Jews, Covid and Community

Judaism is and always has been about community. When COVID-19 hit and the delicate balance of community and safety began, there were concerns about the effect this tension would have on congregations all over the world. Nowhere was this felt more than in ultra-Orthodox communities, which put unity above all else. So, almost a year into the pandemic, should the way we define a community be redefined and are there Jewish laws that should be changed to reflect this new reality? Utilize the accompanying educational resources to engage your students.

These videos were created in partnership with the Z3 Project, an initiative of the Oshman Family JCC.

  1. What is the literal translation of Beit Knesset?
    • House of worship
    • House of gathering
    • Temple
    • House of Legislature
  2. According to the Talmud, a Torah scholar must live in a city which includes:
    • Synagogue
    • Court
    • School teacher
    • All of the above
  3. Which of the following modifications to prayer services did not take place amongst different Jewish communities?
    • Services went online
    • Jewish worship went on hiatus until the end of the pandemic
    • Services were held outside
    • Synagogue attendance was restricted to small numbers of worshippers
  4. In your opinion, what was the most creative way Jewish communities adapted to Covid-19?
  5. According to the video, what did one temple replace their Kol Nidre service with during the Covid-19 pandemic?
    • The cantor chanting Kol Nidre outside the door of each congregant
    • A cancelled service
    • A new service called Quarantinidre
    • Car Nidre (Kol Nidre from the parking lot)
  1. Each video in this series makes the claim that it is the most important Jewish priority. Based on the video and your own thoughts, make a compelling case for why Jewish community should be the most important priority within the Jewish world.
  2. As a group, brainstorm all of the different contexts within Judaism where community is built in (ie: marriage, learning, minyan). Can Judaism exist without community? Why or why not?
  3. With so much diversity within the Jewish community (religiously, politically, ideologically etc), what concrete steps can be taken to unify the larger Jewish community? Are there things that all Jews have in common?
  4. Seven of the Ten Commandments are focused on creating a just society/community. Why do you think community is such an important concept in Judaism?
  5. Watch this video from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l and then answer the question: what role does diversity play in the Jewish community/communities?
  6. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan suggested the idea of a “shul with a pool” in order to make the synagogue the central institution for Jews regardless of religious background. A newer Jewish communal institution is the Jewish community center. What do you think is the purpose of the Jewish community center as opposed to the synagogue? Do you think they should be one combined institution or separate ones?
  7. Rabbi Ed Feinstein has said:

“Judaism has no language to describe the existential “I,” the experience of the lone individual struggling with life. Jewish language is built on the premise that there is no “I” without a “we.” But the “I” without a “We” is precisely the condition of modernity.” 

How do we deal with our need for community while simultaneously pursuing self-interest?

  1. ‘Build Your Own Jewish Community’ activity – Click HERE
  2. Jigsaw Method: Put your students into groups of 5. Give each student one of the following five Jewish quotes about how Judaism views the concept of community. Each student should read their respective quote and jot down a few notes on its significance. Then, the students should present each of their quotes to the other four in their group. After each student has presented their quotes, ask each group of five to present the quote that they found most impactful to the rest of the students. Find the quotes below:
    • “It’s where we meet face to face and give each other strength. It’s where people know who we are, and miss us when we’re not there. Community is society with a human face.” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
    • “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.” Genesis 2:18 (בראשית ב יח)
    • “Judaism has always viewed man from this dual perspective. It sees every person as an independent individual and also as part of a community, a limb of the body of Israel. At times we find that the community must sacrifice itself on behalf of the individual … And at times the individual must sacrifice himself for the good of the community.” – Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
    • “The soul of the individuals is drawn from … the community, the community bestowing a soul upon the individuals. One who considers severing himself from the people must sever his soul from the source of its vitality. Therefore each individual Jew is greatly in need of the community. He will always offer his life so that he should not be torn from the people, because his soul and self-perfection require that of him.” – Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook
    • A Torah scholar is not allowed to live in a city that does not have these 10 things: a beit din (law court) that metes out punishments; a tzedakah fund that is collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a bath house (mikveh ); a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a blood-letter; and a teacher of children.” – Sanhedrin 17b
  3. Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt discusses the concept of the “groupish gene” in which he explains that natural selection doesn’t work exclusively for individuals, but for groups as well. He argues that the more cohesive a group is, the more effective it will be and the longer it will last. In small groups, discuss what the Jewish community can learn from this idea. How can the Jewish community leverage the different aspects of Judaism to strengthen itself as a community?
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on Jewish community!
  1. For you, what does being involved in the Jewish community look like?
  2. List the different communities you are a part of. Where does your belonging in the Jewish community rank on this list?
  3. If you were starting your own Jewish community, what would be your strategy to build a strong and welcoming community?
  4. Describe a moment in your life when you felt deeply part of a community. What was it about that moment that made you feel such belonging?
  5. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) states “do not separate yourself from the community.” Do you ever feel “separate” from the community? Explain.
  6. There are countless important Jewish institutions including synagogues, Jewish community centers, Jewish schools, mikvaot, Kosher restaurants, cultural institutions and so many more. What do you think is the single most important Jewish institution? Why?

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