2009-10-02 / Columnists

Point of View

"The Rabbi's Personal Column" Rabbi Allan Blaine Temple Beth-El, Rockaway Park

The funeral was over. The relatives gathered near their cars, reluctant to leave the cemetery. I watched as one woman embraced another and said, "Now don't be a stranger!"

On my way home I mulled over her words. How often have I heard this expression. Family meet in sorrow and realize the estrangement which has infiltrated into their family over the years. At a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah, how often do relatives speak one to the other and say, "How come we only meet at weddings and funerals?"

This is one of the tragedies of the mobile society. Gone is the "residential clustering" or what we are fond of calling the Jewish ghetto. For all of its failings and its ugly connotation, it had the advantage of strengthening Jewish tradition and family life. Today the family members are so often strangers, living apart, divided sometimes by oceans and continents. Gone is this core strength of the Jewish people - the family. Gone are the joyous weekly gatherings of the extended family on Sabbaths or holidays.

Nursery School children were once asked by their teacher, "Why do you believe in God?" After a number of childish and inane answers, one bright little girl scratched her head and said, "Well, I guess it just runs in the family!" We need a new kind of ethnicity, not based on religious snobbism or exclusivity which dictates that one group not socialize or mix with another but rather an ethnicity based upon strengthening the family and the community, bringing together its diverse elements and remedying its many problems. Too many family members bear too many unimportant grudges and grievances which are allowed to fester to the point of alienation.

For years we were guided by Charles Darwin's thesis, 'Survival of the fittest." Now microbiologists tell us scientifically what Judaism has been saying spiritually for 4,000 years. The latest biological reports indicated that the tiniest and most fragile organism which dominate life on earth are cells within cells, called "mitrochondria." They are not solitary free-living creatures, but exist by virtue of the urge partnership and to link up. They teach that "life as dependent on other forms is the oldest and strongest and most fundamental fact of nature."

Our faith, and our prophets, and our heritage has taught this simple idea for 40 centuries. In Judaism the arch of our existence has always been our belief in "religious community" and the keystone of that arch has always been "the Jewish family."

This thought entered my mind this past High Holy days as over five hundred men, women and children gathered for the holidays. It was truly a home coming as married and single children came from far and near to pray as a family. Many old time members who had moved away years ago joined us in the Temple in which their children had grown to manhood and womanhood - we were all once again a family.

If you have family from whom you have grown apart, with whom at some point in your life you have shared deep and loving interests, why not call, send a card or communicate with them. Can any of us really afford to be a stranger?
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