Many Locations, One Community
The past few weeks at PAS have seen a flurry of activity. We’ve had to quickly change gears and remind ourselves that even without a physical space, we are still the same community. This time of year, we direct our thoughts toward the approaching Passover holiday and the story we retell every year regarding our own exodus from Egypt. This moment as a virtual community is no different from when we quickly packed up our homes with unleavened bread, unsure of where we would wander. Just as we did then, we will do now. We may wander but as we do, we will find manna to sustain us along the way.
Park Avenue Synagogue isn’t just the walls that surround us. During the next weeks, we may see each other only via livestreaming or in a Zoom meeting. We will embrace by exchanging email elbow taps. But no matter where we are physically located, we are always be spiritually together. We are here for each other in moments of weakness and in moments of triumph. Without each of you PAS would not be the flourishing community it is today and every day. 365 days a year.
— Rachel Zorbaron, Director of Membership
The Psalmist writes: “I was happy when they told me, ‘Let us go up to the House of God.’” (122:1) Where were they going? To the Holy Temple? Possibly, but maybe not. After the destruction of the Temple, what replaced it?
Judaism identifies three main functions of the Temple, namely, the Beit Tefillah (house of prayer), Beit Midrash (house of learning), and Beit Knesset (house of assembly). We strive to make Park Avenue Synagogue all of those things; however, our tradition does not recognize the synagogue as the successor of the Temple, known in Hebrew as the Beit Hamikdash. Rather, our tradition holds that the Jewish home, bayit in Hebrew, fills this role.
Can our homes – where we eat, sleep, work, watch TV, clean, and bathe – truly be holy ground? Judaism says yes, a home can be more than a place to hang our hats. Our homes have the potential to be a mikdash m’at, a small sanctuary.
In today’s public health crisis, we would be justified if in considering our homes as a sanctuary, we focused solely on creating a safe space. But for millennia Judaism has encouraged us to aim higher, to see the space within our walls as a place where we connect not only with those we love, but also with God and with our sacred texts. Now, with the blessing of technology, it can also be a place to connect with community.
— Rabbi Savenor, Director of Congregational Education
Physically Apart, But Not Socially Distant
As we navigate life in the COVID-19 era, think of the history of the Jewish people. At every crisis, we have pivoted, innovated, and survived. Today we have the challenge to do that again. We have already proven we can live in exile – and I’m not referring to the Jewish people, but to Park Avenue Synagogue. Away from our 87th Street building for well over a year and half, we demonstrated that we are not a community defined by these walls. As we renovated our campus and built for the future, we displayed creativity, strength, and resilience. We are so much more than this building. We are a kehillah kedoshah, a sacred community. We thrive and survive wherever we are.
Now, as our building is shuttered for the time being, we are building our virtual campus well beyond the livestream. Our regular classes are all online. In the coming weeks, we will offer more opportunities to learn together and be in community with one another, from Young Family Education to Adult Learning. Please join us. Allow the healing nature of Torah and community to soothe the anxiety of this time.
But, building our virtual campus is not enough. In the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis taught that the world stands on three things: Torah, avodah, u-gemilut hasadim, that is, study, worship, and acts of kindness. Technologies such as Livestream and Zoom allow us to study and pray together. They can also support the third leg of that rabbinic stool. Now, in the absence of our physical space, is the time to double down on that which I believe is the sacred calling card of our tradition, the thread that weaves and holds us together: gemilut hasadim, acts of kindness. Think of people in our community who would benefit from a phone call or some other type of assistance, and reach out. How can we help? A virtual visit from a friend or from the clergy? A prayer for healing? In the days ahead, we are faced with the sacred challenge to prove and demonstrate that social distancing is merely a physical act. Emotionally and spiritually, we are all together. We are here for one another and will continue to be here for one another.
So please, be in touch.
— Rabbi Zuckerman
Keeping Calm and Carrying On
Zoom and FaceTime and Skype, oh my! We hope that you are all adjusting to social distancing and extended family time. Though we love spending quality time with our families, we miss our routines and face-to-face connections. Here is what we are doing to stay in touch and on track.
We are both becoming technologically savvy. We are so proud of all the PAS educators who have worked tirelessly to move learning opportunities and programming online. With their help, we have mastered Zoom for our committee meetings and Melton classes. We are lunching with friends via FaceTime and even learning the latest dances from our children on TikTok. We’ve spent probably too much time on social media, laughing at the latest meme, seeing what others are doing, and visiting the newly launched PAS Instagram page. Our kids are rocking out to daily videos from Josh Rosenberg and are looking forward to starting Congregational School from home this week. And of course, we have managed to leave our phones and computers to play games and even spend time with a good book.
We also look forward to ending this week with all of you at our livestreamed Shabbat services. Our amazing cantors and inspiring rabbis always make us feel at home when we’re in synagogue, and they will make us feel we’re in the synagogue when we’re actually at home. Until we can meet again face-to-face, we look forward to spending time together virtually.
—Lizzy Markus and Nan Rubin, PAS Vice Presidents
Wandering Into the Unknown
Each Passover, as we recall the journey our ancestors took from slavery to freedom, we often forget that we know the end of the story. Yet when the Israelites stood on the shore of the Sea of Reeds, they faced great uncertainty. Our ancestors had left everything comfortable and familiar behind to wander into the unknown, clinging to the hope that things could be better than they were.
We look toward an unpredictable future. Yet our ancestors taught us a valuable lesson: that if we share the burden of fear and heartbreak, if we lift each other up, we can create space for the sacred and orient ourselves toward redemption.
Passover will look different this year. But you don’t have to do it alone. Over the next few weeks, there will be opportunities to learn, observe, and celebrate together. We may not know how the story ends, but it is in our power to write the next chapter.
— Rabbi Philp