“HOW LOVELY ARE your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places oh Israel. (Numbers/Bamidbar 24:5)”
Rabbi Alan Lachtman, with his service as a chaplain in the army, in addition to more than four decades of congregational work, can tell you, tents are not especially lovely. When we gather up the campers at the end of Shabbaton, they rarely talk about how lovely the cabins were, or the beds or makeshift sanctuary.
Why, then, these words? It is the community that gathers inside that beautifies. This is why you can find a group of Jews praying on a nature trail or in a park or on their computers, sharing and caring and relating to one another with warmth. This is why our tents are lovely.
Settling to the east of Los Angeles, in the area of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, can be a challenge to our Judaism; there are fewer obvious signs of massive Jewish communities, and more families spread out “bamidbar” (in the wilderness – Titular portion of the third book of Torah, read just before Shavuot).
Realistic leaders will tell us that Judaism is not a numbers game. Pirkei Avot and many tales in our tradition tell us we don’t have to save the whole world, but we have to start small. This is why it’s important to seek the small connections in our Jewish world. When I brought home the signs of Manheegim (leaders) from Camp Gan Shalom (Jewish Federation’s summer day camp), a neighbor stopped me on the street, and one more connection grew in our community.
I do not have all of the answers, so I’ll just nudge you—find the connections: encourage your kids to try camp (there are scholarships available) and learn from them. Participate in a class or a holiday or communal prayer breakfast. Cook a kosher meal. Read a book. Help get teens involved in a temple youth group—they are growing and coming together in new and exciting ways. I can vouch from both sides of these experiences, as a participant and facilitator. These are deeply relevant experiences that grow and strengthen Jewish identity—teachers become students, and students gain menschlichkeit.
With all of our challenges, there are new ideas, new leaders and new connections which are beautifying our longstanding Jewish community. Our ruddy canvas lean-to becomes a mishkan, a holy gathering place where we don’t cut ourselves off, but attach ourselves to, our community.
Joey Angel-Field is a rabbinic student at the Academy for Jewish Religion, CA and Youth Co-Advisor (TOV CHAI) and ritual chair at Temple Beth David.