When I was in college, I found that at some point in any given semester my courses in one way or another would all be addressing the same ideas or topics. I’ve had a similar experience over the last few days in grown-up life. The topic I’m finding in the atmosphere in my world is spiritual meaning. I’ve been monitoring an email conversation among my fellow Oheb Shalom congregants about mitzvot and meaning within the Conservative movement. The comments have been so meaningful and erudite that I have hesitated to participate, but I think I now know what I want to say. I’m also reading “Have a Little Faith,” Mitch Albom’s most recent best-seller about the search for spiritual meaning as seen through the life of Albom’s childhood rabbi and the life of a Detroit minister, Henry Covington – and the affect of these stories on Albom. The book is by no means a “heavy lift” but it does touch on the issues I find so many Jews (and non-Jews) raising in this challenging time of war, economic hardship, and human loss. Is there anyone “up there?” What is our concept of God? How do we reconcile the Sunday school pictures in our heads with the difficult situations we encounter as adults? Why perform mitzvot if we aren’t sure there’s an ultimate authority keeping score? What meaning do we derive from these commandments?
So here’s my personal take on whether there is a higher spiritual authority: While it’s easy to revert to the “Sunday school” version of an elderly man with a flowing white beard, making notes in the Book of Life, I look at the world around me and think that there is something beyond the quotidian daily life, a higher force, a greater consciousness without namable form or shape. But I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about spirituality on that level. I truly believe that we have to focus on what we can do to create good between human beings – that true holiness happens when we seek to repair the world in the name of whatever power we believe in – or simply for the sake of doing good. This is why I am so committed to the work of the MetroWest community – its synagogues, its agencies, and of course UJC MetroWest. In the day to day life of this Jewish community, we each create moments of holiness – in a visit to a friend in the hospital, in celebrating a simcha in the congregation, in paying the shiva call, we connect in ways that are the real meaning of spirituality.
The concept of doing good between people being the creation of holiness came to me again today, as I attended the funeral of a great woman in this community, Golda Och, z”l. Golda had many, many connections throughout MetroWest and indeed around the world. She was my teacher, although I never attended Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, which she helped to found, but she was still my teacher. She was my teacher in matters of leadership, as I was privileged to sit on the Maxine Fischer Scholarship committee with her as its chair. She was my teacher in matters of Jewish learning, since the Maxine Fischer Scholarship is awarded to young women from MetroWest who study in the area of either Jewish studies or women’s studies – her breadth of knowledge was astounding but she wasn’t seeking to impress, but simply to teach. Golda was my teacher in matters of philanthropy; the quiet direction of resources to where they are needed to do the most good with not a whole lot of fanfare. Mostly, Golda was my teacher in matters of human connection. She always had time for a greeting, an inquiry into the family, my work, and so on, whether I ran into her at the JCC or the David Intercontinental Hotel lobby in Tel Aviv. I will miss her wise counsel and quick wit. May her beloved family be comforted and may her memory be for a blessing.