Living in the Urban Shtetl
by Jen Roitman
(This is the text from a drash Gavriel delivered at our Rosh Hashanah service, Monday October 3rd 2016)
I moved to Berkeley just over 5 years ago after living in what’s been known as berkeley’s sister city – Tsfat Israel. In Tsfat I spent a lot of my time there praying, doing yoga, and studying kabbalah. I also helped to start an environmental NGO and also taught a yoga class for orthodox men. I learned and grew a lot from living in tsfat, but I also came to discover that part of me was living there as a strategy for avoiding life and as a way to escape the challenges involved with living in the modern urban marketplace.
What I also discovered during that time… was my life partner. My wife Shayna and I met in tsfat in the front yard of a former berkeley resident and got married a few years later. It was Shayna who helped me to see that the things I thought were in the way are the way; that those things that I spent so much time avoiding are actually the gateways to transformation and growth. And let me tell you my friends this lesson has only deepened with the birth of our 2 month old daughter Emunah Neshama. It’s amazing how young and already she knows how to push my buttons… how to access my curriculum for growth and transformation.
Since my time in the bay area I’ve come to notice some interesting cultural trends. There is so much amazing stuff going on here that one can easily get caught up in the frantic search to attend everything, OR to find the best event to be at, and then post it on facebook so the world knows… “look everyone I made it!”
I have had this sense at times like there’s always something better around the corner, there’s always somewhere better to be or someone better to be talking with. And in those moments I’m not actually here. I’m not in my life… I’m lost in the illusion of a better somewhere that never arrives.
In the past I have found myself perpetually seeking the best community, the best partner, the best job… I kept seeking and seeking until recently I realized I actually already have all the things I was looking for… I just needed to stop running long enough in order to realize they were already here.
You know the story of the hasid who dreams of a treasure buried under a bridge in a far away land… He goes there in search of this treasure only to find that the treasure was buried in his own backyard all along.
This community my friends is a treasure. Many of us have already realized it, and to these I want to honor you for saying heneini, but some of us are still caught up in throws of the hunt, seeking it under imaginary bridges, or over long bridges… or in the illusory next coolest thing about to happen around the corner.
In reflection, It hurts to see how I’ve been partially part of some 5 different communities without a real sense of home, with only a fragmented sense of community. It pains me to see how I’ve had one foot in and one foot out, being a partial member of this group and partial member of that group… What I have learned from this experience is that navigating the world in this way leads to living a partial life, never fully committing, never fully arriving at the gift our lives, the blessings of what we do have, never fully realizing the treasure in our own backyards, never truly saying heneini.
I’ve made a RH resolution, an intention for this coming year to arrive more in my own life. To be grateful for what I do have. I’m committed to investing in the NOW, instead of thinking there is going to be a better job, better city to live in, better living situation, better community, and so on, instead I’m going to love what I do have and who I am with to the fullest degree possible … I’m going to say heneini each morning and celebrate the blessing that is my life.
As part of our commitment to making families more of a priority here at Chochmat HaLev… We have been designing a new youth and family program which we are launching today! This awesome new program is called the Urban Shtetl or US. The heart of our program is to cultivate a community of deep generosity and care by building strong authentic connections between families… with our monthly family havurot, 4 Family Learning Days, monthly Shabbat children’s programming and our monthly parent groups.
We’re starting this program off with the families and their children because they are vital to the future of our community, but this program will ultimately include all sectors of the shtetl from youngest to oldest. Imagine a sageing program for elders and a mentorship program for the youth. So regardless of what stage of life you are currently in, it truly does take a village to raise a child, so we need you! You have an essential role to offer this thriving and vibrant community called Chochmat HaLev.
I want to invite you all to join me in my RH intention to stop seeking and realize that you have already arrived. I want to invite you to give yourself the gift of heneini and officially join our spiritual community by becoming a member and joining the Urban Shtetl.