Sunday, January 4, 2015

Synagogues set the table for 22?

Mark and Ilene's suburban house is a hearth reflecting their heart--their values. A big white kitchen flows into a living area with a fireplace and a dinning table that seats sixteen, announcing "We're really glad you're here."  

Last night, Ilene and Mark hosted pot luck dinner for 8 couples.


Common among the couples enjoying soy-gluten-meat-dairy-free food ( allergic reactions avoided) were a lot of hyphenated last names, and friendships that have lasted over twenty years. We also share: belonging (belonged-ok we're the exception) to the same synagogue since our children were tots.

Over the past two decades, we've witnessed our collective 22 children grow to be adults, some now having their own children. I know the 22 well. All of them, I report, without hesitation, are: menches.

If I speak for myself, and then brazenly speak for the others at the long dinner table--we joined the synagogue so our children could get their Jewish education. What we didn't understand at the time, was that membership would lead to finding people who would be present for one another in sickness and in death, for world crises, like 911, and for personal traumas, like unwanted diagnoses.  We knew membership gave us places to sit for the High Holidays. We didn't know it would include a circle of men and women who would dance at simchas together and celebrate with songs and flowers.

Back in the 1990's, optimism and over confidence led us to the delusion that with the right book, and our own cleverness, we could conquer all we faced as parents. We didn't realize then how necessary it is to have adults actively in your children's lives to model values-- living striving and caring lives. Those 22 kids grew to be mensches, in some measure, because of the loving hand and ear these dinner guests have given--still give-- to one another's children.

The synagogue, I think, like Ilene and Mark's home, made space and time for us to really get to know each other, and to celebrate together. We engaged in learning that bound us together with a shared language. Torah helped us express and develop our values in word and deed. We got on buses to march on Washington, packed food baskets and raised funds for those in need.

 The synagogue was like a hearth reflecting a heart--values, enabling surviving and thriving as parents and citizens of the world.


In short, when we raised a glass of wine last night, we were toasting a group that has lifted each other's families up in the good and from the crud. We were toasting people who had encouraged and inspired one another to live more intentionally.

Last night, someone said to me, "Our children's lives are so different than ours. What will synagogues look like for them?"

I'm sorry to say, I work on that every day in my job, and don't know the answer.

What we do know, is that our adult children live in as challenging, if not more challenging world than we ever imagined. All the technology in the universe won't be enough to help them conquer what's ahead for them personally or what's churning in the globe.

One wish, I think we all hold for the 22 is  that they will grow to have a long table of friends to lift them up and navigate our crazy-assed world so they can leave it just a little better and they can find a little more wisdom, comfort and laughter. Our wish is for them to inherit their Jewish story, to enrich them, and the world.

What's the chance? What will it take?