A Strong Community

TE hat and shirtCommunity is an interesting word. I encounter it in many different places, and often I find myself feeling that the word is overused, if not misused. A quick search provides the following two main descriptions for community: 1) a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common, and 2) a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 17b) provides a list of 10 things it considers essential for the proper Jewish life to happen: a court empowered to punish the guilty; a communal tzedakah fund, monies for which are collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a mikveh (ritual bath); sufficient bathroom facilities; a doctor; a blood letter [i.e. a popular healer]; a scribe; a butcher; and a Torah teacher for children. Luckily for us, sufficient bathroom facilities are not really much of an issue in the developed world – although it is easy to see why this was an important item on the list, since it directly relates to public safety and health! Most of the elements required for a healthy Jewish community remain very much true to this day, even though some of the elements (such as courts) are really in the hands of the State.

Synagogue is at the heart of our Temple Emanuel community, as is our Hebrew school. Tzedakah is crucially important, and we teach our children from a very young age to care about the world at large and about our local community through regular acts of tzedakah. On a wider scale, we support Jewish Family Services and the incredibly important work they do every day in our local community. And then, of course, there’s the JCC which offers not only multiple opportunities to look after one’s body, but also numerous cultural and educational programs all throughout the year. It is a place where we often meet and intersect with other groups in our New Haven Jewish community, where we come together to mark Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut, to celebrate Israel – this list can go on for quite some time.

As many of you know, the JCC suffered a serious fire in December. Luckily, no one in the building at the time was hurt, and the two firefighters who suffered some smoke inhalation have since fully recovered. The great many JCC and Jewish Federation programs have been displaced, and we have stepped up, together with other local synagogues and agencies, to open our doors to various programs, classes, meetings, a weekly bridge game, and even a Zumba class! People often say that at the time of crisis you can learn a thing or two about individuals, and the same is true about communities. I must say, watching the Greater New Haven Jewish community come together to support the JCC has been remarkable. I was also very moved to learn that great number of non-Jewish local agencies and organizations reached out and offered help, something that cannot be underestimated.

It will take months for the aftermath of the fire to be sorted – sadly, big parts of the building sustained serious smoke and water damage. Anyone who has experienced a fire or a flood knows just how devastating it can be. But knowing that you have a widespread community ready to offer help and support can make a huge difference. I sure am proud of our community every day, and I am glad that the crisis only reinforced my feelings of pride.

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