"And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."
It was the summer of my 14th year when Camp Ramah in the Berkshires opened and I had the privilege of being one of the first campers to experience this magical place. I was a city kid who had never spent much time in the outdoors, and this was an entirely new experience for me.
I was comfortable participating in traditional services within the defined walls of my synagogue, but the idea of praying outside - under the stars or during a sunrise - introduced me to a level of spirituality I had never known. We were encouraged to create our own personal space for prayer and reflection, a space that was portable and expandable to include others when appropriate.
This week's Torah portion, T'rumah, describes the building of the Tabernacle, a portable sanctuary designed so that, no matter where the Israelites were on their travels, "G-d may dwell among them." Like our modern day synagogue, the tabernacle was the go-to place for us to worship and express our divine spiritual connection.
What does this concept of sanctuary mean for us today? If we believe that the Divine dwells among and in each of us and that the Divine presence isn't limited by brick and mortar, we see that each of us has the ability to create our own sanctuary. While organized, communal worship remains a central part of the Jewish experience, our spirituality is portable: we can take it with us as we create the Jewish journey that is most meaningful and relevant to us.
This week, we began to introduce the results of the JMAP Study, which explores the perceptions, hopes, beliefs and needs of our Greater Hartford Jewish community. We are beginning a "Year of Understanding" - a time for all of us to explore the JMAP data and together try to understand how we can use it to help strengthen and grow our community.
The initial findings confirm that we are a strong and engaged community - and we are also learning that more and more of us are on our own unique Jewish journey. Defining that journey is very personal and incorporates many factors. G-d's promise to dwell among us gives each of us tremendous latitude. Sometimes it's about going to the sanctuary, and other times it's about taking the sanctuary with you. By being open and receptive to the wonders around us, we can take Divine inspiration from both mundane and profound aspects of life - experiences that will help us as we build our own personal tabernacles.
I hope you'll join me on this community journey of discovery. Let's learn from one another and explore each other's perceptions and views of what makes a healthy Jewish community. Let's discuss what our community should look like and how we can better help each other explore our personal Jewish connection. As we each pursue our own Jewish journey, we also can come together to create a Greater Hartford "JMAP" that will provide multiple paths to a bright future.
President and CEO