On a recent snowy Chicago Friday night, I attended a pop-up Shabbat dinner in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, where the menu, prepared by a gourmet Jewish chef, featured a modern twist on traditional Jewish food -- matzah ball soup, butternut squash cholent, pastrami, and of course challah and wine. The dinner was sponsored by OneTable, a nonprofit Shabbat initiative that started in New York and has recently expanded to Chicago to bring the Shabbat table to Jewish 20- and 30-somethings in a fresh way.
As delicious as the pastrami and wine were, we were there as much for the connection with one another as we were for the food.
People crave connection; it makes us human. Philosophers and scientists agree that the largest indicator of happiness is building strong relationships of all kinds with other people. And as Jews in America, particularly in Chicago, one of the strongest Jewish communities in the country, we're blessed with the resources and tools to make forging connections easier.
You could say, we in the Jewish community of this "city of big shoulders" have each other's backs.
We're members of a tribe that connect to each other in so many ways. We connect through our grandparents and great-grandparents having survived the pogroms of Russia or the horrors of the Holocaust. We connect through a love of Israel and our shared favorite haunts on Ben Yehuda street. We connect with pride when we see a Jewish person triumph, but at the same time, we connect with horror when we see an infamous Jew, like a Madoff, commit shame. We connect through our skill at breaking into the same Jewish camp song in unison at any moment in time. We connect through knowing that almost from birth we're taught it's how we treat each other that counts -- at that all the rest is commentary. And we connect through sharing our family kugel recipes; your grandma made hers with raisins, and mine used currants.
Our people connect through so many of the joys of life -- Torah, family, love, Shabbat, holidays, comedy, food, and even dance. My mom has always been an enthusiast for the " hora," the circle dance performed during Jewish celebrations, which physically connects us to each other as we link arms in celebration. In fact, Mom has always implored me never to sit out a hora at a wedding because we have to embrace the joy wherever we can find it. (She's a wise one, that Jewish mom of mine.)
But we as a people know all too well that connection isn't just about simcha. As I get older, I not only see more blessings, but I, unfortunately, witness more sadness too. In fact, I know now that none of us are immune to tsuris. But when we do experience hardship, it's comforting to know that we're part of a community that doesn't let us suffer alone.
Over the years, each time one of our friends goes through pain, I watch our Jewish network mobilize to help the struggling friend find the hope, the light, the inspiration, and resilience that eventually can transcend the tragedy.
A minyan -- a quorum of 10 people -- is often required for certain Jewish observances. It seems like the minyan concept extends in other parts of Jewish life as well as we watch so many members of a community support each other in times of trouble.
I hope your days are filled with blessings, but it's comforting to know that when life wounds us, we're part of a community that's there to help us heal and light the way through the darkness.
To learn more about OneTable, visit www.onetable.org.