What makes a community a real community? Surely it includes meaningful events and strong relationships. Surely it matters that people feel a sense of belonging. But I think the real test of a community is how it goes through hard times, or helps its members go through hard times.
Here at Moishe House Boston, we have recently faced a difficult situation that continues to test our fiber. One of our members, call her Anna, was diagnosed with a rare and serious form of lymphona. Anna is an incredibly sweet person and was active in our environmental work and our Shabbat gatherings, and is a grad student. When we heard she was sick, we asked ourselves, "What are we supposed to do? What does a community do in these situations? Does Anna even want people to visit her in the hospital?" It was hard to hear that someone our own age could face this situation, and made us all consider our own mortality.
With the support of my housemates, I emailed Anna letting her know that we wanted to be there for her, and wanted to know what was the best way to support her. I said we were happy to bring her food, visit her in the hospital or at home, or whatever else she needed. When Anna let us know that she needed help with meals and wanted visits when she was getting chemo, Alix recruited two leaders to create a new chesed/lovingkindness team, who in turn set up a system for community members to sign up to make weekly meals and visit in the hospital. The arts team set up a card-making station in our dining room, complete with all sorts of fancy paper, markers, glitter glue, and feathers. At every non-Shabbat event at the house, people are encouraged to make Anna a card, which are brought to Anna when people go to visit her in the hospital. All sorts of people have helped out, including many people who don't even know Anna that well, but have made food or brought games to keep Anna from getting bored.
What made our member Andy take the time to make Anna food and visit her, when he didn't even really know her? I think he went in part because we told our community that that is what we do, what Jewish community does, is to take care of each other and to visit the sick.
To some, it might seem like bringing food to one person is nothing in comparison to making Shabbat for a big group or pulling off a successful social justice campaign. But as passionate as I am about Shabbat and social justice campaigns, nothing could be more important than knowing I am in a community where people are there for each other. It means that we are more than our campaigns, more than our good days, and also makes those campaigns and good days more meaningful, because we are doing them with people we know we can rely on.
I am proud of the Moishe House Boston community for the way we have stepped up, even though I wish to God we didn't have to. I believe that through our work, we are not only caring for Anna, but we are teaching our members how they can make a difference, and what caring community means. This feels like a blessing.