The setting is rural Connecticut. Falls Village is just beyond the town of Goshen and just before the town of Canaan. You slow down once you exit the highway to 35 MPH, winding your way through small towns, eyes drawn to the eaves of churches and foggy cemeteries and season changing leaves of red, yellow, purplish and green.
It was Rosh Hashanah, a time to gather at Isabella Freedman, a Jewish Retreat Center now operated by Hazon. It was a microcosm of sorts of the Jewish people, who we have evolved to at this moment in America. There were two services offered simultaneously, one labeled Orthodox and the other labeled Renewal. It was a mixed multitude of people. Men with long beards, some dressed in Chassidic garb, women with nose rings and tattoos, men with piercings and tattoos and women with coverings from head to toe. We ate together, walked the same paths and gathered at the water’s edge.
The services though were in separate locations. There was a defined “mechitzah” in the Orthodox service and an undefined fence that separated the services—but there was fluidity between the services, people moving in and out, wandering down the short corridor to sit for a while in each.
I served the Renewal service as Rabbi and also served as a bridge for many of those attending the other service; when speaking in front of the whole community I emphasized our unity, the commonalities we shared while recognizing the differences.
So what do I see as the state of the “person” we call Jewish if we take those forming community to pray, eat and love on this New Year in Falls Village, Connecticut?
Hope: An overriding sense of hope for our ability to change, to grow to greater consciousness about how we treat each other, how we treat animals and the environment. We continued a tradition developed at Kabbalah Experience services to dedicate our prayers and study to the Chibok girls abducted from their school in Nigeria. Two of the girl’s names were highlighted as being freed from captivity, Amina and Serah. Hope is the external emotion of never giving up
Hurt and Healing: There were very personal wounds and scabs on wounds that were expressed privately and publicly. In the Renewal service this took the form of healing from painful experiences with family members and unresolved grieving and “for the first time” feeling connected to my Jewishness in a way that felt authentic. A young adult woman holding the Torah scroll in her arms (I was never allowed to) for the first time in her life, a transgendered man feeling his presence welcome (gender fluidity as an accepted norm) and all of us welcoming in creativity and improvisation alongside tradition and structure.
Hunger: There was plenty of delicious food with explanations of where it was sourced in caring and conscious concern for our relations to animals and its impact on the ecosphere. Beyond food and hunger satiated was the hunger for learning—and there was as much food for thought as exquisitely prepared food for bodily consumption.
Harbinger: If this Hazon-vision can be realized throughout the Jewish community (and by analogy for other communities) it is a hopeful harbinger for greater human cooperation, coexistence and eco-consciousness. I mentioned above that Rosh Hashanah at Isabella Freedman was a microcosm of sorts of the Jewish people in America. “Of sorts” because the majority of American Jews are finding new ways to connect with their Jewishness—outside any ‘service.’ A large percentage doesn’t attend services even on the holidays. The first step of leadership is to define reality—that is the reality. That is what the “exit polls” are telling us about Jewish feet—they are voting for other ways to connect to their Jewishness. The same exit polls are there for other religious, ethnic and cultural communities. That harbinger requires new vision and new leadership to serve the development of community, Jewish and other; to serve outside of the service.