This weekend, three significant events coincide: the summer solstice, CSK’s annual meeting (tonight beginning at 6pm with a nosh) and Natalie’s and my 21st anniversary (I know, I know, I look old enough for that but she doesn’t!) We often remark that momentous events, both the good kind and otherwise, seem to converge. But is that the truth? Or is it simply a matter of perspective, a matter of where we are standing in our lives at any particular moment? Not that it isn’t mathematically true that on Sunday, the sun will be tilted toward the sun on its most extreme axis, that its been 559 days since CSK’s inception and that as of today, Natalie and I have been married for 183,960 hours. But without stopping to recognize and bask in these moments, none of it matters.
While I am no Helio-physicist, I do appreciate the sun despite the bad rap its gotten these past few decades because of the way we’ve treated our own atmosphere, and while I am deeply in love with my wife, comments relating to her will be reserved for her, and while I am the Rabbi of a dynamically unique Jewish community, if we don’t stop to recognize these things, its as if they don’t exist. Without stopping to ponder and reflect and soak in the rays of recognition, well, then the tree may very well fall, but if no one is there to hear it and experience it and learn from it, who cares?
On that note and in light of the fact that you will probably appreciate reading this address more than my delivering it, “What is this CSK thing that we have created?” In my view, it is a unique kind of Jewish community in the process of creation. I do not believe that we are necessarily creating a new wheel. I do believe however that we are very much like those refugee Jews in Yavne thousands of years ago, who, having escaped the Roman siege of Jerusalem, commited themselves to reimagining what it will mean to be a Jew in the new millennium. And yes, that I believe is what CSK is engaged in.
This is the central element: whereas the paradigm of the 1950’s and 60’s, from which our modern day synagogue was created, can be summed up by JFK”s famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” in the 21st century, things have changed. Today, a synagogue is not a place or a space or an entity to which many Jews and Jewish families automatically feel the need to pay homage – to subvert their minds, hearts and hands to the community’s expectations when they walk in the door. Rather, if the modern day synagogue is to regain its glory and status as “the central address of the Jewish community,” it will be a “galileilean” feat. A Jew’s heart no longer automatically revolves around the community. Instead, our task is to determine how best to revolve our own efforts, the synagogue’s efforts, around the Jew, the Jewish family and those who love them.
Because many of the old paradigms have died. The authoritarian approach to “Jewish containment,” be it through ritual, communal pressure or “grand-parentian” guilt no longer wins the day. We’ve transitioned from a “show-up” culture to a “show me the money” culture. Meaning, Jews, Jewish families and those who love them, WILL and DO set their sites nevertheless on centralized Jewish community but they are now asking a different set of questions which revolve around their own personal journeys as human beings. AND AS LONG AS WE JEWS, JEWISH TRADITION AND JEWISH LEADERSHIP ARE WILLING TO MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE (WHERE YOU ARE), OUR COMMUNITY WILL FLOURISH. The questions of Jewish continuity tied up in whom folks marry, bloodlines or ethnic/cultural literacy are no longer valid. Is Jewish tradition an inspirational, vibrant, dynamic and affirming approach to the human condition? Does it make our lives better? More meaningful? Does it support us rather than berate us when we lose faith? Does it lift us up when we have fallen? Does it provide us with optimism and hope or a cynical displacement of our own heart’s desires?
Tonight, CSK celebrates itself. So far, we have gathered together for more than 60 Shabbats, taught over 75 children, observed the B’nai Mitzvah of 12 boys and girls with just as many on the books, provided High Holy Days to over 1000, inspired close to 300 individual donors including 78 voluntarily contributors to CSK on a monthly/annual basis, engaged in Tikun Olam work at the Houston Food Bank, the Houston Gay Pride Parade, the Hermann Park Conservancy, the Humane Society, Westbury Community Garden, Vita Living, Aishel House, JFS and then some! We have brought Shabbat to homes, to the Rothko Chapel and to the Heights. Our Shabbat and High Holy Day music is truly inspiring as well as eclectic and the Rabbi seems to have a few decent things to share, from time to time! And when in the past month, we have suffered our greatest losses, this brand new CSK community “showed-up” in ways too remarkable to describe.
We are CSK – you and me. Let us continue to build this new kind of old institution. All of us will be the better for it. And so will the world.