I love getting on airplanes because they usually mean an adventure is about to start or has just ended. Invariably I end up in a few of those conversations that happen on airplanes. At some point those interactions turn to asking about my occupation. I am often greeted with a look of surprise and excitement when I explain I am a rabbi. Sometimes the person next to me tells me about his or her understanding of God. Sometimes I hear reasons why a person doesn’t like religion or even a bit of a confession that (s)he dooesn’t do as much as they “should.” Sometimes the person asks me a number of interesting questions (s)he has had about Jewish holidays, but never knew who to ask. Although my favorite conversations occur when people ask what my job entails or what my place of work is like.
These are the moments when I start to brag about Temple Solel. Often the person next to me doesn’t know what to call where I work. The truth is, sometimes, I find the English a bit inadequate, as well, to describe all that happens here. In Hebrew, a synagogue often has three major descriptions: beit t’filah, house of worship, beit Knesset house of connection, beit midrash house of study.
As I sit on a plane and describe my job, I brag about our truly inspiring, fun, meaningful services we have in this beit t’filah, house of worship. Friday nights serve as time for families to come together to reflect on their week and share a family meal. I speak of how Temple Solel is clearly a beit Knesset, a house of connection, connecting people to one another, to our tradition. A holy place that is based on deepening relationships.
Recently, I was able to reflect on how grateful I am to be part of a team leading a re-imagination project for us as a beit midrash, a house of study, house of learning. I explained that we are in the process of reimagining what our congregational learning can look like and how we have been looking at trends in Jewish education and different principles that can guide congregation learning. I share our desire to examine how our students in religious school and adult education are engaged in both the learning and building a community with one another. We encounter creative lessons and dedicated teachers and bonds between teachers and students. We also recognize places where our education system has potential growth; areas where we want to build on our strengths to make those connections even deeper.
While my travel leads to days of packing and unpacking, days of TSA checks and feeling like my life was measured in 3oz bottles, I am always able to reflect about Temple Solel, how we truly are a beit t’filah, beit Knesset, and beit midrash and that we are lucky enough to be a place that values all of the definitions of a synagogue.
Rabbi Ilana Mills