To build or not to build – that is one question!
In the case of the Israelites, the answer was build! And build they did, using nothing but the best materials to construct a magnificent tabernacle. There was, of course, a pricey building fund attached to the “project”: “And these are the gifts you shall accept from them: gold, silver and copper…..” (Ex. 25:12-3). The response was a mind-blowing generosity that arouses the envy of contemporary fundraisers.
The question of buildings continues today – and is on the minds of many in our own community. But it is no longer obvious whether a congregation, a Jewish community center or another agency should 1) remain in old, resource-sucking buildings, making minimal repairs; 2) incur the high cost of renovation that meets today’s “green” standards, 3) purchase another building; 4) build from scratch; 5) rent one or multiple spaces; 6)share space or 7) merge.
Each option presents its own challenges. And, of course, each involves raising more funds at a time when many do not have enough, let alone have additional discretionary finds. At the same time, the needs of the community are greater and more complex than they have ever been. Not simply in the name of survival. Rather, as a result of this historic opportunity to reimagine Jewish life and construct new communal paradigms which respond to people’s search for meaning.
The Tabernacle was a portable reminder of the Divine Presence in our earthly realm. In this techno-age, someone is probably trying to invent a GPS – “God Positioning System.” At the same time, many are trying to find their way without a belief in God. Either way, it is likely that every human being possess a spark of energy dating back to the beginning of Creation. Collectively, this huge resource of creative energy, if combined with those who have plentiful financial resources, can be a game changer. And, we bring to this endeavor a more nuanced understanding that some institutions, like the Temple itself, necessarily have a finite life and purpose.
The pain of letting go might be lessened as we express our gratitude to those who devoted their lives and resources to building a complex communal system which has met countless human needs – religious, intellectual, cultural emotional, physical, social. These builders got us to this moment, and now it is our turn to build – if not on the actual foundations constructed, then on the belief that the foundation for Judaism and Jewish life is both internal and external.
Our challenge is to lay a new foundation which is reflective of today’s societal and communal complexities. What were once support walls are now being deconstructed, moved or entirely rebuilt. A growing number of people are exploring the construction of their own spiritual and ethical foundations.
As we read the parasha this week, may we overcome our fears of change, reframe our notion of community and discover the wealth of financial and human resources available to us today. May each of us be moved to give generously and to encourage others to give. Together, equipped with a new understanding of the differing needs and wants of four living generations of our community, we are poised to honor the memory of all past generations of builders and to inspire future generations to continue the sacred work of an ever-renewing people.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi