Responding to Coronavirus: Holding on to our communal values in these challenging times
Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 3 April 2020
Above the desk in my Alyth office is a picture of the first image of an Alyth building. It is a hand drawn sketch from the planning for a new communal building, and it is remarkable for one thing – it has no wall or fence. It imagines, at the end of Alyth Gardens, a building you can reach without going through a gate, open to those coming in and out.
This is even more remarkable when you think about the context in which the synagogue was built, in the mid-1930s. Despite everything that was going on in the world, their vision was that this should be a building – in fact, should be a community – that people could walk right up to.
And people did. A few years ago I officiated at a funeral of a refugee from Nazi Germany. Speaking no English she had found herself in Temple Fortune. On her first Shabbat morning she had come out of her new lodgings, heard some passers-by speaking German and followed them. Their journey ended in that building at the end of Alyth Gardens, with a community that cared about her and her story, that became her community. Seventy years later, an Alyth rabbi officiated at her funeral, and was told by her children the story of an isolated woman finding Alyth by chance.
For 87 years, this openness to those who need synagogue life has been core to this synagogue, one of its founding and enduring ideals.
In the extraordinary period in which we find ourselves, we need to express it through different means, using technology to open Alyth life to those who need it beyond our walls. And, as we experienced together in such an unpleasant way last week, there may be some who will try to take advantage of this openness. Which means that we have made and will make adjustments, just as generations before did to get the balance right.
As it was in 1933, openness and care for those who need us will remain a core aspiration of Alyth life.
There is another core value, too, that we need to remember through the days ahead.
The first words ever sung in this building, sung on its official opening in 1936 were the words of Psalm 100. And while the very first Alyth ark did not have any inscription above it, the one that was built with the extension of the synagogue did – and they chose a verse from Psalm 100. And we kept that same text placed above the new bimah and ark when we opened the area up in 2011: Ivdu et Adonai b’simchah – Serve God with joy.
This too, we will aspire to keep central to our lives in the face of the new challenges we face. Sharing the joy of prayer, of Shabbat.
87 years of the same commitments, the same core values. There is much that the period of disruption through which we are living can and will do to change us.
But it is crucial that our core, bedrock values remain in place. Commitment to openness to those who need access to Jewish life, to caring for one another, to joy in worship.