Spiritual Life at Congregation Beth Israel
by Rabbi Linda Potemken
We attend to the life of the spirit when we pay attention to that which makes life meaningful; when we connect to the deepest parts of ourselves and others; when we awaken to a sense of awe, gratitude or hope; when we engage in Jewish practice and share community; or when we connect to God, whether we experience God as a process, a presence, a being or an inner spark. The paragraphs that follow describe several aspects of spiritual life at Beth Israel, including learning, service, Jewish practice and prayer.
Through the ages, our Jewish people have placed a high value on the study of our sacred texts. At Beth Israel members of all ages are invited into the world of study, through which we challenge our intellect and connect to past generations who have wrestled with the ideas and lessons in Jewish texts. As Reconstructionists, we expand the definition of Jewish texts to include all literature on Jewish themes by Jewish authors.
Giving of our time, talent and resources to help others is a spiritual practice and religious obligation. At Beth Israel, our social action committee members craft programs and create opportunities for members to participate in acts of tikkun olam, of repairing the world. Many of us also take the time to reach out to synagogue members in times of need. Others help run the synagogue through Board or committee work, assisting with the Hebrew school or working on special projects or programs. We all contribute by bringing refreshments to services once or twice a year. Synagogue life feeds our spirits by giving us the opportunity to look beyond the narrow needs of self and family and to reach out to serve a greater good.
At our Reconstructionist synagogue, we view the mitzvoth (commandments from the Torah) as Jewish practices, to be studied and understood, serving to guide or inform our behavior. As such, there are many varied Jewish practices that can serve to connect us to our heritage, to our people, to a place of deeper meaning or to God.
Engaging in communal prayer is one such practice. At Beth Israel, we join together on Shabbat, Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and on holidays to engage in the richly rewarding practice of prayer. Our services include lively and contemplative Hebrew singing, meaningful English prayers and poetry; educational and thoughtful talks (divrei Torah); moments of peace and quiet, and community participation. Much of the prayer book is transliterated, inviting non-Hebrew readers to sing along. In-house musicians share wonderful Jewish music at some of the services. Occasionally services include meditation. Our services are always followed by refreshments and socializing. They are often preceded by or followed by a communal meal, a class or a presentation. Our services offer the opportunity to be a part of a warm, caring, stimulating community.
How do we attend to the life of the spirit? We wrestle with the question of why we are here, in this world, at this time. We recognize that we have come into this world to learn, to love and to serve. We take part in something larger than ourselves. We take the Torah, the cornerstone of Judaism on a journey through the 21st century. Spiritual life at Beth Israel is rich and varied.