When I lived in New Jersey, I was the rabbi at Temple Beth Torah in Ocean Township. Above the synagogue’s ark was a provocative and unusual inscription. It read, “B’neiranu v’zkeneiunu nalekh,” “We will go with our young and old.” This inscription succinctly states what a synagogue community needs to be.
The quote appears in the midst of the plagues narrative in the book of Exodus. As Pharaoh is burdened by each plague, his heart is hardened. That hardening process causes him to remain stubborn and unwilling to free the Israelites. Finally, Pharoah capitulates, at least in part. Pharaoh says to Moses, “Go worship your God. With whom will you go?” And Moses then says, “With our young and our old we shall go.” Pharaoh returns to his stubborn ways and attempts to limit Moses’ freedom. “Surely you are bent on mischief,” he tells Moses.“Only your men may go.”
Though Moses could have left the youngest and oldest behind and escaped, he knows that community is multigenerational. There is much learned from honoring our elders and much gained from caring for our young. If either component is left behind, wholeness is lost.
This should be part of a synagogue’s DNA. Synagogues are one of the few venues where people of many ages and stages of life meaningfully interact with one another. This creates incredible opportunities. When the synagogue leadership — both staff and lay leaders — listen to the membership, we can be more attentive to the needs of members across the age spectrum and we can creatively search for ways to share our individual and collective stories and establish deep, caring relationships. We might offer an “adopt-a-grandparent” program to reinvent extended families or programs that provide children with a caring person in their lives beyond their parents. What about mentoring young adults or sharing immigration stories and relating those stories to current issues?
Synagogues are about seeing and noticing one another. They model experiences in which the elderly are present alongside children, where young adults have their own space and also benefit from a sense of belonging to a wider and richer community — something larger than their own selves. While not realized everywhere, the potential exists to model a community where all members share their gifts and blessings with one another. This is what it means, “with our young and our old we shall go.” It means that we will build communities of wholeness where we learn from and are inspired by one another. We can certainly create room for specific programming, and should do so, but we have something unique and sacred to offer when our sanctuary is a true meeting place of people from across the age spectrum.email print