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The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same, by David Friendly

09/07/2018 04:18:30 PM


In less than 4 years we will celebrate our 50th anniversary and we hope we will will also celebrate retiring our mortgage. We have indeed come a long way, but we have never strayed too far from our roots as a struggling, but intimate, and relevant chavurah. I wrote the following more than 10 years ago:


Although I live in Calgary and get to Darchei Noam only a few times a year, especially on the High Holy Days, my thoughts are often with the congregation. I have been a member of Darchei Noam since 1977. I am a past newsletter editor, past membership chairman and past president. Although I left Toronto in 1994, there is no other congregation of which I could consider being a member and so I have remained with this wonderful group of people — my community. We don’t give up our birth families when we move away; why should we give up the chosen family of our adulthood.

I am writing this letter because, from my somewhat objective viewpoint on the other side of the country, I have seen emerging a renewed fear that we have experienced as a community ever since the first days that I can remember as a part of the group. When I joined Darchei Noam, there were about 25 member-households. We held services and gatherings in our homes. We carried around boxes of the original Reconstructionist siddur, and the Torah lived in a wooden box: just large enough for it, just small enough for the trunk of a car, and just decorated enough to be suitable when stood on end as a Ark. Every few months and for High Holy Days and b’nai mitzvah, we hired a student from the RRC.

In the next 2 years we grew by about 20% — to 30 households! And then the big debate began: should we hire a congregational rabbi? The two predominant arguments against hiring a part-time rabbi were whether we could afford it (we couldn’t) and whether it would change our character as a close, warm community if we got big enough (double the size in 2 years) to afford a rabbi. What about giving up leadership to a professional? Well, our rabbi ended up being the newly-graduated Richard Hirsh. What a blessing that we made the right decision.

In the ensuing years, we had other decisions to make. All of them required growth in order for us to be able to sustain them and the congregation without financial ruin. We hired a full-time rabbi. We moved into permanent rented quarters. We hired staff and started a school. All of these decisions were made in the same context: could we afford it and will we grow too big and lose our intimacy?

These are still going concerns and current members still worry about losing the intimacy that is still maintained, despite the size of our membership. We are more than 10 times the size we were when this issue first reared its mythical head. So why has this growth not resulted in the breakdown of the congregation as the doubters often feared?

I think that, years go, we realized that it is not the size of the congregation that matters, only the size of its heart. This heart is seen every time a new visitor is greeted at the door by a smiling member who knows that first impressions mean everything. It is seen at a shiva home, at a church where we provide comfort to the homeless, at a housing development that a group our size, given our resources, shouldn't have been able to build — and yet there it stands. It is seen in the mishpocha groups, the family celebrations and the community-run festivals and holidays. I read Rabbi David Teutch’s article in the Autumn 2006 edition of “Reconstructionism Today” (“A Commitment to Caring: How Congregations Become Communities”) and thought about how much the Reconstructionist approach to Jewish community and participation has enabled us to grow with only an increase In our ability to stay connected.

Darchei Noam will be 35 years old in September 2007. Not only is it time we had our own home where we can expand our imagination about what a synagogue building can do for a community; but it is time we realized that we will never lose our intimacy (and especially that we will never lose our relevance) as long as we consider the Reconstructionist Jewish values of community, of dedication and of friendship to be the most important values on which to build our programs, raise our children and help our friends.

I look forward to the day when the ribbon is cut on our new home as a symbol of our permanence in the Jewish community of Toronto. I hope to be there to renew old friendships and meet new people. I hope that someone comes up to me and says, “You’re new around here, aren’t you? I hope you will enjoy our service and stay after to shmooz over Kiddush. And, by the way, would you like an aliyah?”

I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

Thu, 23 May 2024 15 Iyar 5784