Today is February 23, 2018 -

Partners Not Rivals

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said this week: “I’m here to tell you—and you can quote me on it—that BBYO is not our rival. They are our partner.”

Rabbi, I cannot thank you enough for your leadership in making this comment.

Our Jewish communities have become so insular over the years, that as we try to protect our own organizations, denominations, and identities, our larger Jewish community has suffered.

I am not a scholar of Jewish history, but I would guess that our enemies have never asked us about our denominational affiliation, and yet we seem to be hung up on it.

After the first pre-trip meeting of our 29 teen mission to Israel participants, my daughter Jenny asked me where we found all of these active and involved Jewish kids, and why she had never met most of them. (It turns out that of the 28 other kids, she knew her brother, her cousin, and eight of the kids from either school or synagogue, leaving 18 kids she had never met.) What could I tell her? Well, Dear, these seven kids are from Schenectady, and we don’t drive all the way (20 minutes) to Schenectady. Or worse, those seven kids go to a different synagogue, and our congregants don’t interact with their congregants.

Instead, I told her, “You are right. This is a problem. Let’s fix it.”

I spoke with Jenny (Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob, Albany, Orthodox) this morning. She told me that she has started planning group activities with her new friend, Lila (Temple Sinai, Saratoga, Reform). The kids now see the bigger picture. They have bonded over their similarities and they have learned about their differences. Jenny has 18 new local friends and her life will be so much richer because of it. They will be home on Sunday, and they will be ready to bring back to their communities their new appreciation for pluralism.

As for the adults, we will have a role as well. We will need to provide the venues, perhaps some funding, and, of course, the transportation. Most importantly, we need to be supportive of their outreach efforts. The entire Jewish community will benefit and grow if the kids are successful in growing their cohort. As John F. Kennedy said, “A rising tide raises all boats.”

Preview: Next week we will hear from guest writer, Rabbi Sam Shor from Jerusalem, on his takeaways from spending time with our teens.

Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York
Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York

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