Bo: Community New Year

2014“This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.”

Happy New Year!

Of course, the New Year being referred to in that quote is from this week’s parasha, Bo, specifically Exodus 12:1.  And God is talking about the Jewish New Year, or at least one of the Jewish New Years.  There’s more than one, but don’t be too surprised.  There are multiple New Years in the secular calendar, also.  Think September (school year), July (fiscal year), and January, for example.  Spring/Passover is the calendar New Year.

Parashat Bo tells us of the Passover Seder.  It’s a bit odd to think of the spring holiday of Passover deep in the winter time.  But that’s where we are in our Torah-stories.  God lays out all of the basic rules for Passover – the Passover lamb and staying away from leavened bread for a week.  There’s a family meal, and inviting the neighbors in to help eat up all the food.  The first Passover was truly a new beginning.  From that point on, as the people left Egypt, their identity as a people has begun.  They arrived as the members of the family of Jacob/Israel and left as nation of Israelites.

We belong to many groups; we have many group identities.  Family, alumnae, hometown, sports team, etc.   Each is a community unto itself, asking of us some loyalty, and offering us connection.  Some we have no choice over (initially), such as family and sports teams.  Others, we get to choose, but ultimately we choose to remain or to leave all of them.

More than ever, being a part of the Jewish community, identifying with this group, is a choice.  It is made more difficult when the “who’s in/who’s out?” question is even harder to answer.  So,  are you in or out?  Overwhelmingly, in the latest Pew Research study, the answer was a clear “In!”, but the why and how of that answer was more varied than in the past.

Knowing what to do with the why’s and how’s isn’t only the job of the Jewish professional anymore.  It’s up to every member of the community, every person who decides for whatever reason that they’re “in”, to do something with that sense of belonging.  As I’ve said before, feelings don’t get passed down. Only actions are transmitted.  They’re called traditions, and if you don’t like the ones you received, take the parts you do like and re-imagine them.

I taught a class about Jewish community this week. The students were Navy recruits. (to learn more about this, see the end of this post)  Most self-identified as Jewish, though with a wide variety of background, and about half came from interfaith families.  In defining “community”, they all agreed that if you’re part of a group, you have to stay involved. Otherwise, you’re just coasting, and neither you nor the community benefits from that.

We like acknowledging New Years.  They’re blank slates, new starts, opportunities to change what we do or think or try for.  Each one is like a reboot.  New Year celebrations are expressions of hope. We really think things can change, that we can change. So we make time to think about how the coming year will play out differently, what we liked that we can keep and what we’d like to change.

For Bo, this week’s parasha, we began to see ourselves as a defined community, and set about celebrating that distinction, and had a kick-off dinner together.  In whatever way you attach yourself to this group…no, in whatever you ARE in this group, think about what you’d like to keep, and what you’d like to change.  Think about how your Jewish identification in this coming year can be different, and heck….make a resolution!

By the way, I resolve to spend some more time on my colleague Alden Solovy’s website.  He writes astounding, profound new prayers.  Check out his New Year prayer.

And, as for the Navy program:  there is a dedicated crew of Jewish

Max Rubin

Max Rubin

professionals, both clergy and non-clergy, which provides Friday night services, holiday services, and weekly “Jews in Blues” classes at the Great Lakes Naval Recruit Center…bootcamp for the Navy. I am proud t be in the rotation.  The services and classes are open to all who wish to learn, seek, explore Jewish thought and life.  The Navy doesn’t pay for any of this, and there are, of course, expenses associated with this program, including providing a “survival kit’ for Jewish recruits to take with them after they graduate, encouraging them to continue living and exploring Jewish life.  We have begun a fund in memory of Max Rubin, a friend, fellow Jew, fellow actor, Navy veteran with a 40-year Navy Reserve status.  Max was very supportive of this program, but he passed away suddenly and couldn’t take action.  Please consider a donation in his memory.  If you have questions about the program, please feel free to contact me at

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