In the Talmud, the Jewish book of law that dates back more than 1,500 years, we’re taught that a wise person shouldn’t live in a place where there’s no beit din (a court of law) that metes out punishments; a tzedakah (charity) fund that’s collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a mikveh (a ritual bath house); a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a blood-letter; (some versions add a butcher); and a teacher of children.” (Sanhedrin 17b)
At first glance, some of the items on this list might seem strange to us today, but they actually make a lot of sense. Most of us want to live in a place that has laws and morals and an effective way to enforce them. Most of us want the place we call home to be a place that has a reputable charitable organization that helps those in need. Obviously, we want a good plumbing system and folks who can help us maintain our health (bloodletting was a form of ancient medicine), keep our homes and businesses running and, of course, educate our children.
Judaism teaches us not to separate ourselves from the community. (Pirkei Avot 2:4) If we do this, we’re alone and we lack the items listed above that define community. This separation has a serious effect on our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our children. And so, most of us would agree that a wise person would indeed want to live in a community that has many of the items listed in the Talmud.
What about the synagogue? (I’m including in the synagogue the mikveh, the ritual bath house, as it remains a part of Jewish ritual life, a place where conversions and other sacred moments take place. At Ramat Shalom, we use the ocean as our mikveh.)
Synagogue affiliation rates these days might lead us to believe that most Jews don’t consider a synagogue to be something that defines a worthwhile community. However, given the number of unaffiliated Jews who turn to us and other synagogues for guidance and support, I don’t think this is the case.
However, many Jews today still want to live in a place where there is a strong Jewish presence. Yes, they want a good bagel place and a decent deli – but they want more than that. They want to know that they’re not alone – even more so today, as we witness the dramatic rise in anti-Semitism here and abroad. They want to know that Jewish life – what some call yiddishkeite – is alive and well. And so, a synagogue, a place where Jewish spirituality, learning, culture, ritual are all nurtured, remains a vital part of a Jewish community. Even if we don’t spend time in the synagogue on a regular basis (even if we don’t set foot in it at all – gasp!), its presence in the community ensures an infusion of yiddishkeite into the place we call home.
Many people have asked me recently what they can do to combat anti-Semitism. In addition to supporting national and international organizations that fight this plague and doing our part to educate ourselves and speak up, I believe that supporting a synagogue is an essential part of this battle. By doing our part to make certain that our secular cities and towns have houses of worship where Jews can gather, Judaism can be expressed and the Jewish story can be taught, we’re making an important and powerful statement. We’re building a living testament that this is a place where Jews not only live but thrive. We’re saying we’re proud of who we are and we’re sharing the incredible insight our tradition offers with our friends and neighbors. The synagogue – she’s got a lot of power!
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for doing your part to support Ramat Shalom, for making certain that right here on the corner of Broward Boulevard and Old Hiatus Road – right in the heart of Broward County – Judaism is doing her thing. As a supporter of our synagogue, you must know that you are part of a righteous group of Jews who have, for centuries, supported synagogues and made it possible for them to strengthen the larger Jewish community. Not everyone gives of themselves like you have done. This is nothing new. It’s always been a small group of righteous folks who have kept the Jewish community strong. Your generosity is extraordinary. Thanks to you, our synagogue is an important and well-respected Jewish presence, sharing the wisdom of our tradition with so many and doing our part to strengthen our larger and very special South Florida community.