There are many truths that link us as human beings – qualities that we share no matter who or where we are. We all need to eat and sleep, learn and grow, and we all need to feel that we belong somewhere.
To belong is to feel at home, to feel comfortable and to feel like you are part of something. You are surrounded by similar people. Perhaps you are connected by belief, by interest, by history, by hobby or even by blood. This shared connection is powerful, meaningful and enriching in so many ways.
I saw how profound this could be last summer. My husband, Seth, and I took our honeymoon. We spent a relaxing week in Cancun, and then we spent time in Las Vegas. Now, we had no idea in advance, but our time in Vegas was going to overlap with the annual Star Trek Convention. Some might even suggest that this was bashert, because I grew up watching the Original Series with my mom, and Seth is a big fan of Voyager and Deep Space Nine.
After a bit of research, we found out that we could purchase General Admission tickets to the convention. We excitedly drove over to the hotel, and braced ourselves for whatever it was we might encounter. For those who have perhaps seen clips of the Convention on television, or in a documentary, or even as it was parodied in the movie Galaxy Quest, you know it can get pretty intense. Trekkies, or Trekkers, depending on who you ask, take all the Star Trek stuff pretty seriously. They debate which series was the best, which captain was the most capable, which villain was the most fierce and more. They dress up as their favorite characters (also known as cos-play), buy myriad pieces of memorabilia, and create fan-fiction. Many attend the convention every single year. Even I might have even purchased a Star Trek uniform…
Now, why do the fans do all this? Because we all need a place to belong. We want to spend with people who “get” us and who value what we value. We long for a place free from judgment, a place to raise our children, a place to find friends and build families. The Trekkies spend all year waiting to be back at their “home” where they are fully accepted for who they are.
For Jews, synagogues used to be these homes. One of the first goals upon moving to a new neighborhood was to find the local synagogue and become a member. Social circles were built there, and our children met their best friends in their classes inside these holy walls.
It was in a synagogue that we found friends to celebrate with us in our moments of joy, and we found a hand to hold or shoulder to cry on in our times of sorrow. A relationship could be a simple as someone who helped us carpool to Sunday School, or as profound as someone who could help us arrange shiva for a loved one.
It is harder and harder today to find these sanctuaries. If you are lucky enough to be part of a congregational family in which you feel loved and cared for, I congratulate you. It is a rich and meaningful experience that can truly be covenantal. On the other hand, if you have been feeling disconnected, or have been searching for a place to belong, I encourage you to seek out a local synagogue. It’s 2014, and this new secular year presents a perfect opportunity to “shul shop.” Bring a friend, and look for a place that feels right for you.
Try Orthodox, try Conservative, try Reform, try Reconstructionist, try Renewal… One size doesn’t fit all, and you may need to visit a few congregations before you find the right place. Nevertheless, I warmly encourage you to boldly go where you haven’t gone before.
Rabbi Marci Bellows is a spiritual leader at Temple B'nai Torah community in Wantagh, Long Island. A native of Skokie, IL., she earned a B.A. in Psychology from Brandeis University and a Masters in Hebrew Literature in 2003 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She was ordained in 2004.