When I travel, I always feel the need to locate the local Jewish community and connect with the people, especially when I travel during a holiday.
Over the course of two years, I found myself celebrating the holiday of Shavuot in two special communities. In 2017, I went to a tikkun, a Shavuot night-time study program, in New Orleans. The program was jointly run by four different synagogues in New Orleans – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox.
There was a rabbinic panel at this tikkun, in which each rabbi – men and women – answered questions about their approach to different dilemmas in Judaism. The four rabbis, with four completely different perspectives, expressed their opinions and discussed the conflicts in the most respectful, accepting and understanding way. It was interesting for me to hear the different approaches, but it was even more important for me to see how inclusive and accepting they were of one another.
In 2018, I volunteered with the Abuyudaya community, a Conservative Jewish community in Uganda. During Shavuot, we created a tikkun program together, based on ones I was familiar with in Israel. Different people offered classes throughout the evening.
At this tikkun, I gave a class on Rambam’s eight levels of charity. I thought it was an interesting topic to teach to a community which itself needs a great deal of outside support. But it was also more personal. Throughout my volunteer work, it often bothered me that I did not have any money to offer these people. But the one thing I did have to offer was Jewish education.
The highest level of charity, according to the Rambam, is to offer a fishing rod and to teach a person to fish, rather than giving them fish to eat. In other words, teach the individual another skill, which he can use to support himself, and in this way, it is not a one-time gift. I was so pleased to see the different ways the people of the community responded to Rambam’s approach.
Both communities – in New Orleans and in Uganda – had a very strong positive impact on me. I can only hope that I added something to their lives.