I recently came across a picture of a synagogue in the midst of its rebuilding project after the destruction from Hurricane Harvey. The caption of the photo noted that the reconstruction and building will be completed by the High Holidays this year, in order to be in the building for the upcoming holidays.
As I looked at the picture and thought about the caption, I wondered about the target goal. I wondered if the importance of being back in the sanctuary for the High Holidays was of ultimate priority.
This year will mark the thirty-seventh year on the hill and our eighty-ninth year as a community. We have spent a lot of time together reminiscing about the historic march from Westwood to Woodcliff Lake and marveling at the synagogue building. As we talk about the past, we sometimes forget that a lot more than the march has happened in the eighty-nine year history of the synagogue. We existed for many years before we had our beloved home on Overlook Drive. In truth, the march brought us to the building. But, we have always been much more than a structure with a roof and walls. We do not come to 87 Overlook Drive merely to be in the building. The building is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The building allows us to do holy work and holy things together, both in the building and in the community. We come together under one roof to have meaningful prayer experiences, to learn together, to educate our children, to do Tikkun Olam, and to support one another.
Yet, we are not always limited to the building. There are times when our activities take us outside of the building –even into other towns. These are community events like the community Thanksgiving celebration and the community wide Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut service. And these are moments of support, when we go to mourners’ homes to support them during times of loss. All of these experiences are just as important and powerful, even if they don’t happen under the synagogue’s roof.
What binds these moments together is not the space, but the people.
It is powerful when we gather together as a community in another house of worship on the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. And it is a statement of our strength when we stand shoulder to shoulder singing HaTikvah in another synagogue to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. And it is a statement of holiness and friendship when we help support mourners in their times of need. It is inspiring when I walk into a shivah home and recognize almost all of the faces, because it is our community out in full force supporting our own. It is moving when I hear about our members walking together for the Crop Walk and when I hear about our community staffing the shelter through Family Promise for families in need. And it is of course always fun to see pictures of our community after a trip to the theater or after a sight-seeing adventure.
In a little over a month, we will all join together in the building. We will be under one roof, celebrating the High Holidays. We know we are blessed to be together in our synagogue building. But, in truth, the essence is not where we are, but that we are together –all together – praying together and reconnecting with God and one another.
It will be good to be at Temple Emanuel for the holidays. It will be holy to be together for the holidays. I look forward to celebrating the holidays together. From my family to yours, a Sweet, Healthy, Happy New Year!