[This article is the conclusion of an article entitled Simcha Wars: The Battle For Joy (part 1), which appeared Congregation Or Ami’s Divray Or Ami quarterly Newsletter. Read the beginning here.]
Happy New Year!
Up on our Jewish Spiritual Journey Facebook group (Facebook message me if you want to join the closed group. It is quite a discussion!), we are engaged in a discussion about what resolutions for the coming year we would make regarding our own spirituality.
At the same time, I came across a link on Facebook titled 12 Things Happy People Do Differently. From Expressing Gratitude to Not Over-thinking to Learning to Forgive to Practicing Spirituality, this posting challenges us to commit to happiness by imitating happy people. It reminds us that bringing happiness into our lives, like with any other middah (attribute/quality) we seek, demands intentionality and mindful living.
Congregation Or Ami, our Calabasas, California synagogue, flourishes in part because we see Judaism as a religion, culture and peoplehood that is predisposed to joyfulness. Congregation Or Ami, as a Jewish community, acts intentionally to invest every moment we are together with simcha. How so? We have 7 intentional strategies to guide our work.
7 Intentional Strategies to Infuse Simcha (Joy) in our Congregation
- Welcoming People with a Smile and a Hello. At the front door, near the receptionist’s desk, and over the phone, we strive to stop our “work” and engage our “passion,” that is, making you feel welcome. In a busy world which often allows me to prioritize my needs/task over yours, Or Ami tries to make you the center of our purpose. Amazing how much joy that brings into our lives.
- Music Speaks Louder than Words. Well aware that a music soundtrack can bring forth specific emotions (notice this next time you sit in a movie), Or Ami strives to infuse our services, our programs, and even our congregant gatherings include plenty of uplifting music. Music, especially that of our Cantor Doug Cotler, can transport us from the stressful pressures of life to a more content, simcha-dik place.
- Kvell, Don’t Kvetch. We speak about Kvelling, not Kvetching repeatedly. Kvetching is that typically Jewish act of complaining, loudly and regularly about things big and small. We kvetch about our families. We kvetch about our kids, our jobs, spouses/partners, the economy, the government… everything. Our biblical ancestors kvetched during their desert trek about the food, the lack of water, the danger from enemies, about Moses’ leadership. Such a typical Jewish act, and yet, kvetching is profoundly the antithesis of what it means to be authentically Jewish.
To be a Jew is to be a kveller! Kvelling means to praise. Kvelling lets others know that good things are happening. It leads us to be filled with joy as we count our blessings. We could be praising the important things: our health, our relative wealth (we always have more than others somewhere), the roof over our heads, the community of which we are part…
- Ask: What is Your “Or Ami” Moment? How often do we provide the community opportunities to kvell? They know they can kvetch – the squeeky wheel gets the oil – but do they know they can kvell too? So at Congregation Or Ami – at services a few times a year, at board meetings, at dinner gatherings with the rabbis and cantor – we invite people to share with each other, and the group, their cherished Or Ami moment from the past year or two. Tears of joy, expressions of feeling supported, experiences at a simcha, all come forth. When we allow people the chance to share meaningful experiences, their hearts seem to soar as simcha deepens.
- Seek a Spiritual Path. I try to talk – write, blog, tweet – often about my spiritual journey, because finding one’s spiritual center seems to correlate directly with being happy. Making the spiritual journey a central part of the conversation at the synagogue may allow people to rise up and be happy.
- Simcha at Services. Our other Rabbi Julia Weisz creates moments within our Kesher (youth learning) services for people to share their simchas (good grade, new job, recovery from illness, scored a goal, etc.). Such a simple yet profoundly simcha-dik addition to the tefillah. We speak at services about those who are ill (at the Mi Shebeirach) and those who have died (at Kaddish), yet where do we allow people to kvell about their simchas? We are trying to remember to include this element in our regular Shabbat services.
- Smiling is So Simple. Smiling is so simple and so contagious. We remind our greeters at services, in our office, and at the Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program to smile when someone enters the synagogue. We remind teachers to smile at their students and clergy to smile at everyone. A smile uplifts, refreshes, infects, and inspires. Simply put, a smile points people toward simcha, joy.
Do you have any additional strategies that lead to simcha (joy) in the community? Do tell!