I had just moved to Boston, and I had exactly enough money in my bank account to cover one month’s rent, plus ramen and coffee. The only person I knew on the entire East Coast was my ex fiance, and he wasn’t Jewish. It was early September, and I had only three weeks to figure out High Holy Day plans. I was on the verge of despair.
It’s not about not having a new outfit for the new year. It’s not about not being able to give very much for the annual appeal. It’s not even about being worried you won’t be able to renew membership at your congregation for lack of funds.
It’s about not thinking you belong. It’s about not having a congregation or minyan at all, and feeling disconnected to Jewish community as a whole. It’s about not having enough money for a High Holy Day ticket, and not knowing who to talk to to get one at a discount.
For many Jews involved in Jewish community, this is unfathomable. You grew up in a community, you went to youth group, you did Hillel, you’re connected with a shul as an adult, and the cycle will repeat itself with your kids. How does one get so distant, so lost?
There are actually quite a few ways you can find yourself in the position of being a disconnected Jew. Perhaps you found yourself having a profound political disagreement with your community. Perhaps your parents drifted away from being part of Jewish community. Perhaps you moved to the other side of the country for a job or a school or a partner, as I did. (And before you wonder why someone living far from family doesn’t just call their parents for money, remember that not everyone has that privilege. Some facts about my own circumstances–my father had died one year prior to my moving to Boston, and it was 2008. Lack of money is a real thing, even in the Jewish community.)
Many people find themselves in situations like mine, feeling distant from Jewish community yet having a strong need to go to High Holy Day services.
So what do we do?
Well, “we,” the people connected to Jewish community, have an obligation to keep an ear out for any friends or coworkers who might need High Holy Day plans. More than that, we have to be cognizant that there are Jews out there who aren’t connected to Jewish community and who don’t have money to buy tickets. Being connected to Jewish community is a privilege. No matter how friendly our communities are, they can seem imposing to newcomers who don’t know us yet. We need to be welcoming in ways that let disconnected Jews know that they can find a home with us.
I hope one day someone invents an app or a website that gains widespread popularity where Jewish people anywhere in the world can enter their names and find a way to get to services near them. But until that technology is in wide use, we’ll just have to be welcoming in old fashioned ways–through word of mouth and shul websites.
And “we” the disconnected Jews–I am no longer among your number, as I’m now a rebbetzin in a big loving shul here in Boston. However, I say “we” because I’ve spent many years as an outsider and a newcomer, and that feeling of being adrift and yearning for connection is an important part of my heart to this day. We need to keep being persistent in our efforts to connect. We need to keep listening for opportunities, and we need to keep showing up even when we feel shy. Eventually it works, and we find ourselves brought in to the loving warmth of the innermost circles, our efforts rewarded with the sweetest challah and honey you’ve ever tasted.
May we all widen our communities this year and deepen our connections within them. Shana Tova, friends.
Extra thanks to Rabbi Victor at Nehar Shalom for taking me in when I came to Boston, especially that first year.