, for our children and for the next generation too.
Am Echad – Lev Echa; One People – One Heart