Shalom. We will greet the festival of Shavuot very soon. A time of celebration and, in many congregations, Confirmation. For many the festival is sort of an unofficial end of the program year. Or. at least it used to be!
This year, however, we greet the festival in the midst of so much change and challenge that it seems so much more fraught with angst. We are still trying to emerge from the pandemic. Our hearts ache for the turmoil in Israel. Our community, as a whole, is in the throse of a significant transition, perhaps the most menaingful transition since the end of the great immigration of 1881-1924. The Pew report of the community in 2013 and the one just released on May 11 validate that seismic shifts are taking place. There is NO going back to what was, and the pandemic has only accelerated this.
Shavuot, originally an agricultural festival, took on the historical link to the Revelation at Sinai. No matter of you accept the Divine act or favor the scientific approach to Torah, the issue of revelation remains. Too often we think of revelation as having ended in Biblical times, yet, as the new Pew report seems to tell us, new forms of Judaism may be revealed at any time. Indeed, one can make the case that at least 4 times in our history we created or innovated new Judaisms in order to adapt and survive. We are doing so now.
This is a new “revelation”. New adaptations of Jewish life and practice are being created; new rituals and forms of community are becoming the new norm and the idea of “mixed use” Jewish experiences (in person and virtual) give rise to part of this new revelation. There will be challenges along the way. Synagogues that fail to adapt will be gone. New organizations and institutions will emerge. There is potential for blessing and curse in all of this. Once again, how we choose to see, experience and accept this new revelation will determine what type of commuity we shall become.
But let us remember this; as we emerge from Covid and as we process these changes, at the heart and soul of all of this is the individual. Each of us seek meaning and to understand our place in this life. We crave a relationship with something beyond our own self, something that can help place our brief span of life in a greater context. We seek love and intimacy, a need to be needed and a spiritual as well as physical home. No matter where we come from on the theological spectrum, these basic needs and desires remain within each of us. No matter of change will alter this. As we and our community transition into a new phase, let us be open to the revelation that continues to this day; the revelations of love and friendship, community and purpose. In doing so we will continue to hear the Divine words, adapted and understood in the language of our time.
Rabbi Richard F Address