Sunday, August 14, 2011

Still Homesick

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

I just spent a wonderful Shabbos in Calgary's Jewish community, enjoying the hospitality of a great shul and the warmest of families. I've never been here before, but it made me terribly homesick.

Regular readers here know what I mean (and for those who don't know, try here, here and here for starters). My reasons for leaving the rabbinate to move to a community with a high school were real and legitimate and right, and I love what I am doing with the kollel in Toronto. I'm learning and growing, measurably. Nonetheless, two years down the road, being in Calgary intensified the emotions I have for Pawtucket and Allentown, and for the shul roles I held.

The community - Toronto is great, on many levels, but most parts of it can't compete for warmth, for camaraderie, for the "ownership" sensibility of individuals, with smaller Jewish communities. During the past two years I've spent Shabbos in Hamilton and Ottawa, and now Calgary, and in these places I've seen again what I saw in my old stomping grounds – the people who live and love, and are engaged in building, a shul. A place to recognize Gd. A place to raise kids. A place to congregate and celebrate and commiserate. A place to learn and grow.

It's funny to see people and think, as you look at them, of the people who played their roles elsewhere. To look at a gabbai and think of a gabbai in Pawtucket. To look at a person making announcements and think of a person making announcements in Allentown. Not that people are interchangeable - we bring our selves to what we do – but that these are the key roles which define Jewish community, like a baseball team has a shortstop and a hockey time has a right winger and so on. I naturally see a person playing a position and think of others I've known who have played the position on similar teams, elsewhere. It brings a powerful nostalgia.

And the shul role - It also made me homesick because I had the chance to observe a shul rabbi who knows what he's doing; the Rav of the shul here in Calgary is first-rate. I am under no illusion that I was perfect in the pulpit, but I know what perfect looks like, in terms of the academic, intellectual, teaching role, and the intertwined human, social, engagement role. I love having the chance to watch shul rabbis do it well… and, again, it brings pangs of homesickness.

There is no upshot here, no practical takeaway. Just some musings on a Motzaei Shabbos in the Canadian Rockies.


  1. Thank you for all of your posts, but especially for personal ones like this. After ignoring your blog for years (from the title, I thought it would be full of "shtick") it has quickly become my absolute favorite on so many levels. As a shul rabbi myself, this kind of reflection especially resonates with me.

  2. Thank you very much, Rav Joshua; I am honored. I hope it will continue to be valuable for you.

  3. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

    While you were visiting our small community in Calgary, we were enjoying all the big city amenities in Toronto.

    Oddly enough both my wife and I felt strangely ill-at-ease spending Shabbat at a homogeneous shul -- even though we ourselves are smack dab in the middle of the very narrow hashkafic spectrum it represents. We had a difficult time envisioning ourselves as part of such a community, and came to the conclusion that were we to move to a big city we would probably end up associated with a kiruv miyan of some sort where we could maintain some of our small town feel.

    There is something to be said for a community so small that various camps are forced to work together and therefore learn from each other (I've taken to calling it a 'delicate coalition of special interests').

  4. Yannai-

    Thanks for your comments, and I agree with you re: homogeneity. Shortly after I arrived in Toronto, someone commented to me that a certain local shul had a very diverse membership. I offended them by replying that it didn't seem very diverse to me... It's all in your frame of reference, of course.

  5. You've pretty much captured the larger community paradox, wanting the religious advantages of a "big city" with the familiarity and feeling that "you count" that seem to be what makes smaller communities great places to live.