Yom Kippur 5776 – We must raise high the flag of Pluralism

(These words were delivered during Kol Nidre in my congregation, Kehilat Tzur Hadassah)

Last year at this time, we were still recovering from Tzuk Eitan.  Our eyes scanned the sky for rockets and our ears were attuned to the cry of the air raid siren — ready for the threat that came from the outside.
This past summer, sadly, the threat came from within.  Tu B’Av, the Jewish “Valentine’s Day”, started out as a celebration of love to a day of tragedy and morning when an Ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six people during the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. The next morning we woke up to even more horrible news of the arson of the home of the Dwabshe family in Duma with the tragic results known to all (the toddler was killed immediately and the parents died from their wounds within weeks).

Aside from the mourning I felt for these people whom I did not know, these horrible events implanted in me a deep and more urgent concern about the future of the State of Israel.  I have always been taught and so taught myself – Judaism places the greatest sanctity on life.

One who takes a life it is as if he has destroyed an entire world.  (Sanhedrin 23:1)

The most basic commandment – Do not murder. (Exodus 20)

I do not believe that the murderers are “lone wolves”.  They are symptoms of agendas, ideologies and dogmas that pervade sectors of Israeli society. One can read the fascimile signs that are posted in public spaces: “We are outraged to the depths of our soul that the abandoned and despicable people are scheming to carry out the March of Impurity and Abomination….We turn to anyone who has in his power the ability to act and has the ability to prevent this grievous danger.”  One can read the “writing on the wall” of Tag Mechir (Price Tag), some examples: “Good Arab = Dead Arab….Arabs out!….It’s either racism or assimilation.”

My feelings get hurt when I hear statements that my Judaism is not authentic.  But now I need to be afraid that someone will kill me for this?!  It is very frightening indeed.

If the events of the summer clarified anything for, it is that we, as a society, must be united on this issue: Pluralism.  Our tradition teaches:

There are seventy faces of the Torah (Numbers Rabbah 13:15)

Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel disagreed for three years, each one saying, “The law is according to me.”  A voice came down from heaven and said, “These and these are both words of the living G-d.” (Eruvin 13b)

There are a plethora of ways to be Jewish and a human being and, as a matter of principle, your way doesn’t have to contradict my way.  Maybe it will sound now like I am contradicting myself but I must be “Orthodox” about this  – We must raise the flag of pluralism, raise it high, and carry it forward in an intentional way.

What do I mean when I say “pluralism”?

I draw on the teachings of the leader in the field of Jewish Pluralistic Education, Dr. Michal Muszkat-Barkan, that wrote an article with Rabbi Dr. Michael Marmur on the subject.

First, we recognize that “plurality..is also a feature of human personality.”  Every person has multiple facets.  Opinions change as you receive information.  Values and skills evolve as we acquire life experience.

Second, being pluralistic means you have the ability to be self-critical.  To be human is to err (Alexander Pope).  Pluralism means that you are in a constant state of improving and perfecting.

Finally, recognizing that there is a “range of potentially valid positions” does not prevent a person from “expressing preference and making choices.”  I can co-exist with you in the same society even when we disagree – if we both have empathy and the ability to compromise.

One could argue that Orthodoxy by definition cannot compromise.  But according tot he Orthodox thinker of the 20th Century, Rabbi David Hartman, “Keeping the mitzvot from the perspective that ‘the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah’ helps a person that not feel threated by people with different world views.  Serving G-d in happiness prepares the ground, in a psychological way, for the amazing possibilities of religious pluralism” (Gili Zivan, p.) In other words, if my feel good in my faith and my deeds, what you think and do shouldn’t bother me.

I view the community as the central actor in the advancement of pluralism.  According to Muszkat-Barkan and Marmur, “Community is the laboratory for pluralism.”  A community is a place in which “searching individuals  constantly examine (their) direction, identity, and boundaries. ”  Michael Rosenak describes two types of community – a community based on a covenant of fate versus a community based on a covenant of destiny.  A community based on a covenant of fate is issue-oriented – this is the event that happened and what brought us together and is the reason for our cohesion today.  It is a static community.  A community based on a covenant of destiny is people-driven – we build our community through sharing our visions and also having points of disagreement.

I believe that the purpose of community is to create a safe space in which people can connect together to derive meaning, to give and receive support in times of joy and in times of difficulty, to nurture the soul, sometimes to deal with challenge and discomfort – but to always feel a sense of belonging.

Most people here work outside of the town and they chose to live in Tzur Hadassah for the feeling that, at the end of the day, they are coming home.  Kehilat Tzur Hadassah, in my eyes, is meant to be exactly this – a home. A home for the exploration of their Jewish identity without judgment or coercion.  These four walls are dedicated fully and completely to pluralism – a traditional yet renewing approach to prayer, but also through dynamic study, music, lectures, storytelling, art, book talks, Noar Telem, children’s activities, yoga, lifecycle ceremonies, empowerment workshops for young women, support for new mothers and for the children of aging parents, welcoming local school classes and hosting visitors from abroad, collective food for the needy, facilitating the donating of blood, visiting the elderly and infirm.

This year, especially, our members saw Kehilat Tzur Hadassah as the home base for dialogue with members of the Orthodox congregation Kehilat HaTzur VehaTzohar.  In addition, a group of parents saw Kehilat Tzur Hadassah as the home for starting a public kindergarten based on our values of equality, pluralism, and tikkun olam.   And with our partners in regional council, Ministry of Education, the Israeli Reform Movement and the Tali fund (for liberal Jewish education in secular schools), we did it!  I am looking forward to my weekly meetings with the children beginning after the holidays.

Do not look at the jug but rather at what is inside it. (Pirke Avot 4:20)

The building is a means.  The main thing is the people who are there.  This community has people who dedicate themselves to advancing the values I have spoken about.  There are people who worked hard to receive all of the guests tonight.   Every single person is a partner.  Hear, we search, we investigate the way we have chosen, our identity and our boundaries over and over again.  The more we invest in cultivating and caring for this building, the more we will get out of it.

This past Shabbat, I went on a wonderful hike with my husband and children to the spring of Nahal Kefira (whose name is like kippur!).  As we rested under the shade of an Ela tree, looking up at the mountain before us, I asked them: What are you thankful for today?”  They didn’t want to answer me at first.  Finally, my daughter answered, “That I had the energy to climb the whole way.”  My son answered, “That we had this way to go together – up and down, some parts easy, some parts hard.  But we did it.”  Truth be told, on the way, as they ran ahead, I walked by myself feeling the vastness of nature and creation, feeling my smallness.  From a simple question, a simple turning toward them, and not giving up until they responded, I received the answer for myself – Going forward takes energy.  The path has ups and downs.  Some things come together like that, and some things take some really hard work.  In the end, it is the going together that makes it meaningful, makes it all worthwhile.

I wish us a year of being together, thinking and doing together, as individuals, as families, and as a community to design our home in Tzur Hadassah that is filled with righteousness and compassion, a home that is filled with respectful dialogue, a home which is safe, and in which there is room for all, where its guiding principle is: We can agree or not, but we hold the discussion together in partnership.  The future of our community, in Tzur Hadassah, in the Land of Israel depends upon it.

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