“Al tifrosh min hatzibur,” (Don’t distance yourself from the community) Avot 2:5

By Rabbi Marcelo R. Bronstein | Issue Date: December 2009

This is one of the most important teachings of Hillel the Elder in Pirkei Avot, the tractate of our Fathers. We at BJ have undertaken many initiatives during our existence to honor this mandate: to create a more intimate community.

Last year we conducted an extensive Community Building Initiative, reaching out to members through house meetings, surveys, and individual conversations. Through this, BJ learned that members are looking for small group opportunities to create community and meet other members by demographics and interests, making our community feel more cohesive and connected on a deeper level.

A few initiatives came out of these house meetings. One of them is BJ salons—building on the importance of reaching members where they live and creating small, intimate groups, I have chosen this year to facilitate eight beit midrash salons of two sessions each (16 gatherings) instead of teaching traditional limud classes. The salons have the intention of bringing the social action/social justice BJ agenda to our living rooms; I have been working very closely with a few Panim el Panim volunteers to unfold these teachings. Another goal of the salons is to foster strong community among smaller groups by engaging in discussions based on classical texts with fellow BJ congregants. Gathering in members’ homes, we have held four salons so far.

In October, Judy and Howard Spivak hosted salons for members who had attended the BJ Family Trip to Israel in 2006. We focused on the meaning of “home” for us and how to relate to the issues of housing and homelessness.

In November, Susan and Stephen Olderman hosted salons for our downtown members. Those who attended shared thoughts about what “equality” meant to them. Through conversation and text study, we learned how people personalize the word “equal,” and we paid special attention to marriage equality.

Throughout the year, salons will be available to other clusters: members who live on the east side; Brooklyn members; parents of young children; Hebrew School parents; members who joined one-to-three years ago; and members who joined prior to 1990.

Another initiative to include less-involved members is BJ B’Yahad—BJ Together. A volunteer task force developed this program to reach out to members who want to learn more about the variety of volunteer opportunities BJ has to offer.

Groups, called k’vutzot, are participating in three informational, educational—and most of all fun—programs this winter, including a home-hosted Shabbat dinner. We’re happy to reach out to the target audience of members who have been coming to BJ for many years and want to learn how to get further connected to our committees, events, classes, and each other.

Through the salons and BJ B’Yahad, we will be able to embrace and engage members and help us become a more inclusive, cohesive B’nai Jeshurun.

“Al tifrosh min hatzibur”: don’t go too far, stay in touch. It takes an effort to do that, to be connected, to be part of and not apart from, and when we do so, we become better individuals and a better, stronger community.