This High Holy Day season saw two remarkable events occur among Washington area rabbis. The first was the letter to the community signed by almost fifty pulpit rabbis from all four of the movements calling for support and cooperation in matters of Jewish communal life and repudiating violence in rhetoric and in deed as a means of addressing our inevitable differences.
The second was a message to the Jews of our community signed by Rabbi Hillel Klavan and me. In addition to our congregational duties, Rabbi Klavan and I serve as presidents of the Vaad Harabanim of the Rabbinical Council of Washington and the Washington Board of Rabbis, respectively. Our joint message called for a mindfulness of the common stake we have in preserving k'lal yisrael, the community of Jews, by showing our love for the Jewish people and for Jews.
You may wonder why these two missives are so significant. After all, every interpretation of Judaism affirms these basic principles!
They are significant because they recognize the foolishness of allowing our differences to divert our attention from our sacred obligations. The support of the neediest among us, the devotion to learning Torah, the encouragement of true Jewish living are values to which we all subscribe, at least in the broadest sense. Support for the Land of Israel and for the State of Israel is similarly a sacred obligation in which all Jews share; your continuing contributions are necessary as well as your continuing advocacy.
We have differences among us, to be sure. It seems hardest to resolve those differences when one party or both seem(s) to act with disrespect for the other. And, to be honest, it is sometimes hard for a person of deep convictions – like a rabbi – to set aside differences which reach to the foundation of those convictions.
But this year, we had no choice. If the religious leaders of this community cannot find the language of respect and cooperation, then we cannot expect our followers or leaders of another community to find that common ground.
Every rabbi who signed the community letter did so in spite of some discomfort with part of it; those who did not sign still expressed sympathy for the message of tolerance and menschlichkeit. Rabbi Barry Freundel, Rabbi Jack Luxemburg and I worked hard to create the document and spent many hours in conversation with our colleagues to bring it to light.
But my special appreciation goes to Rabbi Klavan, a gentle and principled man, who reached out across a gap to deliver a message of hope and encouragement to all the Jews of our community. I can express no more important message to you than this: we must end our suspicion and resentment of orthodox Jews and open ourselves to the Torah they can teach us, accepting that Torah as the gift it is. We have found such common ground with others within and without our tradition.
The next step for all of us is to build on this good will. Our expectations must be realistic, not messianic. But if we can keep in mind the values of respect and love expressed in these two documents, we will build a sukkah of peace over the entire House of Israel.
This amendation was added by Jack Moline in the next bulletin:
In the midst of effusing about the efforts we rabbis have made to come closer together this past Yom Tov, I neglected to acknowledge two other partners in the endeavor. UJA Federation and the Jewish Community Council were not only instrumental in bringing the statement of the rabbis to light, they provided the initial impetus. Ted Farber, our treasure of a Federation director, called a meeting last June to hear a representative group of area rabbis beat up the allocation process of both Federation and the Jewish Agency. His willingness to listen carefully and carry a community message, however unpopular, became the spark of a dialogue which has made our community an example for others. The good will we rabbis have rediscovered would have remained hidden without UJA Federation and the Jewish Community Council. Please remember their role in emphasizing the "unity" in "community" in the coming year's UJA Federation campaign. I know I will!