by Peter Weidhorn
Here in the Northeast, where I live, it’s cold and snowy. I look outside and I wonder whether I will have to shovel snow or if my car will start as the temperature once again plummets below freezing. But then I look at the calendar and I’m reminded that Tu Bish’vat – our Jewish celebration of rebirth and new growth – is right around the corner.
There are those who would say that Tu Bish’vat loses some of its meaning in much of North America during the cold winter months. I believe, though, that this holiday – particularly this year – is vitally important during this season of long nights and short days. It reminds us that winter’s cold will not last and that, just when life seems to be at its gloomiest, winter’s darkness indeed holds the seed of renewal.
Tu Bish’vat holds the promise of hope not just for individuals but for communal institutions as well. Yes, times have been tough; yes, there have been losses and considerable pain. But, as has happened so often throughout Jewish history, the dark times have made us stronger, as our synagogues, now more than ever, are helping their members find meaning, solace and comfort in their daily lives. And so Tu Bish’vat is a time for congregations to help their members – and their leaders – embrace spring’s expectation and promise.
Here at the Union for Reform Judaism, we confronted the same difficulties this year as everyone else in the Jewish communal world, yet we remain committed to our core mission and function – providing services to our more than 900 congregations across North America. That’s a formidable task even in good times, and yet, we know these are not the best of times. Faced with this unpleasant reality, we made the difficult decision to reorganize and restructure the Union. We are emerging from that effort in a new, streamlined, and more effective body, but with the same heart and soul.
During these dark days of winter, we have worked hard to harness the power and the reach of technology and put it into service for our congregations. We have set our best people to the task of consolidating our congregational services, while at the same time extending the reach of our best practices. We have converted our vast print resources into electronic web versions so that they are available to everyone regardless of time or location. And we’ve put considerable resources and effort into helping our congregations to do the same – supporting them as they build websites and learn to use blogs and social media effectively – while also reaching out to younger Jews, for whom this new way of building community is not only the present, but the future as well.
This brings us face to face with the very basic issue of collective responsibility, the natural outgrowth of community. After all, what is community if not concern for and relationships with your fellow human beings, especially those with whom you share a rich and meaningful history? As Jews, our community spreads beyond the ordinary everyday populations with which we interact, allowing us to feel just as connected with synagogues and Jews in Los Angeles and Ottawa as we do with congregations in Russia and Tunisia. This puts the Jewish community in the unique position of being globally connected, truly part of the same group – Klal Yisrael. If we all can agree that we have a collective responsibility to care for one another, it remains quite another matter to come to an agreement about its nature and its form; indeed, that is a task that goes beyond any single organization. But in these times of turmoil, the Jewish community is compelled to reach into our shared past to produce the solution.
Chaverim, whether you are a professional, a lay leader or simply a devoted supporter of a beloved organization, I beg you to look at the calendar too. Spring is around the corner; let’s all look to God’s message of new growth and move forward.
Peter Weidhorn is Chairman of the Board of the Union for Reform Judaism and a congregant at Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, N.J.