Multi-denominational LA rabbis find their unity - in Israel

Multi-denominational LA

October 27, 2009 22:29
4 minute read.

Eighteen rabbis from Los Angeles are in Israel to show that cross-denominational coexistence is not as impossible as it often seems. Though Israel has always been home to many disputes between secular and Orthodox, these rabbis - Reform, Conservative and Orthodox - arrived to show that Jews of different streams are more alike than they are different. "We are on a unity mission of different denominations in a time of conflict," Rabbi Stuart Vogel, a Conservative rabbi, explained on Tuesday. "We must find community, and find a way to struggle together." The mission was put together by Jacob Dayan, the Israeli consul-general in Los Angeles. "Such a delegation has never been done," he said. "[It's important] that we pass on this message - to face internal and external challenges, as Jews we must be united. It's the only way to prevail." The rabbis have a jam-packed itinerary for their three days here. They have already visited south Tel Aviv's Bialik-Rogozin school (home to many children of foreign workers facing deportation), laid a wreath at Rabin Square, met with author Meir Shalev, law professor Ruth Gavison and President Shimon Peres, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem and volunteered at a soup kitchen. They will be spending Wednesday in the Negev. Said one of the rabbis, "The trip comes from a very Israeli perspective, which is crucial. There's no fund-raising agenda. It lets us be informed and learn more." Many of the rabbis agree, however, that some of the most valuable moments of the trip happen between planned events, when they have a chance to meet and get to know one another on bus and plane rides. "Masks come off. We're becoming human beings to each other. We become two Jews who have the same passion but express it differently," said Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, from the Conservative Movement's Temple Beth Am. He said that during the plane ride to Israel, he and another rabbi agreed to do a "pulpit switch" upon their return to Los Angeles, whereby each will deliver a sermon to the other's congregation. Learning is one of the ways in which the rabbis manage to come together despite their differences. "While we may have difficulty praying together, and we do, we can learn together, and now we even teach together," said Rabbi Laura Geller, from Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, who, like many of the other rabbis, spent time studying at Jerusalem's Hartman Institute. "The Torah started us as a people, it must unify us as a people," Kligfeld said. Rabbi Denise Eger, from the Reform Movement's Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, is the president of the Los Angeles Board of Rabbis. As the first woman to head the organization in its 72-year history, she knows firsthand the extent to which different streams of Jews can manage to disagree. "It's a huge challenge. We have different interpretations of Torah, the laws, the role of women... and yet there are overriding principles," Eger said. "We might not daven the same way, but at the end of the day, the Shema is the Shema." Love and support for Israel is another thing that the rabbis can agree on. "This trip has been very moving and inspiring for me. It's a reminder that despite our differences we are united in love for the land and people of Israel," said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. "While we all can't agree all the time, our connection will always remain the State of Israel." Said Rabbi Isaac Jeret, from Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes, "We're saying to the people of Israel, 'We're here with you, we stand with you, we may have differences between each other, but fundamentally we all believe in Israel's right to determine her future.'" They also believe that they have something to teach Israelis about pluralism - that Judaism is much broader than just Orthodox and secular. The rabbis hope that they can serve as a model of the need for a pluralistic environment. "We can send a powerful message to Israelis. As an Israeli I know that we [Israelis] think in black and white. Yet we [the group of 18 rabbis] stand together as one and confront all challenges. This is a message that all Israelis should hear again and again and again," said Dayan. Kligfeld believes that liberal Judaism in Israel is "vitally important. It's sad to me that I come as a rabbi to Israel and can't perform a wedding." "A large number of Jews don't want to describe themselves as 'religious' or 'secular,'" he said. "There are many in Israel who won't be turned on to Orthodoxy but who want to live as Jews, and could be drawn to a moderate balance of both." The rabbis see clearly that, while there are many ways to be Jewish, the most important thing is that Jews from all streams and denominations remain united. "Despite differences there is so much that binds Jews and mankind together," said Geller. "We have a shared history, experience, and destiny. This is a belief that we will take back to LA." "We Jews always have hope, that's what keeps us together," said Diamond.

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