Are you a bridge or a gate?

Last weekend I went to Let My People Sing, a Jewish singing retreat at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

It was a great opportunity to learn, sing, take risks, and celebrate Shabbat in a different way in a supportive community.

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Lead teachers Jessi Roemer, Joey Weisenberg, and Dafna Mor performing.

Like any retreat or conference, the question at the end is, how do I take my learning and inspiration and bring it back to “real life” and my regular communities? I get that what happens at Isabella Freedman isn’t everyone’s cup of (organic, Kosher, gender-pronoun-aware) tea. It is, as we’d say at a synagogue where I spend a lot of time, a “gate”; one of many gateways into Judaism. But this bothered me: it’s not enough for people to just be happy doing their own things, there is value in learning and sharing together.

As my wife Cheryl recently wrote, “I was taught to sing… [and] those songs would make the world better.” I don’t know if there is really more discord than ever these days, but with Trump, #blacklivesmatter, ISIS in the news, it sure feels like it. And music can be a way to bring us together. Music makes humans respond in a way that is more universal than words and less individual than pictures. It’s a bridge, not a gate.
So, I struggle with how to be a bridge between the different gates I find going through. One weekend it’s with progressive, renewal type of community that you find at Isabella Freedman. This Shabbat, I’m teaching and leading among the deeply committed, adult community who comes to shul in all weather. And this year I’m also part of the community of b’nai mitzvah parents who, each in their own way, finds something sacred in the complicated challenge of becoming a teenager.

At Let My People Sing, the lead teachers were the bridges. Each of them brought experience, talent and songs that could engage people anywhere. I’ve noticed that great religious leaders bridge the gates—often it’s a rabbi or other leader that can bring people together across the different groups and circumstances that make up a larger community.

The truth is, a city isn’t built with only bridges or only gates alone. You need both. (And lots of other things.)

At the closing circle of the retreat, one of the organizers spoke about how we had worked at unearthing parts of our tradition we might have been disconnected from. Certainly the theme of this blog, “Finding My Voice,” is about returning to something I had become disconnected from.

I hope that I will make music that is a bridge and, may it be God’s will, many voices will sing along.

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