It wasn’t until I was sitting on the bima, in the front of the congregation, that I realized the plethora of reasons people belong to a community. Looking out at the room, I saw people who were celebrating and people who were mourning, I saw Jews who came to fulfill their obligations of prayers and Jews who came to schmooze in the pews.
As a congregational rabbi, I’ve gotten to know the stories and the people who make up the community in a way I wasn’t privy to otherwise. Only when I was in the middle of the operations of a synagogue was I more aware of who was dealing with sickness, or loss, or who sat on all the committees or volunteered with our community. I still find it humorous when two regulars sit near each other but don’t know that the other is a “regular” because they both frequent the synagogue at different times and in different ways.
And I find this abundance of personalities and characters that constitute our congregation inspirational. It reminds me that while we might not know every reason a person chooses to belong to the Jewish community, there are reasons that are shared whether we are conscious of them or not. And it is not only nice to know that there are others who can share my celebrations and sorrow with me, but that I am also able to provide support and companionship to the hands that are reaching out to me.
Hillel Konigsburg is the assistant rabbi at Congregation B’nai Torah.