For decades, I searched for a community. And I found it by returning to my own Jewish faith. Now I am no longer a stranger within my own faith and the Jewish community gives me a huge sense of belonging. And yet, my definition of community has broadened.
My search for a community initially began in 1986 because I felt the absence of a strong community after my 23-year-old brother’s death in car accident. I was in my last year of college in an accelerated graduate program. I was somewhat disconnected from my undergraduate friends because my senior year was mostly spent with graduate students. My parents, my two brothers, and I never felt that connected to our town, a rural Ohio community where we were among the only Jews. Back then, none of us belonged to a temple. We had friends scattered around the country and family – and they offered comfort. But there was no communal outpouring of support. It came in bits and pieces.
Earlier this week, my husband, toddler and I again went to a free summer concert in our suburban Boston town of Lexington. As I sat watching a community band play in a gazebo and eying my running toddler, I saw several familiar faces. They all, I realized, were a part of my growing community. There were members from our temple. There was a Mom and her little girl, from a music class for parents and tots. There were the numerous dog owners our son has introduced us to at the last several band concerts. There were neighbors. And there were faces I did not know but trusted because of the warmth in their eyes as they watched me or my husband chase after our 2-year-old. I felt at home in that little park.
Community is not merely about the religion to which we belong. It’s the people in the town we live. It is the people who are at the same stage in life and share something in common – and it is those who are not. It is our neighbors. It is the people we agree to let into our lives. In those first years after I lost my brother, my circle of friends was small. It was hard to talk to my long-time friends at the time; it was harder to open up to new friends. Now, the loss of my brother is more than 20 years old. Yes, I am writing a book about loss and faith, but in my daily life, it is the present that is my focus. I am much more open to welcoming others into my circle. Closer to my faith, I am more at peace and at ease. In a sense, Judaism has given me the gift of community, but not just the community I find when I slip into a seat at a Friday night service.