Tag: community

New Visions of Jewish Community

Once again, Congregation Or Ami has been held up as an example of meaningful, visionary Jewish community. We kvell!

What makes a community uniquely compelling, such that people strive to be part of it? This question consumes the attention of so many in the American Jewish world, as our numbers and rates of affiliation declines and as the tightening of our finances and free time forces restructuring everywhere. In an America where Jews have gained unprecedented acceptance and access to the halls of power and wealth, the need and desire for communal connection varies. With our numbers shrinking through assimilation, low Jewish birthrates and intermarriage, we wonder: what will the Jewish community of the future look like?

This month the Central Conference of American Rabbis devoted a special issue of it’s CCAR Journal (of Reform Judaism) to “New Visions of Jewish Community.” I was honored to be asked to co-edit this issue along with the former URJ regional director Rabbi Alan Henkin.

Reading through the demographic studies and analyses of denominations and institutions, a few things become clear:

Successful synagogues will:

  • Need to be warm welcoming meaningful communities;
  • Utilize the latest technology to integrate local and long distance relationships into a coherent whole;
  • Be fully innovative and unafraid to remake themselves time and again;
  • Engage people in innovative Jewish spiritual experiences.

Before accepting the honor of co-editing this Journal issue, I asked the publisher why they chose me. I was told “because Or Ami stands out as a meaningful and significant community.” They pointed to our Vision and Values:

Congregation Or Ami is home to a warm and welcoming, innovative, musical Jewish community. We deepen relationships with each other, while immersing in Torah, Israel and the Source of All Life. We travel together down Jewish paths which inspire our hearts and souls, and transform us to seek justice and nurture compassion in the world.

We will have copies of the Journal available to read in our office. So whether you read just my editor’s article, the whole journal or merely glance at the Table of Contents, kvell a little (okay, a lot) that our little shul has an outsized reputation as place of innovation, excellence, and warm, welcoming community.

My Questions: Why are you affiliated with Or Ami? What do you see in our community’s future?

He Died, He Mourned, A Community Reached Out

It warms my heart whenever a community reaches out as we hope it would. We received this from a congregant, following the burial of his 91 year old father:

Dear Friends at Congregation Or Ami,

My father of almost 91 years old passed away on Monday, November 29th. I cannot tell you how special it was to get emails and calls from members of the Temple. Some of these members I can honestly say that I did not know too well. The warmth and the sincerity was overwhelming. I put a call in to Rabbi Paul Kipnes the same day and got a return call immediately. After making plans with the mortuary all was confirmed and Rabbi Paul did an excellent job officiating the service on Wednesday, December 1.

The Rabbi admitted to me which was honest that unfortunately he learned more about my dad after he passed away as he really never got the chance to know him. At the service he said the same thing but when he was speaking everyone realized that he was a quick learner.

Once again, I want to thank everyone for their words of support and our family is so glad to say that we are members of Congregation Or Ami.

On the Airplane: Alone within a Crowd

Miles above the earth, sitting snuggly in my seat, surrounded by 200 other travelers on JetBlue’s LAX-JFK shuttle, I felt alone. Not one to make conversation with strangers on a plane (who, once discovering I am a rabbi, begin to tell me about every Bar Mitzvah they ever attended), the usually outgoing me becomes very introverted. I sat quietly, pondering in silence and sadness about how easy it is for an individual to feel invisible even amidst a crowd of people.  If connecting with others requires openness, self-disclosure, and a willingness to feel vulnerable for a moment, it also needs an impetus: someone or something that invites an interaction. 

It made me think about Or Ami, about how much attention and energy we devote to making people feel welcome, and about how there still must be are people – even members of our congregation – who feel uncomfortable or invisible. Yes, Or Ami does so much to try to break down barriers. We offer explicit welcomes on the website to interfaith, special needs, LGBT, and multicultural/racial individuals and families. We insist on nametags (with first and last names) at all programs and services. We begin each service by inviting guests to introduce themselves.  We call the entire congregation three times a year, just to check in and to convey the message that “you matter to us.” Henaynu, being there for each other, defines our congregation.

Yet thinking about the other me, that man sitting in silence on the plane, I wondered how else might we model a welcoming atmosphere?  What could we do to be more proactive, welcoming those for whom being quiet or introverted are part of their self-definition? Since my best ideas always come from others,  I invite you to share your thoughts. 

