The Spirituality of Community

by Rabbi Wendy Spears

Lots of people tell me that they are spiritually and culturally Jewish, but not connected to synagogues. It makes me wonder what this is about. As a Jew, it is so important to me to be a part of a community, and the synagogues are mostly the only shows in town. I ponder about spirituality separate from community. I’m not convinced a person can live a Jewish life separate from community.

I’ve written quite a bit about spirituality lately without really putting forward a definition. So here is my current working definition of spirituality. It is my sense of oneness and belonging with all that exists. According to the Hasidic master Dov Baer of Mezritch, we are all individual waves in the ocean of existence (thanks to my mentor Rabbi Ted Falcon for teaching me this). We often feel as if we are separate entities racing pell-mell toward shore; yet, when we turn around, we see that we are connected to the vastness of the waters. In addition, spirituality is my feeling of awe at beholding the grandeur of the natural world. It is also my feeling of wonder when beholding great works of art, both visual and auditory, and the miracles of modern medicine and technology. But Jewishly, these feelings are rather flat without others with whom to share them.

In the biblical book of Genesis (2:18), we learn that it isn’t good for a person to be alone; each person needs a fitting helper who reflects back the individual’s truth, standing opposite yet lovingly with his/her partner. This Jewish value is deeply a part of me. While other religious and spiritual traditions value extended periods of time that a person should spend alone to gain new spiritual understandings (such as taking a hermitage retreat), this hasn’t been an active aspect of Judaism. Life is with people, including all the messy emotions, thoughts, and physical connections. I learn from the wisdom literature to share good food and good conversation around a table, to love one another, and to do work that makes the world a better place. All activities experienced in the company of others.

Personally, I am most spiritually satisfied when I share important moments with others. Holidays, Sabbath, weddings, funerals, baby welcome ceremonies, study, are all more fun and meaningful to me in community. For me, spirituality, community, and Judaism are all interconnected. In the same way that you can’t pluck a wave from the ocean, you can’t really separate these three from each other. Celebrations and difficulties are shared, so the joys are greater and the challenges are less burdensome. What is your experience?

Rabbi Wendy Spears is a long-time community rabbi in Los Angeles. Find her at
#spirituality #community #Judaism #rabbi #interfaith

WANTED: Pied Piper – Dead or Alive

Pied Piper of Hameln

By Creator:Augustin von Moersperg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

by Rabbi Batsheva Appel
cross-posted on The Table

As we have turned our attention to our young people especially how to engage them in our communities and in Jewish life, repeatedly I have heard well-meaning lay-people and even some Jewish professionals say that the most important thing needed for the program is a “Pied Piper”. My immediate response each time is – no.

Why on earth would we want a Pied Piper? If we look at the story, the Pied Piper is:

  • Someone who lures children away from their parents
  • Someone who is willing to use children as pawns in his revenge on the townspeople for not being paid
  • Someone who treats children like the vermin he is paid to exterminate

Why would we deliberately look for someone just like that to work with our children?

We should instead look for:

  • Someone who can relate to children
  • Someone who is passionate about living a Jewish life and can transmit that
  • Someone who loves building community

If we don’t have anyone like that in our communities, then we should find someone who could fulfill all of these criteria and help cultivate them. We can arrange to have them mentored. We can encourage them to learn more about working with young people and learn more about Judaism. We can pay them appropriately [remember that the Pied Piper stole all of the children in Hameln because they refused to pay him for the work that he had done.]

We don’t need to wait for a Pied Piper to work with our youth. We don’t need to wait for the perfect person either. We do need to find individuals who can work with our young people now, even if we need to help them grow into the role.

Rabbi Batsheva Appel is the Associate Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Tucson, Arizona.