Friday, December 28, 2012

The Nature of Our Relationship with Temple Beth Shalom

Julie and I recently had the opportunity to hear Harvard professor of political philosophy Michael Sandel speak about the change that has occurred in the political culture of the U.S. He argued that our culture has changed from one of “citizens” to one of “consumers.” I personally understood this to mean that rather than feeling that we define our nation by our participation in it, we see ourselves as consumers who stand outside and seek value for our investments (our taxes). Afterwards I reflected on whether there was a parallel notion that could be applied to how people approach congregational life. I think that Professor Sandel’s concept does have some relevance for us. We can view our relationship to Temple Beth Shalom as one of participation in community. From this perspective, our relationship is one that may directly benefit us from time to time, such as by providing us support in moments of loss and sorrow, but it is a relationship that we value because we care about the Temple Beth Shalom community for what it is today and will be in the future. In this type of a relationship we care for Temple Beth Shalom because it literally and figuratively cares for all of us. In juxtaposition, we can also view our relationship to the temple as one of consumer and supplier. I recently spoke with someone who defined his relationship with Temple Beth Shalom by mathematically dividing his membership dues by the number of services he and his wife attended each year. By considering himself as a consumer of Temple Beth Shalom services – rather than as a member of the community - he was evaluating what he was getting for his money. In essence - "here is what I pay Temple Beth Shalom, and here is what it gives me back in return". I understood these words because I think many have come to view our relationship to our country – and in some cases our religious communities – as customers looking for a good deal. Yet, while I understood them, I was also pained by them. I know that my personal aspiration is for us to be a community in which we participate and to which we are devoted because of our commitment to and love of what the temple does for all of us – and will do for the generations of Needham-area Jews after we are gone. I believe that being a part of Temple Beth Shalom means being a part of a whole and looking after and caring for that whole, not because of what it is doing for us, but because of the rare and precious goodness it creates for all. As we prepare to light the Shabbat candles this week, I want to encourage us to appreciate how not only how they shine in our own faces, but also in those of the others who surround the table.

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