By Andi Rosenthal
In this season of redemption, synagogues have traditionally been a place to connect with the divine spark, to locate ourselves on the compass of community, and to experience the varying emotions of the Jewish lifecycle. In recent months, however, our synagogues have become a communal gathering space for spiritual and moral recharging. In the wake of turmoil and polarization in our communities, our congregations are experiencing a reawakening of purpose and meaning.
Consider the festival of Pesach, and its commandment to see oneself as if one is experiencing the exodus from Egypt. Who among us has not felt constrained by the narrow places imbued with our own sense of helplessness? As our compassion and empathy, is stretched ever more thinly by our personal and professional obligations, and our increasing worry about the state of the world, seeming ever more in conflict with itself and the forces of a gathering disquietude, synagogues can serve as the antidote to this sense of ever-depleting spiritual resources.
As our ancestors departed the narrow places in which they experienced slavery and a sense of physical and spiritual exhaustion, their journey towards freedom, though arduous and complicated, imbued in them a sense of renewal. Their construction of the mishkan, the holy tabernacle, was the source of their solace and the driving force of their identity as a new nation under G-d. As they became one people, united in one purpose, their situation radically shifted. Although there were hardships, the presence of that holy gathering space in the wilderness soothed once-enslaved spirits, and kindled a renewed sense of empathy. If the Holy One, upon hearing our cries, could provide miracles and marvels for a tired people in the desert, so too, could the Jewish people find care and compassion for one another.
And so it is with our holy congregations. Inside our sanctuaries we find the love and empathy we so deeply need to thrive in these times. The Talmud teaches us that on Shabbat, we receive an “additional soul” that enables us to pause to consider the aspects within us of intellect, love, and renewal. May our synagogues continue to provide this refuge of the heart and spirit and may we, in this season of redemption, together with our spiritual and congregational families, be renewed for compassion, empathy and peace.
Andi Rosenthal is regional manager for SYNERGY at UJA-Federation of New York. Through SYNERGY, UJA is committed to helping synagogues thrive. Andi is also the published author of The Bookseller’s Sonnets.