It was our Sage Hillel who taught us al tifros min hatzibbur “do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirkei Avot 2:4). I was certainly glad to be part of a community this past summer at Congregation Adath Israel here in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Community was truly the focus of my eight-week fellowship with this community, as I and, it seemed, the other staff around me worked on projects designed to better the congregation while the sun was hot and the frantic rhythm of synagogue life slowed to a steadier, slower beat.
One of the biggest events of the year at Adath Israel is their Kosher BBQ Festival. Teams from all over Cincinnati—indeed, the entire Miami Valley—compete to see who truly rules the (kosher) grill, with all kinds of delicious food (meat and otherwise) on offer. This event always takes place in mid-July. Although I was home in Australia by that point, I know that this afternoon is highlight for all those who are in town, a fun way to get the community out and about in the height of summer.
I had the opportunity to work with the Education Department under the auspices of the indefatigable Dara Wood. Together we laid out a series of projects for the Adath Israel religious school, including educational resource packages about some of the prayers (including the texts, discussion questions, recipes, and art activities), as well as a curriculum summary booklet so the parents could understand exactly what their child(ren) would be focusing on throughout the school year. The two biggest projects involved creating a hadracha (leadership) curriculum and a new siddur (prayer book), based on the Conservative movement’s liturgy, as Adath Israel is a Conservative congregation. Once the materials were created, I had an opportunity to learn through doing, as I worked both collaboratively and independently to bring our ideas to life.
I also observed as this congregation went through a rabbinic transition during this period. It was fascinating to watch the team, including people from both the education department and the main synagogue office, react to and deal with change, as they said farewell to their senior rabbi of twenty-seven years and welcomed a new senior rabbi into their midst. An important part of the transition was a retirement gala for their now rabbi emeritus, into which everyone poured hours of effort and emotion. He had truly left his stamp on the hearts of this congregation and was deeply loved and admired.
Although I am sure that this process of saying goodbye is ongoing and not easy in the slightest, I have full confidence that they (both congregants and staff) will be warm and welcoming to their new leader.
My summer there leaves me with no doubt that they will receive their new senior rabbi with warmth, because they were so warm and welcoming to me at a time when it would have been so easy to retreat into the bubble of the summer heat and ignore the rest of the world for a while after a busy year at school. I am certainly grateful I had a chance to be part of a team of people who exhibited these qualities, and to learn from the way they interacted with each other. They truly care about and respect one another and are dedicated not only to their work but also to the community they serve. They often talked about attending Shabbat services (which of course were outside of their regular office hours), showed up for the Kosher BBQ Festival, and were all present at the retirement gala for their beloved rabbi.
May we all be so lucky to work with such committed and caring teams in our futures. I discovered that we surely get out as much as we put in if we follow the words of Hillel and do not separate ourselves from our communities.
Eliza McCarroll is a native of Sydney, Australia and a current third year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio.