The Jewish value of community

Dear Families,

There is a very important Jewish value: kehillah — community! This important concept starts with the name of the Jewish people: “am Yisrael — the people of Israel.” The sense of peoplehood is the defining characteristic of the Jews. We live in community and support one another in community. It states this in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 17b: “A talmid haham (Torah scholar) is not allowed to live in a city that does not have these 10 things: a beit din (law court) that metes out punishments; a tzedakah fund that is collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a bathhouse (mikveh); a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a bloodletter; (some versions add: a butcher;) and a teacher of children.” What an interesting set of community members to serve everyone — all are practical and necessary for people to live together.

Throughout the ages, wherever there were Jews, the community set up for the needs of all as well as remembering our responsibility to the general community in which we live. Today when Jews move to town they will usually contact a synagogue or the J to ask “Where do the Jews live?” We want to be connected for many reasons. Yes, there are many for whom this isn’t important — UNTIL IT IS! We need community to mourn and to celebrate — we need to support our community in good times and challenging ones. Most of our holidays have both a synagogue and home aspect but even when celebrating at home, we bring in guests!

Every organization has its special events and all reach out to the broader community to join. This coming week, we have the Annual Kosher Chili Cook-off. It is always amazing to see everyone come together — even if you don’t like chili. (Here is a plug — the J is making Camper’s Stew, which is the favorite of camp kids everywhere. PLUS come by for popcorn and cotton candy!)

Passover is around the corner and although it is a home celebration, invite others — it is a great way to grow community. Then on Sunday, April 30, is the Community Israel Independence Day Celebration for Israel’s 75th. This is going to be a very special celebration and we hope to see everyone joining together.

Remember that according to Jewish texts, participation in community events is not an option, but a religious obligation! The sages once discussed whether, when taking care of a communal need, one should stop when it is time to pray. Here is the legal decision: “One who is occupied with one mitzvah is exempt from other mitzvot.” There is even a Midrash that says removing oneself from the community is like destroying the world!

What does this all tell us? Even if you don’t like chili (or popcorn or cotton candy), come to be part of community! And keep coming — every person is needed!

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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