In several books, sociologist Robert Bellah argues that instead of forming communities, people form lifestyle enclaves, such as country clubs and suburbs that are composed of people with similar backgrounds, educations, ages, political views, and interests. What characterizes a lifestyle enclave is its homogeneity. When you can't pay your dues, you leave the country club. When your kids are grown, you sell your four-bedroom house in the suburbs with the basketball hoop in the driveway. What differentiates a community from a lifestyle enclave, he argues, is that community members' commitments run deeper and the diversity of the members is much greater.
Between our foundation congregations of Beth Israel and Beth Torah, we are standing on the shoulders of 90 years or so of community: for close to a century, the commitment, the vision, the passion and inspiration of those who created Beth Israel, The Cranston Jewish Center, Beth Torah and Torat Yisrael have shown us how to be, sustain and evolve community.
It occurred to me, as I read Robert Bellah's distinctions between lifestyle enclave and community, that there have most certainly been those who have regarded their membership in our congregation as dues paid to associate with a convenient or important lifestyle enclave at a certain juncture in their lives. Here at Torat Yisrael, we try to lift the curtain and show everyone who comes through our doors that we offer much more depth and engagement and diversity than any lifestyle enclave might offer: our school kids bake hamantaschen with the empty nesters and seniors of our sisterhood and men's clubs; our social action Committee supports and even helps to staff a local food pantry, our mourners are fed throughout their shivah week: the faces of our community reflect those who take vacation cruises, own their own boats and rely on disability and meals on wheels to put food on the table. The faces of our community reflect those who were educated in the full immersion of the yeshiva system, those who made their way with more or less enthusiasm through our own Frederic G. And Lawrence G, Cohen Religious School, those who found and converted to Judaism as adults and those who are married to Jews and are proud to support the Jewish identity of their spouses, partners and children. We have joined this community looking for a place to pray, a place to Jewishly educate ourselves and our children, a place to find other Jewish families . . . And we've discovered so much more once we stepped in the door.
Last Friday evening at services, I asked everyone to speak about this building: places that mean most to them, things in the building they'll miss . . . Most everyone had something to say . . . About people, about events. Names that have become iconic in the history of our congregation like Max Rothkopf and Sam Primak . . . And Lana Picker . . . And friends from religious school (partners in minor crimes, I think) . . . And family weddings and B'nai mitzvah . . . As the sharing went on, it became clear to me that the essence of these 60 years is the people, not the bricks and mortar. And that in the lessons learned and the relationships forged and the values internalized by example and the smiles and hugs and tears of those sitting in these pews over the decades, that we are taking with us the most essential parts of Torat Yisrael. Not the lifestyle enclave, the community.
There is so much that we bring with us: much more than the truck container outside our door can hold: the love of God and Torah and the Jewish people that has fueled our community for 60 years in this building. The wisdom and the challenges and the commitment and the frustrations and the love . . . We are the community of Torat Yisrael and we bring our great spiritual and human legacy with us when we walk out of these doors with our sifrei Torah this morning.
On the cover of today's program, there is a declaration that Moses made to Pharoah: בנערינו ובזקנינו נלך . . . We are going with our youth and our elders, with our sons and our daughters . . . And that makes this a festive day for God and for us.