A New Type of Community
Rabbi Roni Tabick has set up two groups that make Jewish connections through study.
By Rabbi Roni Tabick
When I was growing up, community was very much defined by space. As a child at West London Synagogue, to be in the community was to be surrounded by pillars, high-backed wooden benches, and the sounds of an invisible choir. The room itself did so much to define what the synagogue was.
And yet some of the most exciting, most innovative community work I’m involved with today happens without any synagogue walls, without any fixed communal structures – it happens inside people’s homes.
In my average week, I teach two classes that sound completely different. One is my Marom Talmud Shiur: a group of young people, mostly connected through
Noam, who get together to study difficult Talmudic passages in the original language in hevrutah – learning pairs. The other is my Stoke Newington Basic Judaism group, consisting of people at various stages of thinking through what it means to be Jewish. Some are considering conversion, some have already converted but are looking to understand more, while some have been Jewish their whole lives but never learnt the deeper meaning of what we do. We learn basic stuff – Shabbat, the festivals – and we do so all together in translation.
These two projects may seem very different on the surface, but they have important things in common.
Firstly, these are home-based groups. We have no communal buildings, but meet either in the homes of the students (Marom Talmud Shiur), or in my own kitchen (Basic Judaism class).
More importantly, however, these are groups that are driven by the students themselves. They exist not because I, the rabbi, thought they should, but because a number of people came to me and asked me to teach them. What we learn is guided by the group, and I’m very open to feedback, digressions and diversions.
Many communities struggle with engaging young people (draw your own line for who counts as ‘young’). I think that synagogue buildings are sometimes a barrier to entry – they can feel offputting. But more crucial than this is the importance of relationships, of feeling heard. We want to feel like we matter, that we are taken seriously, that we can shape the conversation.
There is a hunger for learning, for an authentic connection to Torah and Judaism that feels deep and rich. That has a low barrier to entry but high expectations of commitment and behaviour.
A kehillah, a community, is not defined by the building – whether you have a permanent space or not – it is defined by the relationships within it. Through the Marom Talmud Shiur and the Basic Judaism class, I have seen how communities can be built centred around serious Torah, with respectful, listening relationships as the threads that bind
This Sukkot, may we discover that through our impermanent dwelling places, we can find the connections between people that really make a community.
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