One of America’s most prominent rabbis, David Wolpe recently announced his retirement from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Looking back on his 26-year career, he reflects on what he has learned about religion and the human condition:
Sometimes it seems, for those outside of faith communities, that religion is simply about a set of beliefs to which one assents. But I know that from the inside it is about relationships and shared vision. Where else do people sing together week after week? Where else does the past come alive to remind us how much has been learned before the sliver of time we are granted in this world?
I know the percentage of those who not only call themselves religious but also find themselves in religious communities declines each year. The cost of this ebbing of social cohesion is multifaceted. At the most basic, it tears away at the social fabric. Many charities rely solely on religious institutions. People in churches and synagogues and mosques reliably contribute more to charities—religious and nonreligious—than their secular counterparts do. The disunity that plagues us in each political cycle is also partly because of a loss of shared moral purpose which people once found each week in the pews.
Keeping a congregation together has never been easy, and mine has become increasingly politically divided in an ever more polarizing era. . . . Over the years I have encouraged people to learn about each other’s lives before they explore each other’s politics. When you share the struggles of raising children and navigating life, when you attend meetings and pack lunches together, when you are on the same softball team and sit near each other in synagogue, you don’t start each conversation with how the other party’s candidate is a scoundrel.