Posted April 23rd, 2015 by Or Shalom London with No Comments
Written and delivered by Janice Gorodzinsky for Sisterhood Shabbat
While many shudder at the thought of writing and giving a sermon, I want to tell you that it can be an amazing opportunity for self-directed learning. In the past weeks since confirming the participants for our annual Sisterhood Shabbat service, I have been focused (and at times totally pre-occupied) on the task of composing a sermon for this important gathering of the women of Congregation or Shalom and their families.
The first challenge was to choose a topic. Rabbi Clark had fortunately agreed to address the concepts presented in this week’s Parshah in her D’Var Torah, leaving me with the freedom to speak about almost any area of Jewish life holding meaning for our Sisterhood members. Dipping into the deep well of issues that face contemporary Jewish women, the possibilities were endless. As I considered the diverse membership of our congregation, it became so difficult to find a common denominator…..a topic that would resonate with everyone present this morning.
I tried to imagine who would be in attendance. Since I have belonged to Or Shalom since 1979, I can close my eyes, visualize members sitting in their seats, the composition of each section. Sadly, over the years, some seats have been left vacant, those where, for example, Haim and Muriel Ginsberg sat, or the row that was filled with the founding members of Sisterhood, the women who went to the hairdresser every Friday and came to shul every Saturday. Fortunately their seats are now filled with new faces and families but I must accept, many of those present today, may not know anything about the important role Haim and Muriel, for example, played in the growth of Or Shalom.
Each of us has a story and a reason to be here this morning. Whether it is due to a sense of obligation to attend because Rachelle Chodirker phoned and offered you an honour, or because she called for the first time and it feels great, or your child is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and you’ve been coming every week. Maybe you got back from Florida just before Pesach and this is a good opportunity to connect with friends. What matters is that we are all here.
Some of you, like the Chernicks, Marcus’ and Zaifmans, have been at Or Shalom since you were children. Others came in the exodus from Montreal, others joined to secure a Jewish education for their children. Maybe you sought out a place to explore your Jewish self as an adult. Some came to say Kaddish and stayed, others joined because we have a wonderful Rabbi. Whatever brought you here, led to the creation of relationships.
Deepening those relationships and fostering Jewish connectedness will sustain our congregation and help us survive in the face of challenging economics and shifting demographics. And that’s my topic …..deepening relationships and building meaningful connections at Or Shalom.
There are many who have raised their children at the Day School, celebrated B’Nai Mitzvah, danced at weddings and attended baby namings here at Or Shalom. For those of you who came because of your children but are now empty-nesters, there is the great challenge to recognize the changes within your own life and how to rebuild connections to the congregation that will now feed your soul. It is not necessarily the synagogue community that has changed. Our life experiences have changed us and the challenge is to find ways to connect with the spiritual, emotional and social needs of our members in order to create a congregational family again.
Dr. Ron Wolfson recently wrote a book, Relational Judaism, Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community. He starts off by saying, “People will come to synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish Federations, and other Jewish organizations for programs, but they will stay for relationships.” If, we as a congregation create programs without considering how the program will create deeper connections to each other, then we will miss the boat. People will come in for the program, leave having said, ‘that was nice’ and find no lasting impact. He puts his cards on the table and says, “It’s not about programs. It’s not about marketing. It’s not about branding, labels, logos, clever titles, websites, or smartphone apps. It’s not even about institutions. It’s about relationships.” Through relationships the Jewish community has thrived and through relationships the Jewish community will survive in the future.
Ellen Rosen will tell you that the Or Shalom musical she produced last year exceeded her expectations for community-building. Many people participated in the musical when their previous involvement in synagogue activities had been minimal or even non-existent. The relationships that developed among the cast and crew are long-lasting and will always be remembered. Yes, it was a very successful program and raised funds for our synagogue but the true measure of its success were the obvious connections so many people made while working on this joint venture.
Recently, Shelley Kaufman spear-headed a very enjoyable Purim celebration, involving a wide cross-section of the congregation. Her cohort is very, very busy with parenting and careers but she had a way of involving members that made them feel included and valued. There were no guilt trips, just the promise of a deep sense of satisfaction in organizing such a positive experience for children of all ages.
Anyone involved with the Rabbi in the community garden project will tell you that the experience of planting, weeding and gathering the food that was produced last season was truly a relationship-building project, a metaphor for the hard work of keeping something living healthy and productive.
