Who's Your Person? Creating Our Own Minyan
These days, relationships are a hot conversation topic in the Jewish community. Noted rabbis Larry Hoffman and Richard Address, as well as Jewish academics like Dr. Ron Wolfson, have delved into this idea. I am a strong believer in relationships and how we find meaning in the synagogue because of the relationships we form with each other. But there is another important piece: the values of Judaism.
How do we find meaning and wisdom in our tradition? How do we transmit those values to others, including the next generation? The combination of these two powerful ideas – relationships and values – creates an important role for the synagogue as a place where they come together to form connections of deep and enduring meaning. Now, like never before, these ideas resonate.
We live in a world where individualism is held in such high esteem that many of us risk being cut off completely from each other. Meaningful relationships imbued with values are more important than ever. Finding people with whom to share life’s moments becomes more challenging, and we find ourselves increasingly alone at precisely the times when we need others the most.
Those of us who have been glued to the television set on Thursday nights have watched with bated breath the unfolding saga of the lives of the characters who work at the fictional Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital on the show Grey’s Anatomy. Two of the main characters, Meredith and Cristina, have bonded as kindred spirits. Much more than close friends, their lives are inextricably intertwined, each referring to the other as “my person.”
Does each of us have “a person”? This concept goes right to the heart of what it means to be a part of a synagogue. When we come to a congregation, the relationships that we form become our special family. We are in relationship with others who care about us, and likewise, we care about. We are there to celebrate each other’s joys and carry each other in their sorrow. Each of us is challenged to consider how we interact in our congregation and to ask if indeed we have such relationships.
Rabbi Leora Kaye of Temple Rodeph Sholom in New York casts this idea of having “a person” in a Jewish way. She asks, “Does each of us have our own minyan?” (A minyan is the quorum of 10 people necessary for public prayer in traditional communities.) This change in the concept is important, for in the synagogue we find community, not just a single person. As the minyan is defined as the minimum number required for a community to be present, we then appropriately ask, “Who is our community?”
Your clergy is supposed to care about you, but you are also supposed to care about each other. It is not sufficient to say, “It is the rabbi’s job,” for it is our job – every one of us – to create a space where we can become invested in each other. As our clergy spend much of their time providing pastoral care, so too can all of us console the bereaved, attend the sick, and be present at moments of need.
We need to reach out amongst ourselves and continue to build this aspect of our community. How many people have we not attended to because we simply did not know there was a problem? Often, a person in need is unable to reach out. But if there were a circle of invested friends, a minyan, someone would likely know about the illness and that person could call upon the rest of us so that we, too, could lend support – and in the interim, this minyan would already be present, offering love and support. We aspire to this idea with every Mi Shebeirach prayer we chant.
But what if we do not know how to create our minyan?
Moses provides insight into this question in parashah Sh’mot, which we read in December. We see Moses reach out to help those unable to help themselves, in particular striking down the Egyptian Taskmaster in defense of the Hebrew slave. Later, he singlehandedly fends off marauders at the well, protecting the Midianite women. This famous type-scene leads Moses to meet his future wife and be welcomed into the clan of his future father-in-law and most trusted advisor, Jethro. Moses, the solitary leader of our people, finds comfort and a home in his new community.
Like Moses, we then can help others who find themselves alone or unable to create community on their own. We can invite them in and help them create their caring community. Many of us already engage in these extraordinary acts of kindness – what Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, calls “audacious hospitality.” What if we all practiced this approach to our relationships?
We can strengthen our relationships within our synagogue and welcome into our tent the outsiders who also seek relationships and meaning. We can grow our family and ensure no one find themselves alone. We can create a place of extraordinary love, strength, and support, a place of relationships and Jewish values. And, hand in hand, we can make it through anything together – and continue to prosper.
Ken yehi ratzon, may this be God’s will and our action.
Rabbi David Levin is the Union for Reform Judaism's Congregational Network Rabbinical Director, serving Reform congregations on the East Coast. A second-career rabbi following a career in finance and real estate, he was recently ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.