American Jews are weird.
Let’s face it, this is the only country in the entire world where Jewish people identify their religion by first stating their denominations. Not that there aren’t different flavors of Judaism in other places but they identify themselves as Jews. We, on the other hand, identify ourselves as Orthodox Jews or Reform Jews etc. With those designations comes a chasm in the unity of out people. And it is that unity (with lots of divine help) is probably the biggest reason we have stayed together as a people.
This divide is widened every day, by each of the different divisions, from the reform Jew who looks disparagingly at the Orthodox guy in “traditional black garb”, to the conservative man whose title for the reform Shul down the block is Temple Two Daysayear, or the Orthodox fellow who believes that Rabbis of a different “flavor” of Judaism are not qualified to have a halachic discussion. As Jews in America we are more concerned about what separates us than what keeps us together.
In a speech delivered at the First Annual Aleph Society Dinner in New York in 1995, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said:
If we want to survive, we cannot do it by simply surviving. There are more Jews, of one description or another, living in the United States than anywhere else. They did, all in all, quite well for themselves. But what they did not do was to create a communal future to look forward to. As individuals, some are very successful, perhaps as successful as Jews were in any other place ever in history. As a community, as a people, they are second raters, third-raters or less. One cannot go on living with the knowledge that you have to be a third-rater forever. It cannot be done. You cannot have a people striving and struggling, fighting and working only for that.
In Shul tomorrow we finish the book of Beraysheet (Genesis). This book can also be called the book of fighting brothers: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Even at the end of Beraysheet after the death of Jacob, the brothers lie about Jacob’s last wishes because they don’t quite trust Joseph.
It isn’t till the book of Shemot (Exodus) that we find brothers getting along, Moshe and Aaron. Not surprisingly the Jews are not considered having grown from a family to a “people” until Shemot. I think HaShem is telling us that we are not really a people unless we treat each other as loving family.
In the last week or so, I have written many posts about the goings on in the Five Towns. At the same time I received many e-mails questioning my right as a Jew who goes to a Conservative Shul to participate in that discussion. Please understand that my intent was to follow the Torah commandments about protecting the weak against the strong. I never had any intent to disparage any Jew who follows the minhag of a Rabbi ordained by an Orthodox seminary. I try to avoid disparaging the observance level of any Jew. To be honest, I am too busy learning how raise the level of observance in my home, than to worry about it in yours, be it Orthodox Jews, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or any other type.
This week as we leave the book of fighting brothers, lets dedicate ourselves to being more like Aaron and Moshe, brothers who respect and love each other, instead of being what Rabbi Steinsaltz accurately described as “third rate” at being a people.