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More Than Just a Slogan

on Friday, September 21 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
A number of years ago, in an effort to create a BRS brand, we decided we needed a logo with a slogan.  After much deliberation, we ultimately chose “Valuing Diversity, Celebrating Unity.”   After all, the BRS community prides itself on the incredible diversity in our family – diverse ages, diverse religious backgrounds, diverse levels of observance, diverse political orientations, diverse countries of origin and diverse interests.  Yet, at the same time, we understand that in the end of the day, the diversity only adds value if we bond together with a sense of unity and allow our differences to complement, rather than to divide.  

Maintaining diversity in a large community is easy.  It comes naturally to welcome and invite people whatever their particular background.  Maintaining unity among a large diverse community, however, is a great challenge.   Special interest groups develop that lobby for their needs or for the Rabbi to take a particular position or create or eliminate certain practices, procedures or protocols.   The challenge of leadership, lay and professional, is to always do what is right for the community as a whole, no matter how passionately a special interest group may present their particular position.

We are always seeking opportunities throughout the year to experience the “Celebrating Unity” part of our slogan.   For me personally, and many others have shared the same sentiment, Neilah in the Rand Sanctuary is a highlight of the year.  The Shechet Minyan and Rand Sanctuary Minyanim combine.  Others from the various minyanim in the Shul join as well for an incredibly spirited and serious davening.  The walls shake from the collective singing and the decorum is at an all time high.    It is as if the amazingly diverse gathering combines our very distinct and different prayers to form a near perfect prayer and deliver it through the closing gates to on High.

A second opportunity for unity presents itself in a couple of weeks when we come together to celebrate Simchas Torah.  Different minyanim have their own Shacharis and Torah readings, but we do something on Simchas Torah morning that we don’t do on any other day of the year.   Every single minyan comes together for one joint Musaf.  After all, we stood as one united nation when we received the Torah and we should stand together as one when we celebrate it as well.

And so Neilah and Simchas Torah are among the high points of the year for me, not only because they both close a loop and complete a holiday, but because we do so with a profound sense of unity and togetherness.   

But something struck me on Rosh Hashana.   While we try to artificially create unity moments and opportunities for the community, the most authentic ones come organically and by themselves.   Many of the minyanim at BRS let out at approximately the same time on both days of Rosh Hashana.  As people began to see friends, acquaintances, neighbors and community members from other minyanim, a remarkable thing began to occur.  Everyone was not only greeting, they were blessing one another.  The aura and atmosphere of a community sharing blessings together was extraordinary.  Usually shy people were transformed into Chassidishe Rebbes as the sweetest blessings flowed from their lips.  

Our Rabbis teach us, birchos hedyot, al tiheye kalla b’einecha.  Even the blessing of a regular person should not be taken lightly.  If that is true for an ordinary person, imagine the power of the blessings of a community of ordinary people on one another.

As we begin the New Year, let us continue to value diversity and the benefits that come from having a community with all kinds of people.  But at the same time let’s never stop celebrating our unity and reaping its blessings.

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