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Envisioning a Village

By Guy Felixbrodt | Issue Date: October 2009

BJ Sanctuary. Photo: Tom ZubackIn the midst of Yamim Nora’im, I was trying to imagine how this year could be different—how, at this high point of the Holy Days, as if standing on a spiritual pinnacle scoping out the “mountains” (and, of course, the “valleys”) ahead, I could foresee what is to come on my journey this year.

I invite you to follow the imaginary journey I took with its visions and unexpected realizations.

Imagine a village of thousands of people who are bright, intelligent, devoted, and who have a common sense of purpose in their tribal existence.

Imagine hundreds of groups whose members focus on what they love to do, exploring the endless variety of their interests (art, music, poetry, spiritual quest, child rearing, the environment, commerce, writing, movies, traveling, gardening, and so many more). Imagine these individuals socializing comfortably with others with no need for pretense and always seeking meaning in their exploration.

Imagine a huge living room alive with the spirit of humans being together, being human (humane), and becoming better human beings together.

Imagine communication that is uplifting, that helps one to really see and that does not concern itself with business or daily life.

Imagine a place where it is warm on the inside when it is cold and lonely outside, where one is welcomed and not judged by appearance, age, or income, but appreciated for being a child of G-d, a fellow human being living through another challenging day, while seeking to pursue a meaningful life and to bring hope to others.

NOW YOU CAN STOP IMAGINING!

I suddenly realized that our BJ community (B’nai Jeshurun—the children of the upright, or Israel) is that imaginary village made real, and that now is the time to make our beautiful and vibrant community life even more devoted, stimulating, sincere, welcoming, uplifting, and hopeful.

BJ’s 4,000 members have many talents and virtues, and much ruah, and together form a special shared identity.

It is true that our “village” is quite diverse and spread out geographically. But when we get together to celebrate holidays, s’mahot, and the lives of members who have passed on, we are one in spirit and one in fellowship. We can now supplement the face-to-face connections with new virtual tools.

Our community is a fertile ground for “trees of knowledge” to start growing and blooming in small gatherings, events, and fellowship groups, which we call havurot.

The homes of most BJ members are not 5,000 square feet with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, or a huge living room. But where there’s room in the heart there is room even in a one-bedroom apartment for a few people to gather and to get to know other members of this fascinating group. This can be done by welcoming guests for a dinner or for a place to stay for a night or two (hakhnasat orhim), or through hosting a teaching or a living-room conversation about a current social need in our midst.

Community can be strengthened by joining others one morning a week to start the day with some prayers, by greeting members and guests at services, by doing a mitzvah for another member, by initiating an event for a holiday or a needy cause,– or simply by having Shabbat dinner together. I, you, we, can make BJ better.

If each BJ member did only one of these or the many other things that make us a community, there would be a daily stream of new and stronger connections among us this year. If some members acted in this way every week (as many members already do), and if these acts inspired others … can you imagine?

The ideal village we seek is not so much “out there” as “in here.” Appropriately, this is reflected in BJ’s name. In Hebrew, bet and yud are the initials for B’nai Jeshurun and form the word “be’e,” which means “in me.” BJ is truly in each of us.

If you are inspired by this vision, it is within you to make it a reality. If you have ideas about what you would like to see happen in this community, feel free to contact me and we can join forces to make them a reality here and now.