Now's the time to mark your
calendar with upcoming KOACH events
From the Assistant Director--
Having a community;
remaining an individual
Published in Koach on Campus, Fall 2000
By Rabbi Elyse Winick
I have a fondness for flowers. It is, perhaps, one of
my less intellectual pursuits, but it gives me great satisfaction.
I can recognize most flowers by name, even at a fancy
florist, though their scientific categorization is lost on me. Fall is not
my favorite floral season, because chrysanthemums are the seasonal flower
of choice and they are, next to carnations, my least favorite flowers.
Still, I buy them, encircling our sukkah with clay
pots filled with purple and yellow and white, planting their bushy little
remnants in the front yard to see if they will return next year. There's
nothing wrong with them, sitting in clusters on their strong and leafy
stems. They just don't inspire me.
Other flowers, though, do. I spent last spring
tracking down a book I had heard about called The Orchid Thief, by Susan
Orlean. It was billed as a nonfiction mystery, about a man who stole and
bred orchids for a living. When I finally located the book it turned out
that nonfiction just wasn't what I had in mind for midsummer reading. I
lent it to a more patient reader, who drew my attention to a brief passage
near the end.
Regarding the world of orchid enthusiasts, Susan
Orlean writes: "This has always been a puzzlement to me, how to have a
community but remain individual - how you could manage to be separate but
joined, and somehow, amazingly, not lose sight of either your separateness
or your togetherness.
If you set out alone and sovereign, unconnected to a
family, a religion, a nationality, a tradition, a class, then pretty soon
you are too lonely, too self-invented and unique, and too much aware that
there is no one else like you in the world. If you submerge yourself
completely in something - your town or your profession or your hobby -
then pretty soon you have to struggle up to the surface because you need
to be sure that even though you are part of something big, some community,
you still exist as a single unit with a single mind." Well put.
How do we strike the balance between meeting our
individual needs and supporting and sustaining a community? The writer
here makes an excellent case for needing both individual and communal
identity. The dynamic of that balance is often lost on us, as we pendulum
from one extreme to the other. Is there a happy medium to be had?
This is a particularly appropriate struggle to
commence at this time of year on both of our calendars. You're already
making choices for how to spend your time. You'll need selections that
feed your mind, feed your stomach and feed your soul. These choices will
define your sense of connection and your sense of identity in the year to
The months of Elul and Tishrei are particularly
appropriate for self assessment and Jewish tradition is cognizant of this
struggle. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) we find the oft quoted
statement of Hillel the Sage, im eyn ani li, mi li (if I am not for
myself, who will be for me), u'khsheani l'atzmi, mah ani (and if I am only
for myself, what am I). The need for a sense of self and the need for
community are two sides of the same coin. Together fulfilled, they offer a
sense of wholeness and completion.
A floral designer looks for aesthetic balance when
arranging flowers. A life which balances our need for independence with
our need for community is far more beautiful and lasting. And as Hillel
would suggest, im lo akhshav, eymatai (if not now, when)?
Wishing you introspective and uplifting new year -