A beautiful banner rests outside my new office: "Darkeinu, The Path Forward. Celebrating the Future of Synagogue Life." Darkeinu literally means 'our path.' My path through synagogue life, Jewish education and day school leadership, and communal participation has led me to Synagogue Council. I could not be more excited that my path has now merged with the Synagogue Council path.
My friend and rabbi, Rabbi Harold Kushner, remarked that "Judaism sees itself, first and foremost, as a community, and only secondarily as a theological system. We don't have to believe the same things, we don't have to practice the same things, we don't have to agree on anything except that we feel like members of a family."
Recently our son was asked about the range of observance among our four (adult) children. He replied, "from bacon to black hat!". Our family represents remarkable pluralism: one is an active member of a Haredi community, another lives on a religious settlement in Israel, for the third, Orthodoxy is the Judaism that he does not practice (because, in his words, he likes to know what the rules are even if he doesn't always follow them) and the fourth, a strongly identifying Jew, hasn't found a place for himself yet within a community of practice and yes, he enjoys his bacon! Every day, we continue to communicate, to learn, to negotiate and to compromise in order to spend time together while respecting each other's belief and practice whether or not we agree. There have been more than a few tears, but we are a family and since being together is a shared goal, the tears may represent the foundation of love.
The greatest compliment I ever received was from my husband's uncle. He said, "people come here [our home] to get warm." I would like to think that synagogues and congregations are also places where people come to get warm. I hope that, like a home, synagogues are places of comfort, safety and belonging. I also hope that the synagogue is the place that both challenges and empowers us to be our best selves. Last year, I completed a two-year fellowship through JTS along with Jewish educators from across the country representing varied Jewish practice and belief. Together, we learned, discussed and theorized the role of American Jewish education and the synagogue in the 21st century. Ultimately, a common theme evolved: providing conditions in which people may flourish or thrive.
As we embark on a new decade, I wonder what the role of synagogues and congregations will be in the lives of American Jews? How will synagogues support Jews in their quest to flourish? How will congregations provide Jews with safety and security in an era of growing antisemitism? How will synagogues cope with political discord within their walls while being true to their core values? How will synagogues and congregations attract millennials and meet their needs? How will congregations educate the next generation? How do minyanim, Moishe Houses and other kehilot fit into this picture? Some of these questions are timeless. Some relate to some congregations and not to others. And some of these questions are related to current world events. I am thrilled and humbled to be part of the conversation and to support the future of our Massachusetts Jewish community through the vital work at Synagogue Council.
I look forward to connecting with each of you, hearing your stories, and working with you to support our congregations.
Gretchen Marks Brandt, Associate Director