When the author of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes complains ein chadash tachat hashamayim – there is nothing new under the sun, he seems to express a disappointment, even frustration, perhaps with the stagnant routine into which his life descended. His insight stands in direct opposition to another strand of the Jewish experience, namely the search for chiddush, for the innovative idea. As the world changes, as our lives are transformed by these realities, we seek new answers and new connections with community and with divinity. Enter any Beit Midrash (Jewish study hall) around the world and you will find people searching the ancient words for a chiddush, new insight, to make life feel alive and meaningful.
Our synagogue, Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) – so energized and flexible – is a light for so many people in significant measure because of our commitment to remain vibrant and innovative. We eschew what has been described as Ecclesiastes’ cynicism. We embrace constant transformation, insisting that like the Israelites who left Egypt but retained a slave mentality, we will not become enslaved to the “way we have always done things.” We demand of ourselves petucha, openness, and self-reflection that looks at who we are and constantly strives to refresh and rejuvenate. Our cantor keeps abreast of the newest trends in Jewish music and melds old melodies with new harmonies to keep us humming a praise-song to the Holy One. Our rabbi attends seminars in person and online to keep reflecting, evaluating and refreshing our community. Our graduate student interns bring fresh perspectives from their teachers, the greatest thinkers of our generation. And our leadership and project chairs – committed to serving in a position no more than two years – seek out the energy and enthusiasm of all our members – veteran and new – to deepen the way our Or Ami community touches lives. This is how it should be.
Toward the end of his life, Ecclesiastes looked out at the world and resigned himself to routine. Or Ami looks out and sees opportunity and possibility, new ways to connect Jewish families to the Holy One, Torah, Israel and each other. That is why I am constantly energized by Or Ami and why Or Ami has a stellar reputation locally and nationally.