Congregation Kol Chadash: A Congregation for Today's Jewish Community Rabbi Estelle Gottman-Mills
Today's Jewish community has changed, and the families that compose it have also changed. The American Jewish family today is not the same as it was even a generation ago. Today when we speak of grandparents, the memories of Jewish children often include spending Christmas with their non-Jewish grandparents. And while today's families might continue to grow larger at each Passover seder, the additions also include step-parents and step-brothers and sisters. These are the authentic memories of Jewish individuals today.
Since the Jewish community and the Jewish family have both changed, the challenge congregations today face is making Judaism an intergral part of its congregant's lives. And part of the answer seems to be that congregations must also change to make themselves relevant, and not peripheral, to the modern Jewish individual. And this individual looking for a congregation Jewish experience may have been born Jewish, but may also have chosen Judaism, or may not be Jewish at all, but connected to Judaism because of his or her spouse.
Traditionally congregations served three functions, each expressed by a different name. They were Bet Knesset, house of assembly, Bet Tefillah, house of prayer, and Bet Midrash, house of study. Today the congregation continues to serve these tasks but it also serves additional functions. One Jewish educator clearly articulated the change in the role of today's congregation: "People do not come to synagogue anymore to express being Jewish. That is what our grandparents did, but today people come to learn to be Jewish. Thus, synagogues today are also today's Jewish memory makers. "
Most of us are probably familiar with the African proverb "it takes a whole village to raise up a child." Today the congregation has become that village. And today the congregation is the place where many of the memorable moments of one's Jewish life take place. The congregation is the most appropriate place to go when one pray, to grieve, to celebrate, or to express our relationship to God. For many Jews today, the congregation is the place they celebrate the Passover seder year after year, enjoy a Sukkot or Chanukah dinner, where their children grow up, marking each life cycle event as part of the congregational family. In our mobile society, where grown children often do not live near their own parents, the congregation has provided surrogate grandparents. What the congregation today can offer is a sense of community, a sense of family.
But one must be careful, for a congregation today can also be something completely different. In contemporary Jewish life, you also find congregations that have many members but few that feel they belong. These institutions are composed of consumers, purchasers of services that are available to them at synagogues and temples, not belongers in the sense of being vested or active in the life of these congregations. As one rabbi states "a congregation must take notice of all those who come through its doors, reaching out when they experience loneliness or illness or when they begin to withdraw. We must make positive efforts to let each member know that we care. If a person is in the hospital, fellow congregants, not just the rabbi, must show concern. If a member stops attending religious services, adult education classes or meetings, someone should call to say we missed you."
What is not changed through all the generations is the idea that Judaism is a communal religion. That is still today the basis of congregational life. It is not the building that defines the congregation, it is the people. As we embark upon the founding the this new congregation, let us remember it's name, Kol Chadash, a new voice. Our new voice will be that of a participatory, warm, embracing community. Let us pray that we will truly become a congregation that will touch the lives of those who chose to become part of this congregational family, and that we will indeed be a place in which every individual's voice is hear and where each of us feels we truly belong.