We see from demographic studies that there is a great decline of participation in and affiliation with Jewish institutions and synagogues. Some say that it is because of the recent economic crisis and believe that “when the economy improves, campaigns will be more successful, and membership levels will come back.” But Ron Wolfson suggests that no, there are too many other factors involved: “lower birthrates, longer young adulthood, delayed marriage, intermarriage, and an exodus of aging baby boomers from synagogues and other groups.” Other studies confirm this. But they suggest that instead of calling those who are not connected to a synagogue, unaffiliated, they should be called, uninspired. And where is the inspiration? It comes from each of us.
When someone comes to Or Shalom for the first time or the first time in a long time, we need to make them feel welcomed and embraced. It’s not easy to walk into a new place not knowing anyone and if a connection is not made immediately, they will have just come for a service or program and will see no reason to return. It is up to every single one of us to reach out to those who walk through the doors. And if you’re not sure if someone has been here before or not, it’s better to overwelcome than not welcome at all.
While it is amazing to see everyone here this morning, it’s hard to develop deep meaningful relationship with everyone at one time. The relationships need to be built one at a time and should be developed in a deep rich manner. While we call ourselves a congregational family, we need to know each other’s stories and what inspires one another. We need to know the challenges that members face and how we can help.
A few months ago, it was necessary for the Rabbi and the Ritual Committee to address the ever-growing list of names on our Misha Berach list. What does this say about our congregation? The obvious answer is that a lot of our members need our prayers. As well, it says that our members care about those facing illness and want to be supportive. Reaching out to those on the Misha Berach list is an act of caring that is so simple and easy to demonstrate. A card, a phone message left on voice mail, a quick ‘thinking of you,’ e-mail reminds families that they are not forgotten.
Wolfson explains in his book, ‘building caring relationships is about creating the next steps of a Jewish journey. We have to ask, ‘how do our programs, events, and moments together grow our Judaism through connections to self, to family, to friends, to Jewish expression, to community, to Jewish peoplehood, to Israel, to the world, and to God?’ These statements help us measure our connection to Jewish identity. It’s not measured by how many services or programs or classes we attend. Not by how we celebrate Shabbat. Rather, it is measured through the relationships we develop.’
We join a community or engage in a relationship with a community because we want to feel connected. We want to feel valued. No one wants to walk into the sanctuary, the auditorium or an event, and not feel connected to the people around them. We can be in a room with three hundred people like on Yom Kippur and feel very alone if no connections are made. It is my hope that no one here today leaves feeling like they were alone in this room with all of us here. If you are here for the first time, or the first time in a long time, or you don’t know anyone, please, come up and say hello to Rabbi Clark and the other participants in the Shabbat service.
Sisterhood Shabbat is an opportunity to come forward and meet the women who work so hard behind the scenes to create environments that facilitate people coming together, making connections and feeling part of something that is very, very, Jewish.
Women’s League Sisterhood struggles to survive because many women question belonging to what appears to have become a traditional and outdated organization. Stop for a minute and think about Shabbat Kiddushim and how schmoozing and snacking has provided a context for you to visit with your friends and enjoy watching your children run freely in a safe space. Where else can they have as many cookies as they want? Where in this city can you find authentic holiday treats like honey cake, latkes and hamentashen?
But like the community garden, it’s not about the food……it is about the relationships that develop and deepen…. first of all, among the Sisterhood members while we make the food and then the relationships that develop as people share the Shabbat meals we prepare. On the surface, a meal prepared and delivered by Sisterhood members on the Ezra Committee to a family dealing with illness is a simple and helpful gesture. When we send food to a couple with a new baby, we are also delivering practical support. But the underlying message is that these people are valued by the congregation and that we willingly perform the mitzvah of Bikor Cholim when we visit and provide assistance.    
We need to explore more about this idea of Relational Judaism. We need to look at it through the lens of tzedakah and caring for those in our community; how relationships help us through the time of personal challenges; how we are a part of a community on the genetic level; and how we as a community share in each other’s life and memory.
We as a congregation do not exist without the deeper relationships that are created between one another. Otherwise, all we are is bricks, mortar and land. Instead, we are a family who cares for one another in all times. We are a family who loves one another. Remember, the purpose of Judaism and of all relationships is to love, find meaning and understanding, find our purpose in living, belong to community, and find blessings of gratitude and satisfaction.
​May we at Or Shalom continue to find ways of deepening our relationships with one another, finding our purpose in being a part of a community and family, and then acknowledging our many blessings. This is the next part of our journey together, building lasting, loving and living relationships for today and for our future.
Susan Hall and I, as co-presidents, want to thank everyone for participating in this annual celebration of Women’s League Sisterhood and hope that being here today reinforces a sense of connection that will bring you back again soon.  
Shabbat Shalom
Reference: Wolfson, Ronald, Relational Judaism-Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community. Jewishlights Publishers

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