Judaism 04.03.18

Jewish Pluralism at Leaders Assembly: Chance or Choice?

Jewish Pluralism at Leaders Assembly: Chance or Choice?

When the Jewish community talks about “pluralism,” it often winds up stating that no individual or group has a monopoly on truth, ethics, or values. In this model, conspicuous differences are expunged. In my experience, true pluralism embraces the diversity that exists and entertains the notion of being in relationship, holding different beliefs and practices, without passing judgment.

We had an opportunity to engage many hundreds of Jews who connect to Judaism through different avenues at Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) recent biennial conference, Leaders Assembly.  With nearly 800 Jewish camp professionals, educators and lay leaders in attendance, the event was an intentionally pluralistic gathering welcoming diversity of opinion, inviting new faces to the table, and encouraging communication and learning among a multiplicity of Jewish thinkers and practitioners.

Nowhere was this aspect more evident than in the vibrant davening (prayer) within the Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox minyanim at the conference. Each day, the members from each of the movements davened their own shacharit (the morning service) in their respective rooms, along the same hallway.

As FJC’s Director of Jewish Education, I often find myself in the most privileged of positions. On Monday morning of the Leaders Assembly, I was directing traffic, welcoming the Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox worshipers into their respective adjoining conference rooms. I ensured the prayer leaders had everything they needed, and monitored the progress of all three services simultaneously, from the hallway outside the rooms.

It was from this unique vantage point that I could see the pluralism FJC promotes and engenders taking hold within and across the minyanim. I recognized in that moment, even as each group expressed themselves differently, we were united by our common love and appreciation for camp, for worship and for the opportunity we share of instilling Jewish identity in the future generation.

One special moment that morning occurred when all three minyanim shared a single Torah during the Torah service. The gentle and generous passing of the Torah from room to room, on a mission to educate and sustain the community, is something I wish every Jew — from the most observant to the most secular — could witness.

Another moment of literal and figurative harmony came the following morning. A single prayer echoed into the corridor as I again stood at attention, when for just a moment, all three groups alighted on the Aleinu prayer. It caught me utterly by surprise as the tunes the three groups made and the words they recited individually welled up in collective harmony that stopped other passersby in their tracks.

No matter who we were or what we believed or practiced, we were united in that moment of awe.

Leaders Assembly created a tent under which all are welcome as distinct and valuable partners – a space for the kind of pluralistic intra-Jewish experience and dialogue that rarely receives its due time and inclination. Jewish camp is the ultimate laboratory for Jewish pluralism and FJC is in an excellent position to model Jewish pluralism for camp professionals who can then bring this ethic back into their communities, having felt and seen evidence of its success.

Sometimes we are purposeful in our choices to create moments of Jewish pluralism, as we did with the passing of the Torah to the various minyanim. Other times, we are caught by chance, in an unexpected moment that brings new music to our lives. Like Abraham and Sarah’s tent, that hallway at Leaders Assembly was a thoroughfare open to all, where we were caught unaware by a Divine presence.