Being Jewish In Tuscaloosa Is Different, But In The Best Way Yet

I walked in the rain to a tucked away building on the "God Quad" of campus, where all of the religious buildings are, to attend Rosh Hashanah services at the campus synagogue. When I came to services for the first time last year, I was very put off at the fact that only about half of the seats in the sanctuary were filled on one of the most important holidays of the year. At home, we had to change locations of services so that we would fit everyone into the same room.

As the service went on, only about two hours long, I realized how close of a community the smallness of the congregation created. The rabbi went around the room and individually greeted every single person in the congregation. To the people he didn't recognize, he would introduce himself and ask where the visitors or new congregants were coming from.

When we got to the point of the service when the Torah is to be read, the rabbi announced that he would not be reading, but rather someone from the congregation had volunteered to read. A nice middle-aged woman stepped up in front of the gigantic Torah and chanted the exact same words that rabbis all over the world were doing for groups of 300+. Only here, in a congregation that is more like a family, would someone feel the confidence to stand up and read arguably the most important portion of the most important text in the Jewish religion.

To the group of maybe 50 people, the rabbi in his sermon stressed the importance of coming together. Individually, he stressed, we will decrease, but if we come together we can be strong. In every period of history, there has been a healthy dose of anti-semitism, and today is no exception. We cannot fight that in factions of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews, we must all be Jews together. I looked around to the group of individual students and families, all nodding with him in unison. Sure, not a lot of people were hearing his very important words, but enough were to make a difference. The fact that I knew the rabbi was talking to me directly instead of an insanely large group made his words mean more. It made the students less likely to check their phones during the service and the old people less likely to fall asleep.

Being part of a small community can be very scary. Sometimes I feel like I am the only Jew for miles, but being part of such a close community is comforting, to say the least. The Jews have always been small but mighty, and it is one of our proudest qualities. And as the Tuscaloosa Jewish community sees it, the smaller we are the mightier we have to be.

Shana tova!

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