Community in an “Uncomfortable Time”

by | Sep 5, 2019 | News | 0 comments

Steven Windmueller doesn’t pull any punches in today’s eJewishPhilanthropy item entitled “Tough Questions for an Uncomfortable Moment in Time.”

As Elul is a time for introspection, he reflects on the present moment.  “We are living with new realities,” he states. Each of the eight questions he considers about now is more unsettling than its predecessor.  

I want to focus on the fifth and sixth, perhaps the most pressing for me as one of the founders of a new community entity.

Windmueller asks:

At this moment in time, what issues draw us together as a Jewish community? Some have suggested that we are today operating as multiple communities, as we no longer hold common values, shared beliefs or an agreed uponcommunal agenda. As a result, are we a “community” any longer? 

When he elaborates by placing the question into historical context, the question takes on even more ominous tone: Are we possibly repeating the worst expressions of Jewish history?

Question 6 is no less dire: [W]ill we be able to sustain economically and demographically our communal and religious infrastructures?

As a teacher and scholar of Jewish history and author of two books about the subject, I have also considered if our experience is unique in history. You almost reflexively want to insert that George Santayana quote here about the past and how “history repeats itself.” I prefer the line attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  Much snappier!

However, Windmueller’s questions do leave you scratching your head.

Are we, in fact, a community?  Can we continue to support communal infrastructures?

In short, YES.

We are a community despite all the centrifugal forces acting upon us.  As members of an open society that (by and large) accepts us, we root ourselves in much more than our immediate families, synagogue or school communities.  There’s hockey, skiing, Netflix, TikTok and Instagram, Boxing Day sales, finding the best butter tarts and a million other pastimes that engage our days and nights.  To paraphrase the central ethos of improv comedy, we’re not just Jews.  We’re Jews and… 

Yes, this makes adhering to traditional forms of community harder, but it also provides us with additional opportunities to share the many aspects of our lives in common.

This “new reality” necessarily translates into different kinds of community institutions, of which ADRABA is one of this emerging cohort. 

ADRABA is an expression of this new community spirit both in form and function.  It is a space where Jews of all styles, orientations and persuasions can come together and do one of the most Jewish things Jews do together – learn.  

As educator and spiritual leader Cantor Cheryl Wunch observed: 

Toronto is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world, with a Jewish community that reflects that same diversity.  We need our educational offerings to serve all of the various needs of our students, regardless of learning style, family background, or denominational affiliation.  ADRABA’s blended learning philosophy offers exactly that.  In this environment, students can learn at their own pace, and receive a comprehensive, in-depth Jewish education that honours all members of our community.  Toronto needs ADRABA, and I am excited to see its students learn and grow.

And because of ADRABA’s design and structure, ADRABA is sustainable in a post-2008-Financial-Crisis age where funding dollars are fewer and farther between.  ADRABA is not dependent on maintaining an elaborate building, nor does it not need a traditional pyramid-style administrative structure to function.  All ADRABA needs are students, a teacher, a projector and a robust WiFi connection.

So, to Windmueller, I say:  As Elul unfolds, process your concern but do not be despondent.  You have identified the problem.  We here in Toronto are working on a solution.

K’tivah vaHatimah Tovah!