Fostering Community: An Important Jewish Value

2013_shapiro_marcIn my article on nonprofit Believe in Music (“Bringing Music To The Needy,” Aug. 2), Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation said that a lot of Jews in my generation don’t necessarily realize that what they do is rooted in Jewish values.

While he was referring to Kenny Liner “worrying about the disenfranchised,” it got me thinking about how Jewish values have permeated my life, sometimes unbeknownst to me.

For the past six years, my band, The Rez, has thrown an intimate, eclectic music festival just outside of College Park. The goal with each installment is to showcase bands that span the musical spectrum in a laid-back environment where performers and fans can let their hair down and hear music they might not have come across otherwise.

Basically, we’ve created a community where everyone is accepted, and the audience members and bands network and forge new relationships.

I can’t help but think back to high school, when I was on the board of Temple Emanuel’s youth group, as well as NFTY-MAR (Northern Federation of Temple Youth — Mid-Atlantic Region). For me and many others, youth group was a haven where we were free from the social hang-ups of high school. And different crowds blended here — everyone became part of the “in” crowd. Those who might be considered outcasts at school were on the same level as everyone else.

This community was fostered through programs in which we discussed everything from spirituality to sex to current events. At Shabbat services, we sang loud and proud. At song sessions, we’d sing even louder.

These discussions, services and sing-alongs allowed us to truly get to know each other, shattering any perceived social boundaries that may have been barriers to friendship. It was one of the best times of my life.

These communities and the less-ons I learned from helping them move forward are as valuable as anything I ever learned in Hebrew school or from becoming a bar mitzvah. Building a community where all are welcome, where open discussion is encouraged and where social shackles are shattered is something I strive for.

Now 10 years out from high school, I’ve seen the long-term effect of the social atmosphere that was created then. Friendships have far outlasted our time in youth group, couples that met back then are now married and even have children, and every single one of us has friends around the country and the world.

At Rez Ball, my band’s festival, we’ve created a similar community centered on a shared love of music. The most recent festival, which we held on Aug. 3, featured acoustic music, funk, blues, rock and even some traditional Eastern European music. Like I said, all are welcome.

The importance of community building was instilled in me from a young age, and opening the family to our non-Jewish brethren was a part of it, too. Temple Emanuel shared its first building with a church before eventually selling that building to the church and moving to its current building in Reisterstown.

For me, the value of community is one of the most important virtues in my life. Until recently, I thought our music festival was simply creating a musical community; all it took was a reminder from Rabbi Schwartz that it’s much bigger than that.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter —

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