Shabbat Greetings – January 22, 2016
Rabbi Steinhardt's Shabbat Greetings

Shabbat Greetings – January 22, 2016

Dear Friends,

I was thinking about a dimension of my life growing up in Connecticut. It is missing today. I grew up as a first generation American. My mother and her family were refugees from Germany. They came here and had to struggle to survive in this country. Being closely tied to each other and needing each other, the extended family essentially lived together. They bought a three family house. My grandmother was on the top floor, my aunt and uncle and their family on the second floor, and my family lived in the first floor apartment. A few houses away were aunts and uncles and a small number of extended family lived nearby.

I know this experience was not unique. It was common amongst the families of immigrants and refugees. Families in general lived close to one another. People lived where they grew up and they lived intergenerationally. The idea of “going off” to college and settling elsewhere was not common. We simply were not as mobile as we are today.

Time has passed, and with it opportunities for education and schooling. Family members began to live farther and farther apart from each other. But with all the opportunities and mobility something has been clearly lost. And although we have found success through education and subsequent employment, we have lost a dimension of the richness in family life.

There is much to be said about living close to grandparents. Amongst other things, they provide comfort and perspective to life, especially to grandchildren. Parents can find relief from some of the pressures of parenting in the presence of their own parents; not to mention advice and counsel. Grandparents can find themselves needed in a whole host of ways, even as they become elderly and their abilities decline. They model aging, something those who wish to live long lives need to see. And they can teach their children how to find meaning and be productive when work is no longer central. They can advise from experience. For young couples there can be guidance and support during the times of struggle – whether it be in marriage or with parenting or with jobs. When life is most challenging, it is good to have the perspective of someone “who has been there.” And extended family life brings support, warmth and shared joy in celebration of birthdays and holidays and, especially, Shabbat.

It’s always wonderful to witness the families who have been able to preserve this or even recreate it. To be with extended family – for generations to share life – I can say, is truly a blessing.

I know time does not go back and I know we live in a very large country. I also am keenly aware of what a treasure it is to spend time with family members that live far away. Yet in the day to day and week to week, we need to connect beyond our small units. That is one of the powerful dimensions of community. That’s why a community such as ours needs to be a vehicle to support each other. I believe this is built into the very fabric of our tradition.

We are reading the torah texts these days that reflect our experiences as a people. Together we shared slavery and together we were redeemed. Together we sang. Together we experienced revelation. There is a reason for this. Our tradition doesn’t focus on the personal relationship with God. It focuses on the communal. And so we learn that we not only experienced things together as a people, but we also received obligations to serve and care for each other. And this becomes critically important as family members live farther away. So, we visit the sick, we make shivah calls, we need a minyan to pray daily, we engage together in service projects, and we learn and pray – not as individuals – but as a group. To be a part of a community is essential. To be part of a community that engages in learning, prayer and meaningful actions is a core value. But most importantly, to be part of a community that cares for each other is sacred.

We see this clearly in the song that our people sang which we read this Shabbat. Together, as they were saved by the Red Sea, as one, they sang.

We have seen over thousands of years that the Jewish people have always seen themselves as part of a big unit, and so there is a tremendous sense of communal responsibility and loyalty. To be a Jew is to belong to a people…a family.

Some amongst us are blessed to live near extended family, but many don’t. We learn that we need friends and community to support our lives and the lives of those around us. That’s what we try to facilitate here; be it during times of illness, after death, in times of celebration or simply normal days. To be a member of a community is to be a chaveir – a friend, a connected human being, and someone who shares in the pain and joys and life of others.

I miss the days of my youth. I yearn to be closer to our kids. Yet, I so appreciate being a part of a community that learns together, celebrates together, supports each other and knows how to demonstrate love and meaningful purpose

I wish you all Shabbat Shalom.

See you in shul,
Rabbi David Steinhardt