Relational Judaism

It is hard to believe, but Passover will be here in no time. Passover celebrates the story of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage; it is a holiday of freedom. But more than that, it is a holiday of connection and commitment. The Hebrew word Brit (covenant) is invoked at the ceremony of circumcision when a Jewish boy is eight days old and enters into the commitments and promises of Jewish life. That same Brit/covenant is, our tradition teaches, why God redeemed us from Egypt. It’s a two-sided commitment: we do our part to maintain our community, and God sustains us.

This notion of being part of a life-long Brit/covenant challenges most of us today, especially as we daily assert our personal and ideological freedom and independence from any idea that fails to instantly resonate with us. Many of us do not wish to be tethered to something we only marginally understand. Consequently our sense of obligation to that Brit – that eternal covenant with Jewish life, is weakened.

Author and educator Ron Wolfson, a scholar currently speaking at the national convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, speaks of this challenge. “American individualism,” Wolfson says, “is a terrific thing, it really is; I wouldn’t trade it for a socialist system. But there’s a downside to it, and the downside is I could be holed up in my house with my guns in my closet, ready to protect myself from the terrible things out there, or I can embrace the idea that we’re not alone. And if we seek out relationships with community, with family, with friends, with God, something beyond ourselves, my belief is it can lead you to a life that’s filled with meaning.

“And meaning is what it’s all about at the end of the day. A sense of purpose: ‘What did God put me on this earth to do?’ And if you don’t believe in God, fine, then, ‘What am I supposed to do with my talents and gifts?’ “

“Relational Judaism” is not a new idea, but it is, perhaps, one that needs refreshing. Ron Wolfson reminds us that we should spend time with people, not just our Facebook friends – to have social lives, not just “social networks,” to engage with our neighbors and fellow Jews as an investment in the survival of Judaism.

This Passover, as you sit with family and friends and enjoy the brisket and the mazah ball soup, you are already participating in one of the foundational principles of Judaism: relationships. We do not live our lives in isolation; we share our lives with one another, with family friends, the Jewish world, the larger world, and ultimately, with our idea of God. I encourage you to expand that sense of relation and see how connecting with our wider Or Chadash community can be a significant part of discovering a greater sense of meaning.

We have recently celebrated Purim with our younger families, this Shabbat is our 3rd Annual Spaghetti Dinner, our Book Club, OC Reads, is meeting at the end of the month to discuss a remarkable story, Adult Education opportunities exist for learning with others, and our Chesed/Caring Committee is always looking for assistance. There are so many ways to connect here – I look forward to seeing you at Or Chadash.


Rabbi Joseph M. Forman