I hope this season of blooming and warming is allowing you to spend more time outside, breathe a little slower, and soak up the sun.
Yet, even as imminent summer activities urge us to be carefree, LIFE is still happening, sometimes in challenging ways. While some of us may be romping in fields of dandelions or firing up the barbeque with friends, others may be feeling lonely, remembering summers with lost loved ones, or anxious or depressed that life isn’t going the way we had hoped. How do we as a community embrace the joys of summer, while also creating space for people to be real with one another if they aren’t feeling so sunny?
As I shared last Friday night, I have a good friend, whom I’ll call Judith, who is part of a highly professional and successful Jewish community. At her synagogue, people regularly share about their promotions, the awards their children are winning, the exciting vacations they are planning. Amidst all this success, Judith has mainly kept quiet about difficulties in her marriage and in her family’s finances. But a few months ago, at Kiddush, another young mom asked her how she was doing. After stumbling to come up with something positive to say, Judith began to cry, and shared that she was feeling really hopeless. She noticed that people were staring at her, but she was tired of holding everything in.
The following week, Judith got a call from the rabbi. “Judith,” he said, “I heard that you were crying at kiddush.”
Judith hoped the rabbi was calling to offer support in her time of need. Instead, he continued, “Judith, the way you were crying like that out in the opet, people wondered if you were drunk. So I wanted to let you know that it is not appropriate to get drunk in synagogue, and we would appreciate it if you didn’t do that again.”
When Judith called to tell me this story, I was flabbergasted. Was this rabbi TRYING to reenact the Rosh Hashanah Haftarah story, where the high priest wrongfully accuses Hannah of being drunk, when actually she is just fervently praying?! What kind of rabbi would shame a congregant about drinking, instead of finding out why she was upset? And what kind of community would gossip about a person in pain, instead of reaching out?! “Well,” said Judith, “I think a lot of communities are like that.”
Now, Judith’s story reflects an unusual lack of caring. But I think she is right that often, people come together in community to celebrate or to mourn less-complicated loss, but don’t know how to create a space where it is safe to be vulnerable when things get messy. How do we make it safe for someone to share a struggle with mental illness, addiction, or marital distress? How do we respond in a way that meets the suffering person with love and compassion?
For me, it comes down to the kind of Jewish community we want to build, and the kind of people we want to be. I know that I want to be part of a community where we can come as we are, and leave better for it. I want us to bring our strengths, challenges, and imperfections. I want us to be there for each other, not to fix each other. I hope you want the same.
So, as we enter summer, I pray that we can not only be joyful with one another, but more importantly, that we can be REAL with each other. And, I pray that we may meet each other’s strengths and struggles with compassion, kindness, and caring.