In Yiddish, people from the same town refer to each other as landsmen. When meeting a fellow from your hometown it is customary to greet them with a hearty “Landsman!” As we migrated out of the shtetl, landing in such far-flung places as New York, Los Angeles, or Reno, encounters with people from our former community were opportunities for excitement. The connection between people of the same town remained strong, and often immigrants would form groups known as Landsmanshaftn. Whether organized by synagogues, organizations, or even large families, these groups were mutual aid societies, taking care of one another.
Benevolent societies sprung up wherever Jews went. The first in Reno, Chebra B’rith Sholam, began in the 1870s and was responsible with the establishment of the Hebrew Cemetery. While we no longer have such a group (it dissolved in 1895), we still look after one another. Today, that is the work of the synagogue community. We provide for each other and are all concerned for our collective well-being. During the first days of the pandemic, we put this to work. As we spoke with congregants, we noted who needed help with things like groceries and who could go out and buy them. As our needs have shifted, our work must shift as well.
To help build mutual aid within our community, we would like to mention a few pieces. The first is within the building itself. If you have been by recently, you might have seen that directly across from the bathrooms we have a large bulletin board. On the board, you will find notecards waiting to be filled out. If you have a need or a project that you would like help with, fill out a card and pin it up. We encourage everyone to share and to take a look at what others have posted as you might be just the person for their project.
We also hope that everyone who has not yet signed up joins our Discord server. This is our own online space to share, collaborate, and discuss our community. There are categories for all aspects of the community from social events to social action, Jewish practice to Jewish memes, and plenty of room for all of our committees, activities, and personalities.
In the Talmud we are reminded שכל ישראל ערבים זה בזה “that all Israel is responsible for one another.” (Shavuot 39a) From this we understand that the idea of mutual aid is far older – our first examples stem from the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE. And while the means change – despite the plethora of tablets, there was no Discord in the Ancient Near East – the purpose is the same: to care for one another. Please check out these spaces if you have not already, and maybe give a hearty “Landsman!” if you see one another on the street.
Rabbi Benjamin and Rabbi Sara