Finding a meaningful connection
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Finding a meaningful connection

'Community is more than just a collection of individuals'

There are two words in the Hebrew vocabulary that have always spoken to me with a particular resonance: “Kehilah” and “kesher”. Kehilah means community or congregation and kesher means connection. It was Aristotle who said man is a social animal and it was the Torah that asserted from its inception that “It is not good for human beings to be alone” ( Genesis 2:18).

We thirst for connection, we thrive on community – people do indeed need people (as COVID lockdowns so clearly illustrated). The African saying has it that people become people through people. Brene Brown puts it this way: We are wired for connection. Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

I have been a communal rabbi for over 30 years. Kehilah pulses in my blood. Community is more than just a collection of individuals for a common purpose. It’s about a space that answers our deepest yearning for togetherness and meaning.

As is regularly noted, the world is changing at an incredible pace – the social media age has opened our minds to possibilities undreamt of by our grandparents. COVID has shown us that we can create connection in novel and innovative ways.

This is what motivated me to create Kehilat Kesher, which has already attracted a diverse range of people. There are many wonderful shules in our community and Kehilat Kesher is not a shule. It’s more about personalised smachot and life cycle events, a weekly blog (or lesson for living) and shiur, learning opportunities and discussion groups.

Kehilat Kesher promotes an inclusive and contemporary Orthodox perspective in Melbourne. Its mission is to connect us to other Jews and to all who seek to create a more compassionate and principled society.

It prioritises welcoming those in the mainstream who grapple to find a place within the current traditional religious structures; it also welcomes those who may feel alienated, hesitant or uncomfortable in our Orthodox community, be they singles, couples or families, LGBTI+ or in a mixed marriage.

Kehilat Kesher recognises that in our social media age people are exploring new and creative options to express what Jewishness means to them. It offers a way of doing this in a traditional framework. Within the parameters of the halachah we help shape a simcha.

We have already celebrated several bar mitzvahs and numerous weddings. There are also other life transitions we help facilitate through funerals and consecrations.

This connecting community doesn’t aspire to be a regular congregation. It does not offer daily or weekly shule services; rather it is a space for people to connect in a personal way at special times in their lives to their Judaism.

Thanks to our generous sponsors and enthusiastic signed-up participants we will be running Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at the Caulfield Park Bowling Club. One of the lessons of COVID is that services don’t have to be schlepped out to be meaningful. We will strive to make the prayers more intelligible and accessible with lots of explanations, meaningful translations and readings.

Kehilat Kesher is fresh and contemporary in that it wrestles with the issues challenging our world: climate change, interfaith relations, racism, gender inequality, the wealth divide.

On Shavuot, in collaboration with several youth movements, we explored the topics of freedom and our personal and national identity as Jews. We did this by examining the core of our most critical historical spiritual experiences: Liberation from Egypt and the epiphany at Sinai (at Shavuot time).

Through the eyes and experiences of an Australian Sudanese refugee, Nyadol Nyuon, we thought more deeply about our own long historical experiences as refugees from Egypt and countless countries, we learnt more about ourselves as Jewish Australians. We also broadened our understanding about how Torah and halachah informs the contemporary and helps us gain meaning.

The word kahal appears 122 times in the Torah and is said to derive from the word kol or voice.

I hope Kehilat Kesher will be a voice for Jews who may have felt their voices have been unheard as well as for those seeking a different tune, that its voice will find a place in the wonderful rich chorus of our Melbourne Jewish community.

Rabbi Ralph Genende is rabbi of Kehilat Kesher and senior rabbi and GM of Jewish Life at Jewish Care. For more information or enquires about services contact: rabbiralph@kesher.net.au OR Michelle at kesher016@gmail.com

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