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Simcha Wars: The Battle For Joy (Part 1)

[This article first appeared in Congregation Or Ami’s Divray Or Ami newsletter. It directs readers to this blog to discover the 7 Intentional Strategies to Infuse Simcha (Joy) in our Congregation.

Judaism, according to one accounting, has at least 15 different words to describe joy. From rina (meaning joyous song) to sasson (exaltation) to simcha (pure joy), Jewish life is supposed to be an expression of joyous living. So significant is the mitzvah (literally, the divine commandment) to life a life filled with simcha, that when we articulated Or Ami’s Vision and Values, we listed simcha/joy as one of our primary values. We aim to “celebrate life through word and song because we believe that life is filled with blessing.”

It is easy to say – be joyous! – yet succeeding in doing so is far more complex. From the personal to the historical to the existential, we each face an army of forces arrayed against just that impulse – to be joyous. We live intensely cognizant of our own suffering, be it medical, familial, financial, psychological, or romantic; such awareness itself conspires with the real pain.

Our Jewish history is easily reduced to a chronology of crisis – genocidal in the 1940’s, hate-spewing anti-Israel in the present, and pogrom-filled before those. (I suspect our readers could easily list their choice moment of Jewish trauma.) Similarly, American life today is dominated by financial crisis and post-9/11 fear. Our television newscasts and online blogposts are filled with reports of things that could make us sick or worse. Our jobs, our schools, and our daily lives are pressure-filled cauldrons of anxiety and worry.

Up against this, can we really find simcha? I have learned that simcha is possible even during the darkest of times; once purposeful openness to allow it to permeates the way we live. That’s where Judaism comes in.

Judaism as a religion, culture and peoplehood is predisposed to joyfulness. Congregation Or Ami, as a synagogue community, acts intentionally to invest every moment we are together with simcha. How so? We have 7 intentional strategies to guide our work. Read them here on my blog.

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