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Values-Driven Change

In 2003, B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE), then located in Glenview, Illinois, began a process that transformed us from a stagnating into a thriving community. The key to our success was articulating a vision of what we aspired BJBE to become: a values-based congregation driven by the mission to help individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives.

That vision helped us arrive at five core Jewish values—Torah/Transformational Learning, Avodah/Awakening the Spirit, Gemilut Chasadim /A Culture of Giving, Community, and Israel.

Torah: Jewish learning is the cornerstone of Jewish identity, commitment, and engagement. We realized that we needed to create not only great study opportunities, but a culture of learning. Beyond exchanging knowledge and information, we worked to make our learning interactive, enabling people to discover meaning and purpose with other learners in the context of our community.

Avodah: We strove to awaken the spirit through avodah (prayer). We knew this would never be achieved if our worship service was like a ping-pong game—cantor sings, rabbi reads, cantor sings, rabbi reads, cong"In this space, we elevate ordinary interactions into ones filled with holiness." Instead we adopted a varied approach, where music and -spoken word ricochet off one another, creating sparks of meaning, joy, and reflection. These days, sometimes our services start out loud with joyful sounds and continue with a quiet, contemplative time. We are also introducing new modes, such as Tai Chi, meditation, and yoga.

Gemilut chasadim: We encouraged a culture of giving, making BJBE a place where people could care deeply and express an open heart, giving generously of their time and money. We inspired congregants to volunteer in soup kitchens, to engage in community organizing, to collect necessaries for the needy, and more.

Community: We infused our synagogue with a culture of graciousness by studying the value of hospitality with our Board and committees, giving special lessons for our ushers, and speaking about graciousness from the bimah. At BJBE you are not invisible, your humanity is recognized, your life matters. We have a shared responsibility to respond to one another with care and kindness.

Israel: Love of our spiritual homeland is reflected in all we do—congregational trips, classes, sermons, and more.

We also built a new synagogue home that speaks to these core values. One of our walls is painted a golden color to signify Israel’s barley harvest. The ceiling in our chapel has 36 points of lights—the number representing the 36 righteous individuals hidden among us—which is also the constellation of the Jerusalem sky on Yom Kippur. Most important is our congregation’s beautiful Village Center, a space of intersection where people sit, reflect, and exchange ideas; children hang out—where everyone meets each other at all hours. Living our core Jewish values in this space, we are elevating ordinary interactions into ones filled with holiness.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar is senior rabbi of B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim.