Tuesday, May 27, 2008

681. Shaking the tree

Memorial Day: I worked a little, watched mindless and relaxing TV (I love LAW & ORDER marathons; when else can you see the good guys win so many times in a row?), and sat in Riverside Park to write and enjoy the perfect early summer sun. I also read this sad article in The Jewish Week:

Separating From Synagogue

in which the author, feeling isolated and shunned, leaves her community after its demographics and politics shift. I count my blessings daily that this will never happen to me--at least I don't think so. The article left me wondering about how we often attribute these kinds of splits to "us" vs. "them": I disagree with their points of view, so I can't stay here. They were wrong to ignore me, so I don't like them any more. I know I'm drastically simplifying the issues involved, and in no way fault the author for her reaction. Rather, I blame the general culture of many religious communities (I don't think Judaism has a lock on this problem). Hierarchies that must exist for organizations to thrive also create inner and outer circles, places where one might feel alone or devalued while also ostensibly a member. Attempts to change the status quo and build a structure where everyone takes responsibility, reaches out, and can receive no matter what their status, family, history, ability to donate, etc., are often discouraged because they challenge tradition; rituals of community behavior are as powerful as those of prayer.

The situation is very different at my synagogue, where innovation is the norm and tradition is sometimes jarred to the point of discomfort. People have been known to leave because things are too different, too often. But I like that feeling after the tree is shaken, fruit falls to the ground, and everyone realizes that the best option, aside from going hungry, is to sit around and eat together.

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