By Lindsey Herring
Joshua has been a regular fixture at Temple Beth-El since 2018. Many of you have likely seen him leading Minyan, at Shabbat services or engaging in various acts of volunteerism. Despite being raised in a Jewish environment, Joshua took a break from Judaism for many years. But, when he decided to become reacquainted with his roots, he did so with full force and never looked back. “I really felt like I was going home,” Joshua said as he described his return to synagogue life. He fully embraced the transition, which started with attending Minyan.
“I started coming in March 2018,” Joshua said, when Rabbi Barry Leff was interim spiritual leader at Temple Beth-El. “Rabbi Leff was very welcoming and supportive and always ready to talk about Jewish learning.” This appealed a great deal to Joshua, who is quick to admit he has a deep love of learning and immerses himself in many of the ritual aspects of synagogue life.
Joshua has been leading weekday morning Minyan on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays since last fall, and is a regular substitute Minyan leader when one is needed. “It helps for me to have a daily, or almost daily, practice,” Joshua said, noting the irony of his morning Minyan attendance and the fact that he’s “not a morning person.” As with any religious practice or spiritual discipline, though, a great deal of connection emerges with habit. Joshua’s regular Minyan attendance became a natural habit, something he finds quite meaningful to his spiritual life, he said.
Many people who return to a religious institution after a lapse in time don’t adhere to the same immersion tactic that Joshua did, attending daily services as well as Shabbat services often and regularly. But, as he noted, “If I’m going to come back after 30 years, I needed to really do it,” Joshua said. This regular attendance, he said, is especially important when It comes to keeping Jewish values at the forefront of one’s life. “Especially since we’re a small minority, it’s part of keeping Jewish value alive. Regular attendance helps keep the Jewish community alive.”
Regular attendance is something that Temple Beth-El struggles with, specifically when it comes to Minyan. “I’d like it if more people showed up regularly for Minyan. It’s a really important tradition,” Joshua said. “We need more people willing to come regularly to say Kaddish. It is a really important part of keeping the community as a community. Communities are important and it’s a really critical aspect of community to maintain.”
The sense of community is something he shares with his beloved and partner, Anna Deason. They volunteer together in various capacities when possible, so when Anna encourages him to volunteer with her for projects like TBE’s recent Passover in a Box, he’s inclined to say yes. “There are things that need to be done. Anna gets a lot of credit. She is really supportive of those things,” he said. “If she wasn’t so supportive, I don’t know that I’d feel as much freedom to be so involved.”
Joshua particularly enjoys adult education opportunities at the shul, leading discussions when asked, including recently on Shavuot. “I think it’s fun to facilitate the discussion. If I’m teaching, I’m learning. It’s more of a mutual learning,” Joshua said. When it comes to facilitating discussion, or any other volunteer opportunity, really, if you ask Joshua to join, there’s a large chance he’ll agree. “I like to say yes,” he said.
Beyond that, though, there lies a continuous, and deeply spiritual, connection in Jewish learning, something in which Joshua finds immense value. “Two things that are most spiritually enriching for me are the Torah service on Monday and Thursday mornings, and Bethany’s [Slater] teaching on Shabbat during the service,” he said. “There are so many other learning opportunities, like on Shavuot, to engage and think about things from a Jewish perspective.” Such perspective is quite important as a minority culture and necessary for the growth and strength of the community. With that being the case, “I’d like for there to be more learning opportunities,” Joshua said. “I’m looking forward to being involved in the future and growing and becoming a welcoming community.”