Building a Shul and Building a Community

I had a wonderful conversation recently with a dynamic, dedicated Rabbi, who is planning on opening a new Shul. He wants to build more than a Shul, he wants to build a community of people on a path of continual spiritual growth. The interesting part was that this Shul was located in an established Orthodox community which already has a number of Shuls.

The conversation highlighted the fact that for a Shul to be a spiritual community, it has to go beyond providing a place for prayer, learning and Jewish experiences. I think the two key aspects for a spiritual community are:
1) a Rabbi to turn to for direction as we navigate through the issues of life
2) a group of peers, to whom people can turn to share their issues and get feedback and possible strategies

It’s not so easy to create such a community. My Shul fulfills these two requirements for many people, and although we share the same Rabbi, different people associate with different peer groups. However, I think there are people in my Shul who would like more peers for support and friendship. And there are people in the larger community who are missing one or both of these essential components.

I’ve been having this discussion both within my Shul and among a group of friends across my larger community. I think it sheds light on the need for gatherings that will facilitate the formation of these peer groups. We’re in the planning stages for these types of gatherings and G-d willing, I’ll share the results in the months ahead.

6 thoughts on “Building a Shul and Building a Community”

  1. Ok, I have shul envy.

    What you are describing about “a group of peers, to whom people can turn to share their issues and get feedback and possible strategies” is very much the model of mussar vaadim that were popular in Kelm, Slobodka, and Chofetz Chaim (I have several friends who learned there when it was still in Forest Hills and they had regular vaadim).

    As someone who is “inbetween” shuls in Chicago, I know there is a general need for a shul that meets both of your two aspects. I will add, it’s incredibly important that there is some formalized learning in motion for the women, like a Shabbos shiur series in the summer or some aspect of a Rosh Chodesh event.
    If only one spouse is growing in their own avodas Hashem, then problems and rifts can occur.
    Please keep us posted…

  2. Neil, I’m not so much talking about learning, which is important, but rather about the availability to discuss issues with peers. The women in our Shul have this also.

    I wouldn’t call it a Vaad, which in my thinking is a more focused and directed group. I also think that Vaads have an exclusive feel to them, and we’re trying to providing peers for an increasing number of people.

  3. Mark, interesting. Is the vision more of a peer resource group?
    I am thinking along the lines of issue in chinuch, shidduchim, breaking down learning barriers, anchoring oneself in tefillah, etc.
    Are you at liberty to give a hypothetical examples, since mine are probably way off target?

    1. This particular aspect of our growth community is a peer resource group.

      Your issues of chinuch, shidduchim and paths to improve your learning are definitely key categories we will explore.

      Specifics, such as anchoring oneself in tefillah, will probably be spun off into a different venue.

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