Oseh Shalom: Who We Are
Viewpoint and Commentary by Rabbi Emeritus Gary S. Fink
Oseh Shalom is a synagogue community
- Comprised of individuals and families from diverse backgrounds who live in the Baltimore-Washington area
- Affiliated with the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
- Dedicated to fostering personal, communal, and ecological tikkun through Jewish tradition.
Historically, the synagogue is called bet kenesset (a place of gathering), bet midrash (a place of study), and bet tefillah (a place of prayer). Today, Oseh Shalom serves and reflects a variety of human needs. As in ancient times,
- We connect with others through social and communal activities
- We connect with our traditions through study and practice
- We connect with our spiritual consciousness and find the Divine Presence within and around us
What is a synagogue? A place to find and strengthen our connections to others, to our tradition, and to the Divine Presence.
Comprised of individuals and families from diverse backgrounds Oseh Shalom recognizes its responsibility to provide a comfortable home for individuals with a variety of needs. On the one hand, our religious services and programs are child-friendly. We want children at Oseh Shalom to feel comfortable with our rabbi, cantor, and educational staff and we also want to build in them warm childhood memories of their shul (synagogue community). We were the first synagogue in the region to build a “quiet room” adjacent to our sanctuary so that parents with small children could have a place to sit with their little ones who need to cry or move around. In the quiet room, parents can see and hear the service and not worry about distracting anyone.
On the other hand, we recognize that Judaism is not simply a childhood religion–it is not just for families with kids. Judaism is an enriching way of life for everyone seeking meaning in life and a sense of fulfillment and blessing.
- We are a community of individuals seeking a world filled with tikkun (wholeness and healing). Some of us are single, some are partnered.
- We are a diverse group of individuals whose spiritual needs are also diverse
- We are comprised of many types of families. We believe that it is the quality of the relationship that defines a family, not the composition.
Also, our members come from a variety of backgrounds: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. The congregation includes many interfaith families as well.
Who Live in the Baltimore Washington Area
We are a regional synagogue community, welcoming members from Ellicott City to College Park, from Rockville to Bowie. Our members come from Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Anne Arundel County. We are proud of our synagogue building, built in 1990 and located near I-95. It is important to have a place that is a physical center of congregational life. We also recognize, however, that the synagogue building is not the essence of Jewish life. The essence of Jewish life is the home, the individual, and the family. Ultimately, our responsibility is to facilitate and promote Jewish life in every home, everywhere our members live.
Affiliated with the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation Reconstructionism is a branch of Judaism, similar to Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chassidic. Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan founded Reconstructionism in the 1920s as a liberal breakaway from the Conservative movement. He grounded his philosophy on three ideas that were considered radical for that time. First, Kaplan believed that women should have an equal role in all aspects of Jewish life. As a direct result, he invented the modern Bat Mitzvah. Second, Kaplan viewed Judaism broadly as an evolving civilization, rather than as a religion. Therefore, he advocated teaching Jewish culture (music, Hebrew language, Jewish arts, literature, and so forth) in addition to religious tenets. Third, he suggested that we need not view God as a supernatural Being who rewards and punishes, but rather as a Spiritual force found in the goodness and order of our world. Since the founding of Reconstructionism, both Reform and Conservative Judaism have embraced many aspects of Reconstructionist thought. Today, Reconstructionism is often viewed as a bridge between the Reform and Conservative movements. At the same time, the uniqueness of Reconstructionism can be seen in its openness, its inclusiveness, and its creative spirituality as well as in its blending of modern, creative thought with traditional Jewish practice.
Dedicated to fostering personal, communal, and ecological tikkun
Tikkun means repair, healing, or making whole. Personal tikkun refers to
- Appreciating in joy the beauty and wonder that life can bring
- Bringing sanctity (kedusha) to the mundane-elevating everyday acts or experiences to a higher, more profound, more meaningful level
- Finding the most noble and best within ourselves
- Bringing healing within to overcome pain and suffering
- Finding fulfillment and meaning in life
Communal tikkun refers to
- Building supportive and meaningful relationships among people
- Bringing healing and comfort to people and places in the community where there is suffering
- Contributing to the welfare of others Ecological tikkun refers to
- Living in consonance with the animal world and with all living things
- Living in consonance with our environment and caring for our natural world
Through Jewish tradition
Jewish tradition is the key to bringing tikkun. Tradition provides powerful and time-tested ways to bring wholeness and healing to our lives and into our world. Four thousand years of Jewish experience have created and shaped this tradition. Our tradition can be organized into seven pathways-seven pathways to tikkun. Each pathway contains ancient as well as contemporary traditions, beliefs, and understandings. As we move along the pathways (any or all of them), we move closer to tikkun. We walk along each pathway in our own way and at our own pace-there is a place for those with little Jewish experience as well as for those with deeper backgrounds. Seven pathways make Jewish tradition accessible to all and point the way to tikkun: prayer, Sabbath and festivals, loving acts toward others, caring for the earth, study of Torah, Jewish community, and self-realization.
(c) Rabbi Gary S. Fink