Eight years ago, I wrote about the one thing I missed, living in Cabarrus County, the home I have now called my own for almost 20 years:
I missed a local place to worship.
In those days, my family members almost took our own joking seriously: We were, we said, probably the one Jewish family in all of Concord, Kannapolis, Harrisburg and University City. The first time I held a Passover seder, there were six people at the table: my little family of three and three guests. They were Mormons.
Well, you are supposed to invite guests to your seder.
Eight years later, everything has changed.
The love of my life is teaching. In a classroom, I am exquisitely happy. I love to share ideas, challenge my students and find myself challenged. Every semester is different. Every class is different.
When I think back nowadays, I wonder. Was I seeking the opposite experience when Brian Cutler and I founded the first Jewish congregation in the area?
What did I dream of then, and now? Growing old together with people I could pray with. Becoming part of their lives.
I have always loved what Judaism offered me: a life of learning and enacting ethical behaviors. Doing mitzvot means doing commandments. That's the literal meaning of the Hebrew word.
Still, every Jewish person will more colloquially translate that phrase as "doing good deeds."
That, in fact, is what it is about: the doing of good, the enactment of righteousness and kindness, the expression of what we assume to be godly.
What is our task? To be God's hands.
I wanted a community that could reach out to all Jewish and interfaith families of any kind. Latin Jews? Our small congregation has some. Asian-American Jews? We have those, too. Jewish people with African roots? Of course!
Some of our members descend from Norwegians, Scottish and German families. Others are the grandchildren of Eastern Europeans.
We care about community. We care to have fun, be friends. We care about each other.
Nothing matters more in any congregation than the knowledge that those you celebrate with, pray with and share your lives with are committed to doing the same with you.
It is nearly High Holy Days. At Temple Or Olam, my congregation will spend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe, exploring the meaning of that magic phrase "abracadabra."
"Abracadabra" is an Aramaic phrase. Each word in the phrase mirrors cognate words in Hebrew. The first part of the word, "abra," means "I create." The second part, "cadabra," means "like I speak." When you say "abracadabra," you are saying, in effect, "What I speak, I bring into being."
Eight years ago we spoke a magic wish. It has come true.