Searching for Community and a Sense of Place

By Michael Brown

Growing up, the High Holy Day services that I attended took place in people’s backyards, in rented rec rooms, and in Unitarian Churches. I belonged to a community that didn’t have a physical home — at least not a traditional prayer space — and certainly not one big enough to fit all its members for High Holy Day services.

So, the services were exceedingly about community and ritual. If someone walked into my community’s services from a more traditional background, they may have been more likely to think they had wandered into a political rally than a High Holy Day service. But the rituals themselves, and the sense of Judaism being about community and putting spirituality into action, have informed every bit of my Jewish identity and experience today.

Before I visited Israel for the first time, my principal sense of Jewish identity was that these very rituals had been preserved, maintained, passed down; for thousands of years. The notion of being part of that incredible history, that accomplishment of endurance and meaning, was powerful and moving. Another feeling that strikes me today is how Jews all over the world are practicing many of the very same rituals at the very same time. That these rituals, especially at the High Holy Days — including the slightly off-kilter variations that my childhood community practiced — connect us all, to each other and to a shared identity. When I feel unmoored, uncertain, anxious, there is great comfort in feeling part of something larger than myself, in believing in a community and identify and legacy that holds me responsible for continuing that legacy but also gives me the space to be the driver of my own self. That community and ritual can accomplish this much depth and meaning is extraordinary.


About Michael Brown

Michael is currently the Vice President of United Hatzalah of Israel, as well as the Chair of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, and recently joined the Board at BJ. Michael also founded the Save a Child’s Heart Young Leadership Group, for which he was recognized as a 30 Under 30 by the Jewish Week.