September 15, 2010

Pluralism and the Days of Awe

Posted in Judaism at 11:54 pm by chavalah

On Rosh Hashanah Day Two, I attended services at Adas Israel, and listened to Rabbi Gil Steinlauf give a compelling sermon on pluralism. Thanks to the power of the Internet, you can read it for yourself (though it won’t sound as heartfelt as it did in person. :P)

Several months ago, when I told my mother that High Holidays were my favorite Jewish holidays, she was floored. Not Chanukah? Not Pesach? Not even Sukkot or Purim? All of these festivals are filled with fun rituals and daring stories that I’ve known about since I was a child in Hebrew School. I do adore them all.

But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur speak to my journey as a Jewish adult, which is far different than my journey as a child. It’s the only time when my idea of my “personal” Gd and the Gd of the Jewish People (both of which I respect separately) truly form into one being. It is somewhat of a lonely time for me, as I live alone, and most of the atonement that I grapple with is very personal. So it’s nice to hear a sermon like Rabbi Steinlauf’s, which connects me back to the community.

One of the main focuses of his speech was accepting all Jews as our brothers and sisters, no matter how violently (sometimes literally) their opinions differ from ours. Coming from a mixed family, this shouldn’t be such a hard idea to grasp. I have this entire swath of blood relatives who believe that some random Jewish rabbi walked on water a couple thousand years ago. 😉 More to the point, some of their opinions differ from mine quite markedly on issues of social, fiscal and moral importance. And yet we find a way to get past our differences, maybe crack a few jokes here or there, but ultimately come together as a family.

It’s a bit different, however, when you’re talking about someone from your own faith community doing something that you find morally wrong. Bernie Madoff comes to mind, but he doesn’t even hold a candle to some others. How about the violent religious settlers in Israel who, beyond dutifully following the trappings of traditional Judaism day to day, feel justified in purporting violent acts against Palestinians? How about those ultra-Orthodox men who might turn a violent hand towards me, a progressive woman with a non-Jewish father, wearing a tallis and kippah to services? I can respect their right to disagree (non-violently) with me on these issues, but to count them as one of my own, even when they wouldn’t do the same for me? This is one of the reasons that several interfaith families turn away from organizational Judaism, the lack of welcome and tolerance—which I was taught is essential to our religion.

Decades past, my father disavowed himself from the Catholic Church because he couldn’t reconcile himself with some of the priests who had committed heinous acts. I don’t think I could go that far. In Judaism, we’re taught that the faith belongs to all of us (though not all of us would agree on that point. :P) If I don’t allow them to define Judaism for me, then perhaps it is easier to forgive them. I can respect the fact that they were doing their best to bridge the faith l’dor vador, from generation to generation, but violence must always be condemned. I pray that they divorce themselves from that ugly action on this Yom Kippur, and that we all divorce ourselves from fear and hatred.

Coming from a mixed family can be a mixed blessing. 😛 I feel I have one foot halfway through the door of several communities. My challenge, and the challenge of all interfaith kids, is to somehow fuse all of those communities together into one where we can finally step inside fully. With every passing of the High Holidays, I pray I get a little bit closer.

Shana tova. And may we all be inscribed in the book of life.

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