Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaacov Mishkonetecha Yisrael.
How good are your tents Jacob, your homes Israel.
This week’s portion, Parashat Balak contains the words we use to open every Shabbat morning service, they are in fact a blessing from the prophet/magic man Balaam. We remind ourselves of our own synagogue community as Dean sings the opening tune.
But we may forget this blessing, this expression of admiration comes after some fairly ambivalent observations about the Israelite tribe;
There is a people that dwells apart, Not reckoned among the nations, . . . (Numbers 23:7-9)
It’s unclear if this is a good thing or not; a weakness or a strength to dwell apart. And it gives pause to our contemporary perspectives. We recognise Balaam is confused by his task which was to curse a people who God had not cursed. Either way this separateness is opaque.
The power of community building is possibly what Balaam was commenting upon when he observed that Israel made a good and strong congregation. That resonates for me today.
We know that it’s the people that make our communal spaces, no more so than here at FPS. So tomorrow’s Annual General Meeting 7.30pm and the preceding SGM 7.15pm (to enable a hybrid AGM) are important moments in our calendar. Particularly in our synagogue life – signing up to be leader is a significant marker in any congregation’s development and progress. Indeed returning to our buildings reminds us of those relationships that form the backbone of of community connection. Attending Leo Baeck College’s ordination of this year’s crop of new rabbis I was reminded of the strength of our communities and the importance of renewal. Our Council will welcome three new members who are putting themselves forward as candidates on Thursday evening; Sharon Michael, James Levy and Annabel Robin. And our new council may be joined by some who’d like to be co-opted including Lesley Urbach. Renewing of our lay leadership and trustees is as critical to FPS life as our services and learning are.
Please consider joining us in person on Thursday evening to usher this in.
Dr Ron Wolfson, revered scholar of synagogues and the power of relationality famously said about synagogue health;
I don’t think there is any substitute for face-to-face relationship building. The savvy community organizations have a robust presence on social media and a vibrant website, and all that is important, but I don’t know of any substitute to sitting down with someone over a cup of coffee and hearing their story. It’s showing a genuine interest in people’s lives.
That is what enables new generations of Council to join. The connections made in our synagogue. Tamara Joseph, our Chair, reminded us all last Shabbat of the words of Rabbi Sheila Shulman, z’l; you don’t find a community, you build one.
Sheila spoke much wisdom, but this particular gem I see applied on a daily basis here at FPS. Those of you who built the community and our lay leaders who take up the mantle of trusteeship by guarding and directing our synagogue. As we reaffirm and renew leadership this week, may we feel a debt of gratitude to those who stand up to do so. Those who make this Jewish life of ours a blessing.
That’s the message I take from Parashat Balaam today-I’m grateful for our partnerships.
Shabbat Shalom, Rebecca
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