I was very surprised and saddened a few weeks back to hear that Tom Magliozzi passed away at the age of 77. Tom and his brother Ray were the hosts of the long-running show “Car Talk” on NPR. For the benefit of those who were not familiar with the show, it was ostensibly about car repair - people called in to ask questions about their cars - Tom and Ray were expert mechanics, both alumni of MIT who had opted to work in car repair rather than the corporate world. But inevitably the advice that was dispensed, in their humorous, irreverent, Boston-inflected style was more often about the relationship issues of the callers than about the cars themselves. Car Talk was really only a pretext to get to the really important stuff.
Tom had a warm, inviting, and frankly quite infectious laugh, and for every hour-long episode of Car Talk, the listener would probably have heard Tom laughing for a good 20-plus minutes in aggregate. That laugh just sucked you in. It simply grabbed you by the ears and pulled you into the conversation. Everybody listening to Car Talk, whether or not they had any interest in cars or car repair, felt like they were a part of the conversation.
The ability to welcome callers and listeners into a conversation about people and their relationships using the “bait” of car problems is really a very clever idea. And really, it’s a nice model for how a synagogue should function. Let me illustrate this in the context of a recent community-wide success, the Great Neck Shabbat Project.
Ostensibly, the major goal of the Shabbat Project was to involve as many members of the community into a Shabbat experience. We did that. By providing a full complement of activities, targeted to a wide range of people and interests, by personally inviting everybody to participate through various means, including direct, individual outreach, we welcomed many more people into our midst than would ordinarily participate on an average Shabbat. There were close to 1,000 people (women and men!) at the challah workshop at Leonard’s on Thursday evening. There were 600 people at Shabbat dinner at Temple Israel on Friday night. There were more than 150 at the Camp Shabbat service for 5th and 6th graders and their families on Shabbat morning. There were 200 people for se’udah shelisheet, the third Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoon. And hundreds attended the concert Saturday night, preceded by a havdalah service led by rabbis and laypeople from across the ideological and ethnic spectrum of Jewish Great Neck. And there was even more.
But the real accomplishment was not the very impressive numbers. The actual intent of the Shabbat Project, as it is with everything we do at Temple Israel, was to create and nurture relationships among members of the community, and between us and God. And we did that, too - by providing multiple forums for people representing different subsets of our community to rub elbows; by creating an environment in which many were sharing Shabbat together openly, and on a grand scale; by hosting discussions on parenting and being a Jewish college student and our own personal journeys within Judaism.
So while we did not have Tom Magliozzi’s inviting laughter, we did have members of our community reaching out directly to others to raise the Shabbat bar, and although we did not talk about cars, we did talk about Shabbat as a platform to deepen our relationships. The results were tremendous in terms of community building and social capital. Kol hakavod to all who made it happen! (And may Tom’s memory be for a blessing.)
Rabbi Seth Adelson
(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, November 20, 2014.)