This Tuesday evening, a most important event will be held at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood. The brainchild of two friends – one Orthodox and one Reform – Unity4Unity is a shot across the bow of divisiveness among Jews and the prejudices Jews of each stream have toward their fellows who practice differently or not at all. (See article on page 7.)
We can deny it all we want, even as we deny the existence of substance abuse and spousal violence, yet they all exist within our enclaves and they all eat away at our collective identity and security.
As a people, we always have had our divisions, but we thrived in spite of them. Not so any longer. We judge fellow Jews by what they wear, or what they do not (“he wears a black hat”; “he does not wear a kippah”). We judge fellow Jews by what they eat, or do not (“she does not keep kosher”; “keeping kosher is an absurd anachronism”). We judge fellow Jews by where and how they pray, or do not (“he belongs to a Reform temple”; “she prefers sitting behind a wooden partition in her synagogue”). We see the differences when what we should be seeing is what they are: fellow Jews – an extended family dating back to Abraham.
Yet there is hope. There are signs that things can change if we want them to do so.
In his column this week, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach expresses his belief that liberal Jewish practices would leave Judaism “a hollow shell of its robust past,” but he also “embrace[s] Reform and Conservative Judaism’s more universal and outward-looking social conscience.”
Lee Lasher, an Orthodox Jew, and Ian Zimmerman, a Reform Jew, do not share the same religious outlook, but they share a common concern for their people and the Jewish future. They are friends despite their differences, and now they seek to work together to bring us all to their vision of a people united.
Because of their efforts, three rabbis, one from each of the three major streams, will come together Tuesday night to publicly discuss how we can achieve that.
We congratulate Lasher and Zimmerman for the sacred work they have undertaken. We congratulate the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and its Jewish Community Relations Council for putting the weight of their organizations behind Lasher and Zimmerman.
The Talmud teaches us that “all Israel are responsible one for the other.” It does not add, “depending on whether they practice as we do.”
May Lasher and Zimmerman go from strength to strength, and may all of us actively and lovingly embrace their cause.