ALPHABET SOUP and Pluralism

This past Shabbat I spent my time on the Ta Shma Shabbaton for Rav Siach, my inter-denominational learning group. This was the culmination of a week of pluralism and alphabet soup. The week began with an afternoon and evening with the UJC and students from HUC (reform), RRC (Reconstructionist), JTS (Conservative) and YU (yeshiva university, Orthodox) gathering together to learn what the UJC does. Might you have noticed that there are a few schools missing? Of the invited schools, the person who was doing hte welcome left out the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the UJ (my school!) not to mention Hebrew College and the Aleph Students who are also studying in Israel for the year but were not invited to the event. The event, which had the potential to be a powerful networking experience across denominations turned into a big balagan. The event was mainly to promote the UJC and to tell us how important it is for us to support them when we are ordained as Rabbis. I am used to this sort of deal, so that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the lack of acceptance and pluralism along the way. The evening culminated at YU’s campus in Jerusalem. As the students began to arrive for dinner, a group of Conservative and Reform rabbinical students wanted to Daven Ma’ariv. When they asked if there was a space on campus to daven in an egalitarian fashion, they were told that they were not allowed to have an Egalitarian Minyan in the building. So the group of us ended up outside in the dark, davening Ma’ariv. Only adding to the already uncomfortable experience was the use of the term “Spiritual Leader” in place of Rabbi when being addressed by a YU leader. I understand that the movements are different, that is why we have different schools, learning institutions, synagogues, etc. but, if we are being brought together to promote tolerance and pluralism, shouldn’t we all be acknowledging the legitimacy of the other. I left this evening feeling disappointed about the attempt at pluralism.

Adding to this feeling was the knowledge that the coming Friday I was to board a bus with my colleagues from 8 other seminaries for a shabbat of pluralism. I could only hope that the outcome of that weekend would be better than the attempt of UJC to bring us together. The weekend started out with an incredible hike in the North. Getting up early on my one day off during the week was not something I was looking forward to, but it was worth it. We headed out of Jerusalem and headed North via the West Bank. This was my first trip through the contested area, and I was taken aback by the beauty of the flowers. A sea of yellow, purple, pink, and the green that was beginning to flood the area. There I was left alone with my thoughts on the bus as we climbed north. Alone in my head thinking about the complexities of the country as they tied into the complexities of the Shabbat I was about to experience. And then we passed a lone Israeli flag on the side of the road. And I was reminded of how much I am connected to this land, how much I grow every time i venture outside the walls of my apartment. we reached our first rest stop, right outside the west bank, and it was a mini-UN meeting. People of all faiths and nationalities waited for the facilities, mixed together, and somehow I knew this weekend would be o.k.

After a rather long hike in a slippery hill, and some learning about Truth and peace, we boarded the bus again for the 45 minute drive to our residence for Shabbat. After all the planning, trying to figure out how far each of us was willing to bend and where the line was drawn, we created our own pluralistic Shabbat. I found myself comfortable the entire time, with boundaries set that I was o.k. with, and I was pushed to find a place for myself. While we had a trichitza, three sections, it didn’t really matter where I sat because I was always a part of the service. the men went and supported the lone Orthodox member of our group, and he came over to our mixed side of the mechitzah for kabbalat shabbat. we joined together for singing overlooking the beauty of the kinneret before Shabbat, joined in with one another striving to push the boundaries and make everyone feel comfortable.

What i found to be the most impressive was the warmth and eagerness to learn from one another that was exhibited by my colleagues. And, while I know this was just one instance of Pluralism working, of everyone coming together, it brought me hope for the future that compromise is possible, that conversation will work, that one day we will all accept one another for who we are, for what we believe in and for the common good.

The weekend was made complete by the end of Shabbat. I spent my afternoon looking out on the kinneret, lost in my thoughts, centering myself, trying to get back to that place of love and inner peace I had this summer. This year I have been on a roller coaster of emotions, not sure where I would land. I have been up and down, and I miss the Eve who smiled like there was no tomorrow, who laughed and loved every chance I had. I miss the Eve from this summer, I so badly needed to center. So I sat there, listened tot he rush of the waters, the sound of children laughing and I centered. I centered on peace and happiness, two things I am striving for, for myself and for my world. And I stared across the Kinneret at Jordan, that country on the other side. The country I look at as I drive Israel’s inner boarder. The country I was in less than a month ago taking in the beauty of Petra. The country of the unknown I take in across the Kinneret, across the dead sea, across the Red Sea. the country I stare at so often. And i see the difference between Israel and Jordan, more pronounced than ever as we drive through the populated and built up sides of Israel and see the vast emptiness of Jordan. As I sat at the Kinneret, i found myself being happy for who I am, and wondering about Israel. There were 2 boys there with their dad, learning how to skip stones. they couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. And as my mind drifted I surprised myself with the thought that in just 8 years, these smiling boys, carefree boys would be enlisting in the Army as their father had. There was something scary and comforting by that thought. What a complex society this is, yet we must not forget to smile, laugh and enjoy the time we have together.

Shabbat ended with a beautiful Havdallah service. We sat there, listening to the brachot, our faces only lit by the glow of the twisted candle. I felt a sense of calmness and hope in the future. It was the end of a mixed week, and the beginning of a new week. Klal Yisrael is alive and well in my own, isolated community, perhaps one day alphabet soup will be not just another list of organizations working on separate causes, but a list of a united Jewish community. Ani Ma’amin!

One thought on “ALPHABET SOUP and Pluralism

  1. Matt March 7, 2007 / 12:55 am

    A balagan? In Israel? I find that hard to believe! 😉


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