The winter that just ended has been brutal. Oh, the weather wasn't all that bad (unless you are a skier), but the avalanche of deaths in our community threatened to bury us in grief. As always, the congregation responded admirably, from the devoted members of our Chevra Kaddisha who prepared for burial to the shomrim who spent hours sitting with deceased to the bereavement team who reached out with compassion and assistance to Sisterhood's generosity in supplying food for a meal of consolation to the hundreds and hundreds of visits to mourners in the locations of their shivah.
(I was especially impressed at how many parents were accompanied by their teenage and younger children, emphasizing the mitzvah of comforting the bereaved in a tangible way.)
All loss is difficult, but it is made more bearable by a community of support. Those of you who have invested in Agudas Achim, whether as new arrivals or life-long members, have helped to establish just such a community.
Thank God it is not just in bereavement that community matters. The celebration of life's happy moments or just a place to gather on Shabbat and holidays is natural and organic in a community with deep roots and a wide reach.
Yet we live in a society that has encouraged the deconstruction of established institutions. Here is what is absolutely true: the synagogue is not the only way to enable community, nor the only place to observe a communal Jewish life. But here is what is also true: wherever the synagogue is eliminated, it is reinvented, piece by piece.
I have watched with a combination of excitement and amusement as Jews have innovated new forms for community, drawing on the talents of many and casting off the presumptions of their childhood institutions. As marriages occur, children are born and need to be educated and the inevitable tragedies penetrate life, bit by bit the synagogue, by whatever name, is reconstructed. It is the place that Jews gather for prayer, for learning and for mutual support in times of joy and times of need.
For those of us - including most of you reading this message - those truths are clear enough to keep you connected. Yet we should not be complacent. The Jewish world (along with everything else) changes, and the synagogue must change to continue to address new paradigms. I know how hard many of our shul leaders have been working on just that task.
At the same time, some things will never change. God willing, our members will stay vital and safe to the end of the 120 years. Sooner or later, each of us will leave this world behind. I take great comfort in knowing that Agudas Achim in whatever iteration will fill in behind each of us to see us through grief and to join us in the rejoicing that comes with every new dawn.