Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The More Things Change...

“Change is as inexorable as time, yet nothing meets with more resistance." - Benjamin Disraeli

A new decade?

Didn’t we just begin the new century?

Yes, I know that the century did not begin technically in 2000 but in 2001, so the new decade really will begin NEXT year, but that really doesn’t help us feel any younger. Well, at least we now have a decade that we can name. The “teens” sounds much cleaner than the “aughts.”
How much has changed over the past decade or two? Plenty.

One day last fall, Ethan called us on his cell phone from school. He was walking downtown and asked for directions to the Providence train station, which I gladly gave him. A few minutes later he called to let us know that the station I led him to had closed down… twenty years ago!

So much for my being his personal GPS.

I ran to the computer and gave him directions to the “new” station, which fortunately was just a few blocks away.

Just as I’ve come to rediscover that city, I’ve also become more aware of the dramatic changes that have taken place here in Stamford over these past twenty years. While there are legitimate reasons for natives to bemoan the passing of the “old days,” when everyone in the Jewish community knew everyone (and seemingly was related to everyone too), for we non-lifers, those who arrived post urban renewal, this city is a much more pleasant place now than it was when we arrived. Restaurants are filled late into the night downtown, a downtown UConn provides a touch of academia, and the city is sprinkled with new parks, schools and entertainment options (yes, even Jerry Springer).

I’ve seen some positive changes in the Jewish community too. More educational opportunities (the Bureau of Jewish Education), kashrut options (despite no butcher), a greater respect for pluralism and diversity (WFHA and the new pluralistic Jewish High School), and synagogues that offer a greater variety of spiritual options. For the most part, we all get along better than 20 years ago, when the board of rabbis was still in its infancy and joint communal projects were at a minimum.

Faith communities need to adapt to survive, and these are dramatically changing times. Consequently, Beth El has, of course, changed too. I’d like to think we’ve stayed ahead of the curve, but that’s for others to judge. There is no doubt that we are a very different place from the one we were in the mid ‘80s.

The key to change with religious institutions is to make it seem like nothing is changing at all, when in fact almost everything is. So the words of Torah are unchanging – and even its form, a scroll, didn’t change when the printed page came into fashion. The prayers are, for the most part, the same prayers that Jews prayed many centuries ago, and in the same language too. That is a source of great strength and rootedness.

But everything else has changed. As our Mitzvah Initiative class is discovering, even mitzvot have changed, and they continue to change as they are filtered through the experience of every individual Jew, in every generation. The Passover Seder still has the same words, but when I was growing up we didn’t know from plastic frogs and vegetarian shank bones. The Holocaust and establishment of Israel completely transformed the meaning of our observances and celebrations a generation ago, as have feminism, environmentalism and increased assimilation.

These changes are reflected in a new machzor that is being published by the Conservative movement this spring. There is no doubt that we need it (our current machzor predates the creation of Israel) and we will undoubtedly be purchasing it soon. Our board will be discussing it within the coming weeks. If you have an interest in dedicating a number of those new books, please let me know. You can view sample pages online at http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/Sample.html

So as we confront a new decade, we need to embrace change, which, ironically, is one of the great constants of life. The way things stay the same…is through the fact that they are constantly changing. Change is the greatest non-variable of our lives.

And just as everything changes around us, so do we – and so should we. We must continually be open to new ways we can find meaning in the context of our Jewish traditions and values. They are our anchor that helps maintain stability, even as the boat continues to change position with the rising and ebbing tides.

The more things change….the more they change… and the more we change too.

I would want it no other way.

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