You know how, from the outside at least, there’s always that friend who seems to be perfect, who seems to succeed at everything you can’t pull off yourself?
That’s how I feel about the Jewish community of Boston. Every time I go there, I’m struck by how well things appear to be run, how Boston actually does all these progressive things that other Jewish communities only talk about doing.
I don’t know if it’s the community’s size (big but not too big), its cornucopia of prestigious academic institutions or what, but from my vantage point as a journalist, Jewish Boston always seems, in virtually every category except its newspaper (what Jewish publication could possibly compare to The New York Jewish Week?), to be an exemplar of excellence.
And that’s across the life-cycle spectrum.
While New York’s Jewish federation only recently began actively trying to reach out to young unaffiliated families, Boston boasts Welcome Baby, a free gift basket that goes out to new parents along with information about various free or inexpensive playgroups and programs.
Outreach to interfaith families? Boston’s Jewish federation is one of the few to make it a budget priority.
Successful supplemental schools? The Kesher program, which is part after-school day care, part Hebrew school, part camp is frequently cited as a model in the field, yet few communities have successfully replicated it.
Care for abandoned Jewish burial grounds? The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts has been doing that for 26 years, whereas the Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries, a similar group in New York, is still in its infancy.
This week I got to visit another one of Boston’s crown jewels: Mayyim Hayyim, the pluralistic community mikveh founded in part by best-selling author Anita Diamant.
Attending its Gathering The Waters International Mikveh Conference (I’ll be writing more about it later), I was pleased to see that the beautifully appointed, spa-like ritual bath looks as nice in real life as it does on video.
More important than the aesthetic is the facility’s warm, welcoming and nonjudgmental approach, with volunteer mikveh guides trained to be sensitive not just to the needs of men and women, liberal and Orthodox Jews, first-timers, converts, grieving Jews, joyous Jews and those about-to-be married (including lesbian and gay couples), but also to interfaith families.
In one of the four preparation rooms hung a beautiful framed photo and certificate of sorts that not only commemorated a family’s conversion of their baby but that explicitly acknowledged that while the baby’s non-Jewish mom is not herself converting, she plans to be supportive of and involved in the child’s Jewish upbringing.
And while I extol Boston’s seeming perfections did I mention that even the synagogue that hosted the conference was stunningly (yet tastefully) gorgeous, with huge windows letting in not just sunlight but a view of autumn foliage and spacious Hebrew school classrooms that rivaled the campus of a prep school?
I’ll never move away from my beloved New York, which is, after all, the American Jewish Homeland, and I’m fond of the architecturally uninspiring (think 1950s ranch house) temple I recently joined.
Nonetheless, it all almost makes me want to support the Red Sox (which of course I, who hate sports, wouldn’t do even if I lived in Boston).
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