Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

What I want to be part of

Before the holidays, even before the beginning of the month of Elul, my shul, B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan, asked some of us to write short descriptions of our understanding of our community, our connections to it, and how we fit into the Jewish world.

We each were assigned a question, the question changed each week, and one little essay was posted each day of Elul.

My question was “What do you want to be part of?”

This is my answer.

I want to be part of a community that is alive.

I want to be part of a community that is alive to nuance and to difference, that has porous but real boundaries, that cherishes quirks and eccentricities without turning into a circus sideshow, that encourages intellectual debate and clarity of thought, that allows heated argument but stops before the spittle starts to fly.

I want a community that understands balance, that knows that all of life is in tension with all the rest of life, that sometimes black is black and sometimes white is white and sometimes they combine to gray and sometimes, when you are lucky, they make up a glorious shimmering incandescent silver.

I want a community that can get drunk on words and also knows what they mean. “Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves,” Alice’s White Queen tells her. Yes, and also take care of the sounds. Sometimes the magic is in the feel of the words as they fill your mouth and kiss your lips as they fly out. We need both.

I want a community that does not demand faith, that is not surprised when it sneaks up on you anyway and also does not blanch or clutch its pearls when that simply doesn’t happen.

I want a community that does not fear weeping; that does not glorify or glamorize or theologize about it, but respects it and lets it be.

I want a community that laughs. I want it to treasure giggles and guffaws and hoots and chortles, and to value the kind of laughter that starts in the middle of your stomach and takes over your entire body and shakes it and when it is over leaves you weak with joy.

I want a community that allows all of us to feel that we’re home.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)