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Primary and Secondary Communities

A few weeks ago our friend, Jerry Holinstat, died unexpectedly. At the end of his funeral that was attended by hundreds of people, the funeral director asked for permission to say something personal. I was taken aback. Having participated in hundreds of funerals, never did I hear a funeral director talking about anything other than the address where the shiva takes place or mentioning an organization should someone want to make a donation in memory of the deceased. I was further surprised when she didn’t address Jerry’s family but the members of Temple Beth Am. After offering us her condolences she shared her observation, based on several funerals she directed, of how impressed she was by the way we get together as a community to help and support our grieving friends. 

While appreciating her compliment I had to admit to myself that not every time when a member or a member’s loved one dies does it affect us all as a Temple community. Our clergy, staff and volunteers are always truly there to help and offer comfort in any way we can. But what I tried to figure out was, why in some cases it feels that a family lost a loved one, and sometimes it feels that it was the Temple’s loss.  

I believe that the answer can be found in the distinction sociologists make between two kinds of communities: Primary and Secondary. A Primary community is a social group whose members share close, personal, enduring relationships. These groups are marked by members' concern for one another, in shared activities and culture. People in a Secondary community interact on a less personal level and their relationships are temporary rather than long lasting. Secondary groups are based on interests and activities. You normally call members of your Secondary group acquaintances. My two older children, Maya and Ben, belong to the local swim team. For some of my friends, that team is their primary community. They regularly see the other parents at swim meets, socialize with them and together volunteer for events. Gali and I love the team, the coaches and the fact that our children swim. We happily pay the dues, but besides that, we just drop the kids off for practices and pick them up at the end. It is not the quality of the organization, but our own life style (most meets are held on Shabbat) that make the team a Secondary group for us. 

Everyone has a need to be part of a Primary community. For some, their family serves this function. For others, it may be their country club or a core group of close friends. A synagogue can be either a Primary or a Secondary community for its members. Temple Beth Am, by definition, cannot be a Primary Community for our 500 families, but it is for many.  I’m not writing this article to convince you to tighten your connections to TBA, as I know that I myself cannot have the same relationships with all the groups I belong to. I truly appreciate and am grateful for anyone who chooses to be part of TBA regardless of their level of involvement.  But I do want you to know that we are blessed with a unique culture that allows anyone who wants, new as well as longtime members, to make TBA part of their extended family. 

It is unusual to meet an adult who was born in Jupiter or in a nearby town. Most people moved here from somewhere else in different stages of their lives. Some have the ability to join or create a community without an effort, while for others it is very difficult. After Jerry died, many people told a similar story of how the first time they met him he immediately invited them to be part of his inner circle. He loved people and was a magnet for those in search of a community. We will miss Jerry a lot and I hope and pray that we will be able to continue his legacy as we lovingly embrace anyone who wants to be part of us.  

Rabbi Alon Levkovitz 

Fri, December 4 2020 18 Kislev 5781