I read recently that TripAdvisor has named the Mickve Israel synagogue in Savannah, Georgia as the most popular travel attraction in the state. Locals attribute this to surprise. Visitors to Savannah don’t expect to find a Jewish community in that part of the country.
Many of us often include synagogue visits when we travel. On our family’s vacation this summer we visited the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, famous as the first American synagogue built in 1759.
Exploring synagogues roots us when we are not at home. Learning about different synagogue histories, cultural traditions, and communities connects us. We feel gratified when we see older synagogues restored and renewed. We are pained when synagogues are vandalized or desecrated.
This summer, by my count, there were more than twenty attacks on synagogues in fourteen different countries, including the United States. Alarmingly, anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish violence are on the rise all over Europe and in countries around the globe.
This is real. Synagogues are often the target when hatred is aimed at Jews. Synagogues represent Jews and Judaism to the larger world. As the reflection of a local Jewish community, each synagogue is a symbolic center of Jewish life and our people’s heritage.
Synagogues are also where Jews gather. In a world hostile to Israel and where, in some places, it is difficult for Jews to live safely, we are privileged to join in celebration, solidarity with Israel, and Jewish expression. We will do so often in this New Year.
Now is the time to invite and welcome others who aren’t currently participating in synagogue life to find their place with us. All of us want to understand world events and find personal meaning for our lives during challenging times. When we are engaged with one another and watchful over our own community, together, we are attentive to what’s happening everywhere else.
For us, Mickve Israel and the Touro Synagogue are destinations we visit. Happily, for living out our Jewish lives and feelings, Chizuk Amuno is the synagogue we call home.