Building Community

by Rabbi Carrie Vogel

Once, there was a rabbit. Rabbit loved to hop through the meadow, smelling the flowers and feeling the sunshine on his little rabbit face. He loved to go down to the river and see the water rushing over the rocks. And he especially loved to stare up at the moon and the stars on a clear night. But, Rabbit was sad because he was doing all of these things by himself.

One day, a brown bear called out to him, “Hello little rabbit…do want to come and play?” At first, Rabbit was afraid. I mean, next to a big bear a little rabbit would feel very, very small. Rabbit hid behind a rock, thinking that maybe the bear would go away so that he could find some friends his own size.

But the bear bent down and smiled at the rabbit. Then, before he knew what was happening, Bear swooped him up onto her shoulders! And Bear and Rabbit spent the rest of the afternoon, walking through the meadow, smelling the flowers and feeling the sunshine on their faces.

That night, Rabbit told his family about his new friend Bear. They all wanted to come and meet her. So Bear sat with Rabbit’s entire family talking and laughing until the stars and the moon were bright in the sky.

From then on, Rabbit and Bear played together whenever they could. They went down to the river and watched the water rushing over the rocks. When something dangerous was around, Bear would protect Rabbit, and in return, Rabbit would bring Bear her favorite carrots.

One day, Bear and Rabbit sat together watching the sun go down. Rabbit said to Bear, “I am so lucky that I found a friend like you.” And Bear said, “No, I’m even more lucky to have found a friend like you.” Rabbit smiled a big smile and said, “You know, I think we are both right.”

This is a very simple story. Right, we all know what is going to happen basically, from the beginning – the Rabbit and the Bear are going to become friends. But, even though this is a very simple story, and even though this came from a children’s book, its message is something that we all know to be true – having friends is really important.
I’d like everyone to take a minute and think about one of their best friends. Think about someone who makes you smile, who makes you laugh, who makes you feel better when you are sad or helps you see the big picture when you are frustrated.

Think about how you feel when you are with this person. Do you feel silly, or smart or loved or protected? Do they make you more confident or brave? Do you feel like you can tell them anything and they will love you just for who you are, even if it is something they do not agree with?

Now think about a time when you were the new person, or you were in a place where you just didn’t really have that many friends. I am sure that even the most popular among us has experienced this and I think we can all agree that it is not very much fun to feel lonely. This feeling is something which can make anyone sad – from the tiniest babies to the oldest adults.

I want to tell you about a famous scientist named Abraham Maslow. He studied the way people behave and he made a list of the things that people need in order to survive, in order to be healthy. First on the list: food. Second on the list: a place to live. And third on the list: community. The most important thing after having food and shelter is being around other people. We all need quiet time now and then, but Maslow believed that feeling connected to other people is actually something we need to thrive as humans.

Each day, when I walk up the stairs to this level of the building, I see Rabbi Moredcai Kaplan’s statement that “Life becomes infinitely more meaningful and worthwhile when lived in community.” This is the grown up version of the story I told you. Rabbit and Bear were OK before they met, but afterwards, their lives were so much more fun, so much more meaningful and so much more worthwhile.

Did you know that we have about one thousand families here at KI? Did you know that there are four hundred kids who are enrolled in our kindergarten through seventh grade programs? Plus another one hundred in the ECC, plus another one hundred in eighth through twelfth grade? My point is, there are a whole lot of people here! Some of you have been here for ten or twenty or thirty years – some of the parents in this room actually grew up at this synagogue themselves. Some of you have amazing, long, friendships – friendships which have grown and developed over many, many years. And you know how amazing it feels to see these friends at Shabbat and community programs. You belong to KI because of this sense of community.

Well, we want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to feel that way. So this year, Alice and Jennifer and I, along with our Lower and Upper Jewish Experience Center Committees, are really focused on increasing our sense of community – basically, we want to help everyone find the Bear to their Rabbit, or their Rabbit to Bear.

So to kick off this year of building community, I am introducing a program called, “Are you an awesome guest, or host?” I think that we all know, deep down, that we are either a really great host, or a really great guest. When you leave tonight, our ushers will give each family a blue postcard. Please fill out the postcard, indicating which category you fall into and put it in the mail (it already has a stamp – we are making this so easy for you!). If you are brand new and do not know anyone, you can absolutely be a host. And even if you grew up here yourself, you can absolutely be a guest. Our committees will then match families so that you can arrange a Shabbat dinner or play date or whatever it is that will help you create the kind of friendship that Bear and Rabbi shared.

Like Bear and Rabbit and Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, we all know that life is better when experienced and celebrated with other people. So as we move into this new, Jewish year, let us each pledge to work hard to embody the meaning of kehillat yisrael – a community of the people of Israel. We sing, y’hiyu l’atzonim reyfev’he gyonlibi lefanha adonai tzur iv’goali – may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable. This year, let our thoughts, words and actions lead us closer to old friends and introduce us to new ones.