From Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer
I begin this article for Bat Yam Matters in a state of awe and humility. I am honored and happy that as members of our congregation rebuild their homes, you have entrusted me to work with you to rebuild this very special and beloved Jewish community of Sanibel and Captiva Islands and Fort Myers. We will build upon the strong foundation that Rabbi Stephen and Vickie Fuchs have provided. Yaffah joins me in expressing our gratitude for your trust and the friendship that has been offered by so many since the moment we first visitedthe island.
The island is a special place in the hearts of the members of Bat Yam. While Yaffah and I spent only a week on the island prior to Hurricane Ian, we experienced a bit of its magic and look forward to next season when we can all be together there.
What is it about Sanibel Island and those who inhabit it that makes it so special and how might that inspire and guide us as we rebuild our Jewish community? Everyone we meet seems so busy and their days are filled with activity. This was true before the storm and now even more so as people rebuild their homes. How might we provide a respite? A haven.
Shabbat is that haven.
In his book, The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called Shabbat a “palace in time” and in some of his speeches referred to Shabbat as “an island in time.” Sanibel and Captiva are indeed islands in time. A hint of old Florida. A place moving at a slower, more leisurely pace. A place where the light sparkles. The wildlife invites us to stop and look carefully at the miracles unfolding before our eyes. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore calls to us in a basic, almost primal way. The island invites us to stop, take notice, and spend moments in deep appreciation for the wonders of creation.
Shabbat too is a time to spend in deep appreciation for the wonders present in each of our lives. And the best part is we do it together – as an intentional community. We can intentionally provide spiritual moments for ourselves and others. For those who come through our doors, it is their interactions with the members of Bat Yam that can create a different energy, a different atmosphere, a different pace. Music, prayer, and
opportunities to learn, will draw visitors in, but it is you who will invite them to call our community their home.
Rabbi Heschel also spoke of ladders of observance for the various Jewish holidays. He suggested to the not-yet-observant that they could climb each holiday ladder one rung at a time, moving upward at their own pace. Communities too have many different ladders, many different paths into greater participation and connection. In a voluntary community we must continually issue invitations for people to join us in wandering further up the paths of engagement.
Many aspects of community life can work together to support this approach, from using inviting language in every email, oral announcement, and newsletter, to leaders using active listening so that members will feel encouraged to speak openly with trust that they will be heard. Encouraging others to set out on a new path with us instead of simply stopping by and walking away. It is a matter of attitude. In building community, we help everyone to weave ever stronger the fabric of interconnection and commitment. I hope that you will always feel that you can share your thoughts and ideas with me and with each other, knowing that you will be received with an open mind and heart.
We will tap into people’s best talents by calling on them to undertake risks and experiments. Some of the things we attempt as a community might succeed beyond our wildest dreams. Others might flop miserably. And that’s ok. We will learn as much from our failures as our triumphs.
By infusing new energy and new ideas into the congregation, we will generate excitement, create hope, and achieve spiritual renewal. This is the most important part of “keruv” a Hebrew word that can mean both "outreach" and "in reach", of creating interconnection, a sense of belonging, and meaningful involvement within a community. Keruv motivates and energizes our membership and even has the ability to transform members’ lives. The closer people are to one activity of the community, the more likely they are to become committed to other activities and ultimately to each other.
Yaffah and I have made the commitment to you – each and every one of you – and we hope that you share that commitment so that we truly can become Echad. One people with love at the center.