Setting out on commencing our tenth year together, I reflect with great pleasure on the success of our synagogue over the past nine years. It was for the purpose of achieving this success that from the beginning I shared my vision and philosophical outlook to help determine our mission, direct our sojourn, and determine the religious manifestations by which our synagogue lives.
As we embark on a New Year ahead, and prepare to welcome 5778, I consider the myriad stirrings saturating our social milieu, and our synagogue as a sacred space in its midst. In this context, I wish to share with you my views about the issue of ‘politics in the synagogue’ which I wrote some months ago (in a letter cosigned by ACI’s Cantor, Co-Presidents, and Acting Chairman of the Board) in response to questions from a number of congregants with varying approaches. It is with deep caring and concern for Judaism, the Jewish people, and our ACI community that I share my stand on this issue with the wider congregation.
My intention has always been to make ACI a place free from the hostilities and tensions that exist aplenty outside of our sacred place. In keeping with this, I have purposely and consciously sought to make ACI a place that is non-political. At ACI, our congregants hold a variety of political perspectives, and this synagogue can be nothing else than a welcoming home for all of them, beyond their politics.
Outside of our building, in many cases, animosities between such groups are high and terribly unpleasant. And while political involvement seen as inspired by Jewish teaching can be an important part of some people's lives outside of ACI, it can veer dangerously on fragmenting our community when brought directly into this space. I do not want to compromise the welcoming home we have created for all ACI congregants.
Needless to say, Judaism demands that we speak up and do the right thing. Yet we should not take it as given that “the right thing” is known and fought for only by the left or only by the right. Tolerance, diversity, open-mindedness – and God, Jewish tradition, Judaism itself – teaches us that in many cases there can be room for more than one Jewish view as legitimate (eilu v'eilu divrei Elohim chayim – “These and these are the words of the living God"). In the current climate, emotions run high, hostilities are feverish, and intolerance for other opinions is rampant. I would not want these tensions injected into our congregation, creating hostile divisions and destructive fragmentation.
Congregants who find community here – again, from a diverse range of ages and backgrounds (both religiously and politically) – appreciate, immensely, that this space is refreshingly free from all that. There is so much in Jewish life from which to derive spiritual nourishment and sustenance; so much we do at the synagogue that educates, fulfills, and creates beautiful camaraderie. I hope that people will continue to incorporate into their lives the Jewish values that I teach here.
As the Rabbinic leader of ACI, I set the tone in this way. I spend my time and energy at the shul focusing on people’s Jewish lives, their joys and challenges, their desire to learn and become more Jewishly fulfilled.
There are ample avenues and opportunities to pursue political activism elsewhere, both from secular and Jewish perspectives. At ACI, we pursue Jewish wisdom, spirituality, understanding, prayer and song, fellowship, love of Israel, historical continuity, and identity. This is our sacred space, from which to derive all these and to truly enhance one’s Jewish life.
Since I wrote this letter, I have seen other prominent clergy – including some high-profile Rabbis – publicly proclaim a similar stance vis-à-vis their congregations.
With all this in mind, I wish for you, and for all of us together, the strength and wisdom to make 5778 a good and meaningful year – for you, your family, the Land and People of Israel, this blessed nation, the Jewish community, and for ACI.
Judy, Ayelet, Eitan, Noam, and I wish for each of you a Shanah tovah u-m’tukah – a good and a sweet year.