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Our Synagogue is Open; Our Building is Closed

05/28/2020 11:51:17 AM


Rabbi Samuel Gordon

We are Congregation Sukkat Shalom, a shelter of peace. A sukkah is a simple structure, impermanent, fragile, and open. The imagery of a sukkah was central to the message we were trying to send in the early years after the founding of our congregation. For most of Sukkat Shalom’s history, there was no building of our own. We shared sacred space with First Congregational Church of Wilmette and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. We used the Wilmette Community Recreation Center and held services in Gillson Park at the Lakefront Shelter. The congregation has always existed because of the people of the community, not because of bricks and mortars.

We now have a wonderful building of our own and an inspiring sanctuary where we meet to pray together. But we also remember what it was like to be a Congregation without a building, and now we unexpectedly find ourselves in that same condition. In our early days, a building did not define us, and the same is true today.

Our building is closed right now, but our congregation is open, and indeed thriving. We are doing our very best to use the technology available through live streaming, Facebook, Zoom, and YouTube. We continue to worship, study, observe, celebrate, and mourn, even if we cannot do so in person. It is not ideal, but we still are able to share stories, music, and even social settings by means of the internet. We remain connected.

We hope you find the opportunities to join us online for some of our many offerings, whether Shabbat and Havdalah, musical programs, study sessions, support meetings, or social gatherings. Even over the summer, we want to stay connected. But, with a certain measure of sadness, we know that our sanctuary will not be open for communal prayer.

Of course, we are anxious to return to our physical-spiritual home. We want to see each other in person, greet and embrace each other. But we also must be wise and thoughtful. The health, safety, and well-being of our community must be our highest priority. In all likelihood, even at the High Holy Days, we will not be able to worship in our usual fashion. We are working very hard to create dynamic, inspiring, and meaningful experiences for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but we know they will be different.

As tempting as it may be to open our synagogue and sanctuary to our congregation, we cannot do so. The risks are simply too great. We are dependent on the advice and wisdom of scientists and medical professionals. Only when it is safe for groups to gather together, pray and sing will we follow that advice and return to our sanctuary.

In our Torah reading cycle, we are now in the Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah. In Hebrew, it is called BaMidbar—in the desert. This is a book of wandering. The Children of Israel carried their Tabernacle—their holy place— with them, wherever they went. Sukkat Shalom began its institutional journey carrying its Torah, prayer books, and message to shared sacred spaces and into members’ homes.

There is a part of me that has a certain nostalgia for the early years of Sukkat Shalom’s wanderings. That time demanded flexibility, creativity, adaptability. Don’t get me wrong, I do not regret our owning our wonderful physical home. I take great joy in it, but I also know that we were a sacred, holy congregation long before we had a physical home of our own. So today, we remain a vibrant spiritual community as we connect to each other through the latest uses of technology available to us.

This current pandemic crisis can allow us to rediscover the nature of a true congregation, defined by the people who find their home here, wherever we might be. We hope that soon we will be able to worship together, in person, in sacred space. But we will do so only when we can be assured of the safety and health of our congregants. Yes, the work of our synagogue is essential, and that work continues. Sukkat Shalom remains a shelter of peace, open to all.

Shabbat Shalom

Sun, October 1 2023 16 Tishrei 5784