The word “community” is a central word in Jewish life. We talk about “the Jewish community” a good deal. But the nature of community is complex and evolving. In the Manchester of my childhood it was taken for granted that my parents would likely know the parents of my friends, and that my grandparents would know their grandparents. My grandma died a quarter of a mile from where she was born – having lived nearly 96 years in one square mile of Jewish north Manchester. That world does still exist in some places, but it is shrinking. In its place we have evolving communities: old friends whom I catch up with when I see them; newer friends who live nearby. Virtual “friends,” with all the complexity we know that notion encompasses.
I have been thinking about the notion of community in relation to Sukkot – and Sukkahfest – and our Intentional Communities Conference, at Isabella Freedman from November 20 – 23. The sukkah is something we construct with friends and family. Like the mythic barn-raisings of the old West or of the Amish community, it is the very opposite of “virtual” community; it is as tangible as a hammer and nails and s’chach – branches – being dragged across the roof. And yet the sukkah is also this home which is, to a very considerable extent, open on all sides. It is the home in which it is much harder to insulate ourselves from the world around us. We celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; we do – hopefully – the internal work of teshuva, of promising ourselves that we will be better this year, kinder, more determined, more thoughtful, a better person – and then Sukkot comes along as if to say: nu? So what are you going to do practically? How exposed to the world are you, really…? And so forth.
Liz and I this year will again be at Sukkahfest. It is completely sold-out, as it has been in previous years. It is a glorious time to be at Isabella Freedman, and the fall foliage, the late summer harvest, and the sounds of flying geese are the least of it. It is a taste of olam haba – of the world we aspire to live in – to be amidst people of a wide range of religious backgrounds, davening in different minyanim, or hiking, or doing yoga, or just hanging out in the sukkah – and then eating together, learning together, singing together, dancing together. The world that was flattened by the French Revolution – the world of unselfconscious Jewish life, lived out in time and in space – comes back to postmodern life at Sukkahfest, and joyously so.
The Intentional Communities Conference is, most fundamentally, about asking what it would take to construct a community of this sort the other 51 weeks of the year. That is what Sukkot challenges us to think about – how to enlarge our sense of community by sharing more deeply and celebrating more consciously. Could we create an urban kibbutz? A new kind of co-housing? A Moishe House for three generations? How big would it be, could it be, should it be? Where might it be? How might it evolve Jewishly? What legal structures might it utilize? How many people? What process of decision-making? And so on.
As I say: Sukkahfest is sold out. But our Jewish Intentional Communities Conference – a joyous partnership with the Pearlstone Retreat Center, and partially supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel – takes place from November 20 – 23. Registration is open.
And I’m excited and delighted to announce that, in the coming year, thanks to generous support from UJA-Federation of New York, we’re launching a new initiative to support emerging Jewish intentional communities – or ideas for a Jewish intentional community – building on the wisdom accumulated through the Intentional Communities Conference and the remarkable development of the movement in Israel. If you are interested in being part of this cohort please click here to learn more and to apply. Applications are due November 7, 2014. If you have friends who may be interested in this – please forward this email to them. And if you’re interested in this topic – please also join us for the conference. It promises to be really fascinating. If you’d like to teach, present, or suggest a topic, be in touch also.