She was given to me by two of my congregants after Yom Kippur ended.
“She looks just like you!” he said.
“We couldn’t resist,” she added.
Indeed, the first thing I noticed about Little Shulamit (besides the Torah scroll she held in her arms) was the fact that she was clearly either smiling a really huge grin or singing her heart out.
That would be me, at Kabbalat Shabbat services. Or at Religious School, dancing around with our kids. Or at… any number of congregational settings where the thing I most feel and most need is joy.
Perhaps this is what others need most, too? Last Friday, I watched a guest at our service dance with her little girl to a sweet and rousing rendition of Oseh Shalom. She clearly longed for the shalom she was dancing for. Her daughter felt as much, I suspect.
And then, this past Sunday, our newest member at Temple Or Olam sent me a note she had written to her adult children.
“We just returned from Friday services,” she told them. “Like nothing either of us have ever experienced – or imagined occurring – in a synagogue! It was like being at a wedding: food, dancing and singing… We smiled, laughed and sang throughout! The spirit of goodness, sharing and love was intoxicating. I am so glad I found this place.”
Is it possible to make an entire congregation drunk on kindness and goodness?
I could wish for such inebriation. I long for us to remember our vows at Yom Kippur to do better in the coming year, to listen and to forgive, to love.
Every time new members join Temple Or Olam, I take some time to speak to them personally about congregational life. It is hard work to maintain a community, to work with different personalities, to keep the spiritual flames alive while accomplishing the more mundane tasks that are so necessary to each get-together, each program, each communal moment.
I ask new congregants to remember, if they are hurt or disturbed by something I have done, to come to me, to speak with me or “softly and soon.” Go directly to those you might be having any kind of miscommunication with, I ask. Trust them to be able to listen and respond just as you would – with love, with hope, with conviction in the essential goodness and kind intentions of all parties.
Joining a congregation is easy. Staying with one is hard.
Congregations are made of fallible human beings. New congregants who believe (not infrequently) that I am their ideal rabbi will find out in no time that I am just as human as they are.
We all make mistakes and they are often serious.
But most mistakes are also less grievous than they may seem, and much more forgivable than we want to admit. It is, after all, mostly our pride that makes it so difficult for us to forgive others when we feel hurt.
So here, right on my desk, stands my little Shulamit figurine. She is innocent and happy and she loves her Torah.
I want to be like my little figurine: Singing my heart’s hopes to the Holy One of Blessing, wrapping the Torah to me, body and soul.
I want to be just like her.