As a rabbi for almost three decades , I am certainly no stranger to taking part in communal prayers in synagogue on a regular basis. Since last May, however, with the passing of my dear mother of blessed memory this has taken on a whole new level of meaning for me.
Saying Kaddish three times a day has deeply changed the way I go about my life. Wherever I go, I have to think ahead and make sure that there will be a shul nearby or at least an ad hoc quorum that can be put together.
Such planning is almost always at the back of my mind to some extent. Last month, our entire family took a trip to Israel. It was a wonderful trip but I can tell you that my need for a minyan made the logistics of this visit to the Holy Land completely different than any time I have been there before.
So I have been thinking a lot lately about how much we as Jews depend on community. We are not meant to live in isolation. We really do need each other. So much of the rhythm of life revolves around getting together.
During the pandemic, one of the things that were the most disruptive was the isolation that most of us faced on some level. We didn’t see loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances. It was such a bizarre experience that I don’t think I have sufficiently understood its far ranging effects yet.
But for all the Facetimes and Zooms, there was something deeply lacking. As I said, I don’t think I’ve fully comprehended it yet. But I do know that we need each other. And that doesn’t mean just once in a while. It means much more often than we think, we need to get together and be in each other’s presence whether it is to pray, to study Torah, to celebrate a life cycle event, or just to catch up and talk about life.
Every seven years, in times when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, may it be speedily rebuilt, there was a mass gathering of the entire Jewish people known as Hakhel. By assembling the entire nation “en, women, and children” the mitzvah of Hakhel was meant to recreate the experience when all Jews stood as one together at Sinai to receive the Torah.
Although the actual mitzvah of Hakhel is only practiced when the Temple is standing, we can still channel the spirit of Hakhel in our day. This coming year, 5783, may it be for a blessing, is a Hakhel year. I want to call upon all of you, my friends and neighbors, to make gatherings this year.
Host people at your Shabbat and holiday table. Set up a lunch and learn at your office and I am happy to volunteer my services and teach at your lunch and learn. Get the neighborhood children together for a Shabbat party. Bring a group to visit the homebound and infirmed. It doesn’t matter who or where or what. Just get together with each other and do it often.
And of course at Chabad of the Five Towns we will be hosting and facilitating Hakhel year gatherings all year long so please reach out to me if you would like to take part.
As we get ready for the month of holidays I invite you to join our high holiday services and please count on Chabad of the Five Towns for all your holiday needs, much of what we offer is on our website www.chabadfivetowns.com.
I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, sweet new year. And may we soon experience the ultimate gathering of our entire people together with the coming of Moshaich.
Wolowik is the leader of the Chabad of the Five Towns