Kvelling about Your Jewish Experience at Temple

In so many synagogues around the country, people know how to kvetch complain) more than they know how to kvell (offer praise). At Or Ami, we have learned that if we invite people to share their Or Ami moments – experiences worth kvelling about – we discover quickly that we are touching people’s lives in deeply spiritual ways.

I received this email from an Or Ami family, and with their permission, share it here. I’m kvelling at their kvelling. (If you have an Or Ami moment to share, please add it in the comment space below.)

November 2009

Dear Rabbi Kipnes,

I am not quite sure where to start. Daniel and I joined Congregation Or Ami with our kids Zach and Jacqueline just over 2 years ago. From the very start, we were welcomed with open arms. We joined the congregation because some of our very best friends were members. We were looking for a place primarily to begin Bar/Bat Mitzvah training for our children. What we got is so much more!!!

Shortly after we joined, my mother, as you know, became very ill. The outpouring of support and caring from our temple friends, to congregants we hadn’t even met, to you, our Rabbi, was astounding. This really was our first real confirmation we knew we were in the right place.

Daniel and I both grew up on Jewish homes, with very little Jewish education. Mine was virtually non-existent. We had all of the traditions and values of a good Jewish home, but I had spent almost no time in a synagogue. Daniel became a Bar Mitzvah, but aside from that, his Jewish education was very limited as well.

So, we knew when we were joining a temple, we needed to find one that fit in with our goals for our children, but yet not be so “Jewish” that we would be intimidated. We did the usual “shul shopping”, and eventually decided upon Congregation Or Ami. Our decision was really based on the fact that some of our very best friends had become members, and oh yea…we kinda liked the Rabbi!

Our first High Holiday services with Congregation Or Ami further proved that we had made the right choice. The services were warm, inviting, inclusive and made someone with as little Jewish background as myself feel comfortable, eager to hear more, to do more, to embrace this “family” that we suddenly were a part of.

Tashlich was another awe-inspiring event that really opened my eyes up to the uniqueness of our temple. The fact that a couple of hundred of us could break bread, share wine and enjoy such an intimate, spiritual affair together on the beach just further discounted any fears we may have had that were not going to fit into a typical temple. This temple, we quickly learned, was anything but typical!

The past year has been so difficult for so many of us. Or Ami has been so responsive and respectful to the needs of its congregants. I was chosen to be part of a special Hayenu committed assembled specifically to make calls and just check in with the congregants to see if they had any general or specific needs or concerns that perhaps we, as a congregation, or you, as the Rabbi, could help with. EVERY congregant was called! Wow! What temple does that? Just as every new congregant gets a Shabbat welcome basket from the congregation and every member family gets donuts and other Hanukkah goodies personally delivered to their home every year. Again…anything but typical.

Nor is it typical that my husband and I were asked to carry the Torah at this year’s High Holiday services. We were certainly not asked because we are big donors. The feeling of support and family from this congregation…from you…is more than we ever could have wished for, hoped for, or certainly expected!

We continue to grow each time we step outside of our comfort zone and attend another temple event or function. While the kids and I raved about Mitzvah Day last year, my husband had to experience it for himself this year to understand the impact and breadth of this amazing community service event. He was like a little kid, racing around to see if he could be the one to complete the most backpacks for displaced foster children.

Today I attended my first Torah study. What do I know about Torah??? So little! But, you know what? I was comfortable, intrigued, engaged, and now eager to return to another one soon! Why? Because of the intelligent, passionate, educated, interested people who make up our temple! People who take time out of their busy schedules to schmooze and kibbitz and can appreciate the value of spending time like this with old friends and new friends.

I started this letter months ago, have put it aside, added to it, and could keep doing so until it is well… my own Jewish Journal. But, that is not the point. The point, the initial point anyway, was to let you know how happy we are to be members of Congregation Or Ami. To let you know we had many temples to choose from, and were not even sure we made the right choice when we chose Or Ami. But, it did not take long to realize there could not have been a better choice, or a better fit for our family. So much of it has to do with the congregation, but so much of this has to do with you. I never thought I would seriously join a temple where the Rabbi ever even learned my name. I certainly never thought I would be able to consider myself friends with the Rabbi. Well, I am happy you know me as Faryl, and honored to be a congregant…and a friend!

Thank you for welcoming us so warmly into your “home”.


Faryl Oschin