Where Do We Go to Find Community? By Bob Braitman

shapeimage_42.jpgI just finished listening to the podcast of a wonderful sermon given by my friend and teacher Rabbi Sharon Brous. Starting with the theme of loneliness, Rabbi Brous invoked texts both ancient and modern that demonstrated the key role that community plays in our lives. It is through community that we offer and receive support when it is needed. Using the Mourner’s Kaddish as an example, Rabbi Brous explored the power of the simple “amen” as a sign of community support. Indeed, the first “amen” is recited by the community even before the mourner has a chance to complete the first sentence!

I was moved and inspired by this important lesson. Yet at the same time as I thought about community, I wondered if the central community in our lives is still our kehillah; our synagogue. I realize that this may be true for most readers of this column because you are active in your Men’s Club or synagogue. Yet take a look around you and ask yourself-“where do your friends go to seek community?” I daresay that the synagogue and our extraordinary traditions and liturgy may not be the top of their list.

Why is that?

How can we, as men and leaders challenge the disappearance of this sense of community? How can we make the sanctuary a place where those who are in pain turn for support?

Rabbi Brous cited a Mishnah that described the path that pilgrims took as they visited the Temple in Jerusalem. Everyone entered and departed through the same doorway.  Virtually all turned to the right as they made their way through the courtyard. Yet those who were hurting turned to the left. This way they needed to come face to face with fellow Jews who then would offer support and comfort.

As we look to enhance the sense of community, I look to you, the readers of Mentschen for ideas that will return our “Temples” back to a central place in our lives. A place of joy, a place of comfort and peace. A place where we are ALL there to say “amen”.

What would it take to enhance our community of prayer?


Filed under Heartfelt Judaism

9 responses to “Where Do We Go to Find Community? By Bob Braitman

  1. harvey braunstein


    As I was about to comment, I noticed that there were 3 related Mentschen articles – two by a dear friend, Art Spar, and one by (me).

    You are indeed the Energizer Bunny of Mentschen. You keep the home fires burning and we should all be grateful.

    As I was driving to drop off some papers this afternoon, I was listening to NPR and heard a story on suicide.
    Part of the story dealt with the medieval church’s punishment (eternal, of course) for those who took what someone else called a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    Nobody knew then about mental illness and the increasingly loud voices that thrum through the brain and never leave.

    Rabbis and synagogue elders refused to allow these victims by their own hands to be buried in Jewish cemetaries. A practice that some encourage to this day.

    When we talk about Kehila, is it only for the purpose of prayer, hebrew school and dancing ?

    Or do we come together as a community to talk about the unspeakable, discuss it take some form of community action as Christian organizations and secular organizations do today.

    When I spoke with my own rabbi several years ago about creating programs to recognize teen bullying and providing comfort and a sharing of pain in an enclosed group within the synagogue, you could have heard a pin drop.
    And yet a high school footbal coach had done just this; and his work was picked up by PBS TV. And that segment hit the internet.

    I went further and found someone who could recognize the symptoms of potential suicide and communicate them to someone who could take positive action.
    And that never went anywhere either.

    There is a big difference between the Kehila of the USCJ, that propagandistic word that is supposed to change us simply by its usage.
    There a big difference to changing the name we use for community and what we actually do about making it so.

    We are community only if we find that which is relevant to the better well-being of us all and then do those things which pull us together.

    And that goes far beyond better davening.
    Once their children are b’nai mitzvahed, people will leave the synagogue of their original choices if and when they find their personal selves unfulfilled.

    Synagogue today is not the shtetl molded place of our ancestors.
    It is the place where we can either choose to go to or choose to ignore.

    And the reality that an increasing number of Jewish Families are choosing to ignore it is testimony to the reality that while synagogue speaks of the word Kehila, it does precious little to make that word a reality of the heart.

    harvey braunstein
    larchmont, ny

  2. Mack Rosenbaum

    Every Shabbat morning I join in singing with my choir community on the bimah of B’nai Torah in Boca Raton, Florida. A few years ago, after a Shacharis service in our chapel, two Cantors asked me to sing with them and others. Flattered, I agreed to spend Tuesday evenings in rehearsals. Our 20 person choir has become my community within my Shul community. We have become close friends and supporters of each other. Currently, an elderly tenor is in the hospital. We regularly visit him and report his progress to the others. Jewish learning through classes, lectures, and sermons has always been a favorite of mine. But the emotional high of leading congregants in musical prayer tops them all. Three Mens Club members are basses in our choir as well as me. Music makes community. Mack Rosenbaum

  3. Bob Braitman

    Thanks to Mack and Harvey for getting the ball rolling on this discussion.

    Mack, I think that you hit on something when you demonstrate that there can be “communities with communities” like the choir at B’nai Torah. Others can be havurot, or indeed the men’s club itself.

    Harvey, I use the work “kehillah” in it’s best sense-that of community. I am trying to find ways to reverse the trend of dropping out of community when the children are out of school. Indeed, I would think that there is even more need to be part of community at that time!

    I still believe that the erosion of a regular community of prayer is both symptomatic of the problem and in its reversal may find some (but not all) of the solution.

    What do others think?

    • Stu Kaplan

      Bob (and others),
      If you haven’t yet read the article “Conservative Judaism: A Requiem” by Daniel Gordis in this winters Jewish Review of Books (p9., vol 4 no. 4) then I suggest that you do. Perhaps we have to approach this from another perspective.

      • Stu,

        I’ve read the Gordis article. There is a lot to discuss in that article but perhaps another time. However, one of his points is that the fact that our movement has been expecting less of our membership has led to current problems.
        One of the important things that we should expect is community. If in fact the heart of a synagogue community is the sanctuary, then we need to find ways for our membership to choose to “opt-in” when it comes to being part of a prayer community. We have challenges to succeed. How can we proceed o the right path?

    • In Bob’s original posting, he brings up one of the most important reasons for creating a Jewish community — comforting the mourner. But one of the disturbing trends since I was a teenager in the late 60’s has been the difficulty for a majority of Conservative congregations — large and small — to support a daily minyan or even get enough people to hold a Yizkor service. It appears that there has not been enough discussion by parents to their children about our responsibility to each other as Jews. My own parents made sure my brother and I understood our expected role in our Jewish lives.

      • Anonymous

        I agree that the sense of obligation one for another has not been imbued into the current generation. Not only for attending services to ensure a minyan but simply to stepping up and joining a Jewish community at all!

        I wonder too, if discomfort with the liturgy or the experience of being in the sanctuary plays a role in this difficulty.

  4. Elliot Burns

    Dear Bob…You are right on…Much thanks for your introspection..

  5. Art Spar


    Community is among the most important ingredients to a successful life. To build community, people need interaction. Hearing Men’s Voices is a good example. So is communal study. So is volunteerism. As long as the prayer service is the central activity of a synagogue community, and as long as talking with each other is shunned during prayer, the synagogue is working against itself in building community.


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