On a page splashed with pictures of Purim costumes and pride parades, challah bakes and seders, shofars and tallit and synagogues old and new, is one with familiar faces and a familiar name: Congregation Kehillah. The Scottsdale synagogue is one of hundreds of communities that have so far contributed to the Com.unity Project, an exhibit and database organized by the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot to showcase the diversity of Judaism around the world.
In putting together Kehillah’s contribution to the project, Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman sought to highlight the vibrancy and diversity of the congregation and both traditional and nontraditional ways that members express their Judaism and live their values.
“Kehillah means community, and it’s a true community,” Sharfman said. “It’s a synagogue, yes, and we offer all the services a traditional synagogue offers. But we are a community also in terms of our connectivity and being with one another.”
It was also a good opportunity, Sharfman said, to reflect on Kehillah’s history. She is proud to see that the relatively young congregation stayed true to its original values, while also growing and deepening the bonds within the community.
“Kehillah, in a lot of ways, was my dream, my vision. But at this point — as we talked about this last Shabbat with the congregation — it’s not just my dream, my vision anymore,” Sharfman said. “It started off with that but it’s now merged with those of everybody who is part of the community, and it’s becoming something much richer and more vibrant than I could have imagined on my own.”
Each photo on the homepage of the Com.unity Project comes with a story and a dozen more photos of a Jewish community somewhere in the world: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Serrastretta, Italy; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; San Diego, California; Be’er Sheva, Israel; Johannesburg, South Africa. In addition to the online version, visitors to Beit Hatfutsot will soon be able to explore and experience these communities through an interactive interface featured in the museum’s new core exhibit, which opens in January.
The mosaic of Jewish life that the project offers is emblematic of the museum’s mission, said Ronit Lusky, director of educational exhibits and international partnerships at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
“Basically, it celebrates optimism and creativity and continuity of the Jewish people,” Lusky said. “And it also tries to be very realistic and inclusive, saying that there are many ways to express being Jewish and we embrace all, we share all, and everyone has a place at the museum.”
For Beit Hatfutsot, the Com.unity Project marks the culmination of an idea that staff initially conceived around two years ago, but weren’t able to implement until this year.
“We had to do other things and put this aside,” Lusky said, “but now before the opening, we pulled up our sleeves and got in the business of inviting communities.”
And the opening of the core exhibit in January signals the conclusion of an even longer journey, started nearly a decade ago, to renovate and rebrand the museum “with a new story, a new approach, a new narrative,” Lusky said.
A guiding idea behind the new history exhibit, Lusky said, is for visitors to look back on what they saw in the museum and, instead of saying “oy vey,” to say “hallelujah.”
“We’re celebrating culture, we’re celebrating continuity,” Lusky said. “There were pogroms, there was anti-Semitism, there still is. Of course there are hard moments and hard parts and they’re not hidden — they’re part of the story. But what is highlighted is the optimism in today.”
In addition to creativity and realism, the museum strives to make visitors’ experience in the museum feel personal.
“The museum doesn’t talk at them, it talks with them, and they can find themselves there,” Lusky said.
For Sharfman, who normally organizes an annual trip to Israel for congregants and other interested members of the community, Beit Hatfutsot is a frequent stop.
“It’s a really great place for American Jews to do a lot of learning about Jewish communities around the world, including their own,” Sharfman said. The Com.unity Project in particular, with its focus on not just synagogues but Jewish communities of all kinds, “is just very uplifting in terms of looking at the diversity and the dynamics of American Jewish life for us and the dynamics and diversity of Judaism across the world.”
While Sharfman wasn’t able to lead a trip to Israel this year, she hopes to be able to return in fall of 2021. When she does, she’s looking forward to seeing the new exhibit, including Kehillah’s contribution to the Com.unity Project.
“I think for our congregants who travel to Israel with me over the years, it will be really fun and very special to see our congregation represented there,” Sharfman said. “The online exhibit is great, but it will be very special to see our congregation and our pictures in the live exhibit there.” JN
For more information or to view the Com.unity Project, visit com-unity.bh.org.il.