The arrival of my newest colleague in town is a time for celebration. Rabbi Mordecai Newman, the leader of Chabad of Alexandria, began conducting services for the Yamim Nora’im and has initiated a regular schedule of worship and study in his home on the corner of Seminary Road and North Howard Street. With the establishment of an orthodox congregation, Alexandria now offers a range of opportunities for affiliation and observance, each within walking distance of the other.
Rabbi Newman, who smiles generously whenever I give him a Seinfeld-style greeting, has already integrated into our community. He participated in the Chanukkah celebration at Inova Alexandria Hospital, sharing the podium with me and Rabbi Fink. We have spoken about coordinating activities to enable as many folks as possible to participate in as much as possible. And he and I have promised not to solicit members from each other’s rosters. Rabbi and Mrs. Newman are delightful and warm; you should get to know them.
You should also get to know the full range of Jewish life in Alexandria. There are differences among Reform, Conservative and Orthodox – as there should be. Some of the differences are apparent in the pattern of worship. Services at Beth El will likely include more English and often have instrumental accompaniment. Services at Chabad will follow the traditional practice of counting men only in a minyan and for service leadership. We, of course, are egalitarian and use Hebrew primarily.
Some of the differences are less apparent because they reflect an understanding of Jewish life. The different streams of Judaism have diverse approaches to the reasons we observe the mitzvot, the process for determining practice, our place in the human family and the vision of redemption. Regardless of where one affiliates, there is much to learn from the community of our people.
The hallmark of my relationship with the Rabbis at Beth El throughout the years (and now with Rabbi Newman) has been openness and mutual support. We are unafraid to disagree and go our own ways when we must, but committed to finding common ground whenever possible. As your “rav,” I offer you similar instructions: treat everyone with respect and openness. Let there be no animosity in your actions or your hearts, nor such a presumption of anyone else. Let’s be honest about our differences and rejoice in the covenant that includes us all!