Joy of Small Communities

We pack, box after box of costumes and props, a veritable panorama of Egypt into our RV and I marvel at the irony of us carrying with us the imagery of Mitzrayim in our own veritable mobile Sukkah.  The Rabbi and his family were tired, up late the night before to prepare this experience for the children and families of the community, a kind of interactive Passover pageant of sorts.  It had been a big hit, but there were a lot of things that needed to be moved from the Chabad house back to the Rabbi’s house and their vehicles were filled up and there weren’t many strong arms to carry anything heavy.  We were moved to help.

Much as the Hebrews were moved to help in last week’s Parsha to build the Mishkan.  They donated their valuables and treasures until Moses had to tell them to stop.  Then, they all came together to do the work of building the Mishkan, the women spinning and weaving and the men hauling and carrying.  They were eager to participate, perhaps due to the sin of the golden calf previous, but maybe just because it feels good to give.  It feels good to be involved.  This really is the stuff that builds a community.

In small communities, which are the Jewish communities I’m most familiar with, every person counts.  A single man can make the difference between a Shabbat service with a minyan or without.  A single family coming or going can make a big difference.  And, anything the community puts on or does is a major group effort, even in Chabad communities, where most of the decisions are made by the Shluchim.  They still need the support and help of many people to help them achieve their vision.

It’s important for conversion candidates to show a commitment to the community, to pitching in and helping out, supporting their Jewish community both financially and with their time.  I think this is important because it shows that we realize that we’re in this together and that joining the Jewish faith also means throwing your lot in with the Jewish people.  It shows that it’s important to us to be contributing members of the community and it also helps bond newcomers to that community.

In small communities, there is a lot of communal effort.  We work together to figure out which store has which kosher product for the best price.  We work together to try to network and find people jobs who need them or services at a fair price.  We bring meals to those who need them and involve ourselves in the happiest and saddest times of community member’s lives.  On Shabbat, there was a bar mitzvah and the community welcomed guests unfamiliar with Orthodox Judaism or maybe even any Judaism.  We sat, sprinkled among them, davening and trying to seem friendly and welcoming.  On Sunday, it was a time to lift and carry and move and clean to help out.  Today, my husband tries to help someone else with a dead car battery in between his work and errands.

And it feels good.  It feels like belonging, being needed.  In smaller communities, even if you can’t donate thousands of dollars to help, you can still contribute in ways that are important and vital.  Sadly, it also means that when anyone leaves, they leave a void that is difficult to fill.  A family we have grown close to and looked up to is leaving the community for job reasons and the entire community mourns.  Losing the father of the family means losing one of the few men who can easily step in as Gabbai at a moment’s notice and a consistently attending member of the minyan.  Losing the mother means losing one of the few observant women who isn’t a Chabad Rebbetzin, a source of inspiration for many.  Losing the children means 5 fewer children in the Hebrew school program, which in a small community…is a big loss.

Every Jew is essential, but I think it’s easier to really feel that in a small community.  Our joy at a bar mitzvah or other simcha is magnified, but so also is our sadness at losing community members through their passing or moving.

In the meantime, though, we unpacked the river nile and the wild beasts from our RV and into the Rabbi’s garage and rode home content and looking forward to next Shabbat, our first Shabbat in the RV and all the adventures ahead.

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