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Community: A Feeling of Fellowship

Today’s participant blog post comes from Eliza Baskin, a participant of the Yahel Social Change Program. This group is living, learning and volunteering in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rishon LeZion for 9 months this year. Eliza’s post comes after a 5-day seminar in the North of Israel, opening the program’s segment on Community.

Photo Credit: Molly Cram & Larry Gersz

This past week, our Yahel group focused on the dynamic topic of community. We spent five days adventuring all around the Galilee, learning about the Dror Israel Movement, hiking, meeting with members of Mahapach-Taghir, and touring Hannaton. Each day was filled with activities and opportunities to learn more about some of the communities here in Israel, offering a lot of great food for thought. During a particular activity involving the discussion of various quotes, I was introduced to a Talmudic quote that really impacted me. The following left me thinking about it long after the activity was over:

“A talmid haham (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; a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a blood-letter; (some versions add: a butcher); and a teacher of children.” (Sanhedrin 17b)

When discussing the previous quote with my group members, we came to the conclusion that the order in which the establishments were presented had been carefully considered. In order for a community to be able to provide a suitable place to live, it must address all aspects of its residents’ physical and spiritual needs. The court of law “that metes out punishments” is listed first, to help protect the members of the community from falling victim to crime. The tzedakah fund comes next, collected by two people and distributed by three, showing that the community provides appropriate supervision while prioritizing aid to those who are in need. Then comes the synagogue, offering a place for prayer, followed by the bathhouse, bathroom, doctor, crafter person, blood-letter and butcher all catering to the physical needs of the residents. These places can’t be properly instituted until the foundations, listed formerly (beit din and tzedakah fund), are stable. Lastly, the teacher helps to guarantee that the up and coming generation is educated and prepared to eventually assume leadership in the community.

The idea of community is key factor in Jewish life, both currently and historically. The quote is an example of how “peoplehood” is translated into the emphasis on the community as the primary organizing structure. Looking back, it seems as though wherever Jews have lived they have built synagogues, established communal organizations, and created systems of governance and education. And while the precise structure of Jewish communities has changed according to time, place, and current events, the membership in a Jewish community has always brought a sense of shared obligation for the other community members; the belonging to the Jewish community manifested joy. Personally, learning about various aspects of community has allowed me to become more aware of the community I am involved in. I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to add Yahel to my list of communities I am part of, and I am looking forward to exploring more communities here in Israel.

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