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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


October 6, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Important questions before a move

By RABBI LEAH M. HERZ Director of Spriritual Care, Menorah Manor

On a recent Shabbat morning as I discussed the weekly Torah portion with residents at the Samson Nursing Center, I posed a thought-provoking question. We were delving into the book of Deuteronomy and reading a series of lengthy speeches given by Moses to the Israelites as they stood on the shores of the Jordan River, ready to cross into the Promised Land. Moses is recounting all the experiences they have had since their redemption from Egypt and admonishing them to continue to follow God’s laws so that things will go well for them in their new land. He also gives the people a synopsis of what they can expect to find in this land, which had been sworn to their ancestors.

The question I posed to the residents was the following, “If you were about move to a new place, having only lived a nomadic life but now about to settle down, what would you want to know about your new home?” The answers were creative and spot on. “I’d want to know what the other people who were living there were like,” said one person. “I’d be interested in what the land itself was like … would we be able to grow crops, raise our flocks, and so on,” said another. But perhaps the best response of all was, “I’d like to know where I could find the nearest mall.”

That comeback elicited a huge laugh from the congregation. The response was not only funny but quite insightful. The list of priorities that one might look for when moving to a new area are very personal. While a young couple might put special emphasis on neighborhoods with highly rated schools for their children, a single person might prefer a downtown venue with nearby restaurants and a great health club. We would ask questions about housing prices, taxes, and flood zones and might even want to know where the nearest mall is located.

There is one question however, that I believe is being asked less frequently by Jews than in past generations and that is, “where are the temples and synagogues located?” It wasn’t that long ago that finding a spiritual home was a major priority for American Jews. They would “shul shop,” attending services at several congregations and “interview” rabbis in hopes of finding just the right fit. Having a Jewish community to be a part of was as important as school districts and drive times. But there is a great deal of current research that shows that proximity to a religious community is much less frequently considered, not only by American Jews across many denominations but across almost all American faith traditions. The reasons for historically low levels of affiliation are many and complicated but there is a renewed focus on what can be done to turn this disturbing trend around.

I believe that affiliation and having a shared Jewish connection remains critical for American Judaism to survive and to thrive. Ours has always been a communal religion; prayer, study, observance of lifecycle events, and involvement in social action are meant to be experienced in community and not in isolation. My hope is that by listening to and addressing the needs of Jews throughout America and especially those in Pinellas County, “Where’s the closest shul,” will once again become a question just as important as, “Where’s the closest mall?”

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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