There are many things which I enjoy about my work as a Rabbi, but chief amongst them is definitely the opportunity which I have to be with people for the important moments in their lives. Offering a baby a blessing as she receives her Hebrew name, speaking to a Bar Mitzvah and his family in front of the opened Ark, and standing under the chuppah with a wedding couple are all what I consider to be perks of my job.
I of course enjoy being a part of these events on a personal level, but the real reason for my enjoyment is in seeing the faces of the people involved. For baby blessings, bnei mitzvah and weddings the joy and delight of the occasion is so often etched on the faces of the family who are sharing the moment. We are fortunate that Judaism provides us with a set of rituals with which to mark the important events in our lives and the synagogue provides us with a community in which to celebrate the joyful ones and to provide comfort for the difficult ones.
In the Jewish community over the past couple of months many people have been talking about the Pew Study of Jewish Americans. I will leave it to others to decide whether the findings of the study are positive or negative, hopeful or hopeless (for what it is worth I think there is a real reason to be optimistic, especially as Reform Jews). What is striking is that there are six areas of Jewish practice which over 50% of American Jews still participate in today. In terms of festivals they are attendance at a Seder, some celebration of Chanukah חנוכה, and some observance of the High Holy Days. And the other three are bnei mitzvah, some form of marriage practice, and some form of funeral practice.
This is not to say that everyone is marking these Jewish lifecycle moments in the same way. Today in the American Jewish community people are increasingly personalizing these moments in order to find meaning and significance within them. It is worth remembering that every Jewish ritual was at one point an innovation and something which broke with the pre-existing traditions.
For us as a synagogue the important thing is to be present to share in these moments with you to help move them from being another check box in life’s journey to make them into powerful and transformation Jewish moments in our lives. No baby blessing, bar or bat mitzvah, wedding, or funeral is the same, because each one has to speak to, and be meaningful for, the people involved. There are always similarities and elements which are considered to be a necessary part of the tradition, but there is also flexibility and potential for finding new meanings and new rituals which speak to us today.
If we are to take anything away from the Pew study it is that as an American Jewish community we are proud to be Jewish, but we want to find meaning in our Jewish lives which is relevant for us as 21st century Jews, not as hand-me-downs from the 19th century.
As a synagogue in considering what our mission is, we were clear that one of our primary tasks is to be there with you for those life cycle moments; to celebrate the joyful ones and to help you find comfort in the difficult ones. Being part of a community means being there for each other, and as clergy we look forward to finding meaning together in those moments as we join together on life’s journey.