A Lesson in Communal Relations


012414_israel_ariPlease indulge me as I reveal a not so well-kept secret that I don’t mind professing to the world, or at least to this small corner of the global Jewish community: I love my family.

I love my wife, Suzy. I love my kids. And in our particular home, we dispense a lot of love. You see, we have six beautiful children ranging from a high school senior to a preschooler. Biologically, they share almost an identical DNA pattern, and yet, their genetic makeup has produced such varying results. They are all unique worlds unto themselves with separate interests, outlooks, circles of friends and even food tastes. The latter makes dinner table conversation ever the more interesting.

For the past 18 years, I have lovingly invested myself in my family and have watched each child develop at his or her own pace and distinct natural inclinations. While we don’t quite have the seven dwarves, and, although I am married to Sleeping Beauty I am no Prince Charming, we do have happy, bashful, sleepy, bookworm, sensitive, rambunctious and even serious children.

As any parent will tell you, no two children are ever the same. So what is it that we as parents do to nurture such a broad range of expression, attitude and behavior in our little domestic patch? Perhaps, according to our rabbinic tradition, not as much as we think we do. The Talmud (Berachot 58a) states: “If one sees a crowd of Israelites, one says, ‘Blessed is G-d who discerns secrets,’ for the mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other.”

This profound understanding inspires the potential within each of us. Although all are created equal in the “image of G-d,” we are not factory-assembled creatures, but rather are distinctly handcrafted and divinely infused three-dimensional masterpieces of dynamic art.

At the dinner table and in the family room, my family and I explore common goals and spend time with each other, learning together and positively challenging one another. Family supper time is critical to checking in, sharing a story, kibbitzing and helping each other develop.

My literal microcosm of B’nai Yisrael, the children of Israel, as our clan is sometimes referred to, is how I see the broader Jewish people as well. Outsiders and newcomers perceive us as being one tightknit Jewish mishpacha, one family, one cluster. Insiders know differently.

In our Jewish communal home, we too have a critical need for separate private rooms, as represented by different synagogues and critical Jewish organizations. But a healthy family unit can’t be built upon separate bedrooms alone. Where the action of Jewish unity needs to heat up is in the family room. There we can engage one another around a common historic past along with shared contemporary experiences to craft a collective Jewish future.

I am not naive to warrant putting aside our differences; I want to celebrate and learn from them. I look forward to meeting you, my cousins and friends, in our communal Jewish home at JCCs, public Israel celebrations and other opportunities. After all, who isn’t up for a fun celebratory family reunion?

Rabbi Ari Israel is executive director of Maryland Hillel.

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