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5: The Vibe

04/05/2019 03:00:00 PM


Rabbi Elie Karfunkel

For a wonderful shul experience, the most important ingredient is the vibe.  

The vibe is the gut feeling each of us have about a person or place. It’s something that’s sensed intuitively—you can't buy it with a fancy Kiddush or clean bathrooms, although neither of those hurt.

And it sets the tone for everything that takes place in that space.

When it became known that we were finally moving the Albert and Temmy Latner Forest Hill Jewish Centre, some congregants were surprisingly critical. Their concern was that somehow the vibe would be lost. 

I couldn't argue with them, because it was all prognostication to begin with. But some things definitely changed.

We always felt packed above Starbucks and, for me, that helped with the vibe. A cute trick I used to play was to put in lots of tables. We needed 100 people to be filled wall-to-wall. But if I added eight tables, we only needed 50 to get the same impact.

So, when just 40 people showed up, it’d seem like we were about to burst at the seams. I can't even tell you how many pants I ripped from shlepping those old wooden tables. (Thank you HaShem for our new plastic tables, the third-greatest invention of this century, after Waze and Uber.)

Back then, we leaned on volunteers to set up Kiddush. The washroom was only five feet from the Ark, and that itself created lots of smiles. The Rabbi also wasn’t spending his time reflecting on essays about being here for 20 years.

But our magnificent new building has its own flavour. And I think it's pretty special, too.

I’m in a select group in Forest Hill. I grew up religious, all my friends were religious, and all my heroes were religious. While that has plenty of benefits, and makes Jewish observance pretty smooth, one can get caught up doing everything by rote. 

Now I get to be at the FHJC, where few grew up like me, and many wouldn’t define themselves as religious. I’m surrounded by people who embrace their Judaism: not to run away from their difficulties, but to enhance their already beautiful existence, because they sense that there’s more to life. 

Whether I’m studying with sincere conversion candidates, or helping people navigate the Siddur after a 20-year break, it all comes down to connecting with people.

That’s what makes our special place in G-d’s world so delicious.

That’s what defines a vibe.

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784