I always have people telling me “If you need a place for Shabbos or Yom Tov come to us.” Why? Because it is nice to be with family or friends. However one thing I discovered this year is that it is nice to go away but sometimes it is better to be home and be building your community around you. Building community in the Jewish world and in general is important and what better way to do it where you are.
I am fortunate to have family both in Israel and in the greater New York area as well as other places. I also have an abundance of friends of the family. One thing I have no shortage of thank God is places to go for a Shabbat or even on the holidays. However, this Rosh Hashana was a life changing experience and something that sometimes we need a reminder of every now and then.
I have been living in Washington Heights for a few years now and have been able to go to different places for Rosh Hashana every year while my immediate family was in Israel. I have a brother who is the Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and I joined him and his community last year. This year I was not able to make it and was not sure what to do about it. There were others who were thinking something completely different.
Washington Heights community and the NYC community as a whole has many different types of people living in it. All kinds of Jews as well. On Rosh Hashana we see many come out from wherever to join in the prayers. A group of people in Washington Heights were asked to revive a synagogue that was around for 90 years but starting to wane. They not only revived it on the High Holy Days but so much more. They started to build a community.
To have left Washington Heights, yes I would have seen family, yes I would have been involved in wonderful prayer. Something here in Washington Heights at a synagogue called Beish Medrash Hagadol struck a powerful chord though. We did not need to go to family. We had a community and family right where we were. We had meals, learning, and holy prayer. All sorts of people participated. It was very open and the community grew and shone.
The name of the synagogue is called Beis. Some called it a base. It is also from the Hebrew translation a home for many over this Rosh Hashana. Washington Heights is a thriving community. From young to old, from singles to couples, from males to females. All joined in the prayers and the meals and festivities.
I will always remember, it is one thing to go find a place to be for the high holy days and enjoy the prayers. It is another thing all together to live the actual renewal of a community and the building of new friendships, new foods, new life, and new stories on this wonderful holiday. Thank you everyone who helped this be what it was. To a strengthening of the bond of the Jewish people and a strengthening of the communities that we already are a part of.
As I am writing this piece we will be beginning Yom Kippur within 24 hours. The people who brought the Beis back will be having prayers again and welcome all. The Chazan has returned as well. We will be continuing the journey of building community through the High Holiday Prayers. May we continue to thrive and flourish and grow as communities all over the world.