By Jessica Hanewinckel
During his Rosh Hashanah speech to the Temple Solel congregation a few months ago, Rabbi David Frank told a story about a nobleman who lived long ago in a European mountain village, and who did something interesting when the townspeople came to see the beautiful synagogue he had just built and noticed the man had neglected to install any lamps. Recounted Rabbi Frank, “[The man] gave to each family, a lamp. He said to them, ‘Bring your lamp with you when you come to synagogue, and place it in your bracket on the wall. And know that when you’re not here, that part of the synagogue will be unlit. This is to remind you that when you fail to come, some part of God’s house will be dark.’ ”
The story was how the rabbi introduced a new way of creating community and fostering involvement at Temple Solel, called Gathering Sparks. The program allows members to select at the beginning of the programming year from an entire catalogue of Temple Solel’s programs and services, which they think they’ll be able to attend that year. They fill out a registration form and turn it in so temple staff can keep them updated and send them reminders. With each program congregants attend, they’re gathering a ‘spark’ for themselves and their family. In other words, they’re making a difference to the Jewish people by being present, counted and needed. They’re bringing their ‘lamp’ and adding it to the communal light of the synagogue, and in doing so, making an important difference with their presence.
“What people value most about synagogue is membership is personal connection,” the rabbi explained recently, about a month and a half into the program. “They need to feel that they have a place and they are needed to be in that place. They need to feel valued.”
The name and concept come from Temple Solel’s logo, which depicts sparks radiating from a Magen David, with the phrase, “Gathering holy sparks to repair the world” surrounding them. The logo and motto themselves derive from “the Kabbalistic vision of the big bang of creation, the moral of which is that it’s up to us to gather the scattered sparks of creation’s first light and repair the world’s brokenness,” the rabbi further explained in his sermon.
So far, said Rabbi Frank, director of adult programming Judy Bricker and executive director Robin Rubin, the program is working.
“People are more active and more proactive about being active, so they’re more thoughtful about what they’re going to come to, they come with more intentionality, they’ve looked ahead to think about what their Jewish year could look like,” the rabbi said.
Added Bricker, one congregant who had never volunteered for anything began giving her time at the temple gift shop once a week, citing the rabbi’s sermon and her desire to gather her own sparks as her inspiration. Dozens of others have approached the rabbi and other temple staff and told them they’re there because it’s their spark, Rubin said.
“What touched people about this was that realization that they’re needed, that when they come they make a difference, and that their coming matters to the Jewish people,” says the rabbi, adding that he thinks Gathering Sparks will be a perpetual program at Temple Solel, and that it’s now part of the temple’s identity. “This is really about instilling a sense of presence at Sinai for our members, to realize that we all stood there, and we’re all needed to stand there today as well. When we’re not there, part of the Jewish people is missing.”
And it’s not just the involvement of congregants that’s growing. Says Bricker, they’re feeling differently as well, feeling like they’re walking into their community, not just a synagogue.
“We’re seeing it work,” the rabbi concludes. “We really believe in it, and for us it frames synagogue membership in a new light, that it’s not just a fee for service, where I pay my money and I receive certain services from the congregation. It is really about brit kodesh, which is a mutual and holy covenant of membership that implies two-way commitment and two-way responsibility.”
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