A mentor of mine once said, “If you want to understand what someone values, look at where they’re spending their money—there is no greater values statement than someone’s bank statement.”
For better or worse, this pandemic has forced many of us to reassess our financial commitments, often playing our values against one another, begging the question: What is a luxury and what is essential?
Rabbi Paul Kipnes of a Reform congregation in California was asked recently by a former community member why she should bother joining a Jewish community—how would it make her life better or different? He responded that if she meant “better” as in physically healthier, richer or more mentally stable—all things we desperately need right now—that it would not, and she should look for a gym, a job and a therapist instead. What he said next I found incredibly moving, and I wanted to share a piece of it with you:
Here is what joining a [community] will do:
Being part of a [community] means promulgating values that you and your tradition hold dear.
Being part of a community is like ensuring that your room is still there even after you go away to college. You can always come home. And even if you don’t show up, we are still here.
Being part of a community teaches future generations that being a Jew matters, even if you aren’t a power user of a synagogue at the moment.
Being part of a community means that there will always be High Holiday services for you and the community.
It means that you always have a place to turn when you are in need.
It means that there is always Torah in your community.
It means that you have a spiritual home.
It means that your values are played out through social justice.
It means that you have a place to go to sing Mi Shebeirach (a prayer for healing) when you or someone you know is in pain.
It means that you take responsibility for the next generation, like the previous one did for yours.
And it will make you feel more beautiful because you feel better about yourself when you are spiritually centered.
You will feel richer because you will have enriched your life and those of others.
You will feel smarter because you will be able to partake in 5,000 years of Jewish knowledge.
My hope is that each of us can find this kind of connection and community, a community that makes us feel beautifully centered, enriched through purpose and knowledge and at home with others and ourselves.
May this be a year where we are able to see our values brought to life through the beauty and joy of community.
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