I am a product of the Reform movement. I grew up in a Reform household, never keeping kosher or Shabbat. I belonged to a Reform temple, never wearing a tallit or kippah except at my Bar Mitzvah. I attended a Reform Jewish summer camp beginning at the age of five and will return this year for my twentieth summer. So when I came to HUC-JIR, I had a monolithic understanding of Reform Judaism, let alone the larger Jewish world. In many ways, I was a Reform Jew with the emphasis on Reform. Over the past four years, I have learned about the diversity within the Reform movement but have remained ignorant and, honestly, slightly intolerant of non-Reform Jews. I believe that my fault in this matter was due primarily to a lack of meaningful relationships beyond the Reform community. So when this opportunity to broaden my understanding and make new connections presented itself, I jumped at it.
The Interdenominational Rabbinical Student Retreat (RSR) changed my understanding of the connectivity and community within and among the larger Jewish world, emphasizing the value of diversity and plurality in practice, belief, background, and method of Jewish engagement. At this retreat, I met twenty-five rabbinical students from rabbinical schools across the Jewish spectrum: HUC (Reform), JTS (Conservative), Aleph (Renewal), YCT (Orthodox men), Yeshivat Maharat (Orthodox women), AJR (Pluralistic) and IISHJ (Secular Humanistic). In under seventy-two hours, our cohort was able to build meaningful, deep relationships by discussing pivotal issues facing our world and the entire Jewish community, by sharing intensely personal holy stories, and by engaging with each other in challenging but enlightening Jewish texts. Together we laughed, we cried, we prayed, we studied. Never did it matter to which stream of Judaism, if any, we belonged. We made room for each person as a person and accepted them for who they are. We learned from and about each other. Yes, we disagreed, but disagreement does not have to break community. Difference does not break peoplehood. In fact, Jewish plurality—our diversity, our differences—makes us stronger, for we seek unity not uniformity. For me, this was the single biggest take away from RSR. Jewish community, Jewish peoplehood is possible. RSR proves and exemplifies it.
This understanding that we all have a place in this crazy Jewish world will help define and enhance my rabbinate. Hearing an orthodox colleague say, “David, never feel like what you’re doing as a Reform Rabbi is inauthentic. The Jewish world needs it and many Jews will be grateful, will feel connected to Judaism because of you. Keep doing what you’re doing, in fact do more,” is uplifting and reemphasizes the importance of people over movement or denomination. Moreover, this reassurance helped me realize that I do not have to be the rabbi for the entire Jewish world, that I can guide people to other rabbis, even of other denominations. And, thanks to RSR, I now have twenty-five relationships from seven seminaries on which to rely.
My experience at RSR was invaluable. I never would have had the exposure to other streams of Judaism in this way, and I certainly would not have made the interpersonal connections of this depth without this opportunity. I am still a Reform Jew. I will always be a Reform Jew. Yet the emphasis now rests more equally upon both Reform and Jew. My rabbinate and my life have been enriched by this experience, and I am excited to share this learning, this passion, and this love of Jewish peoplehood with my current and future congregants. I love being Jewish. I love being Reform. Let’s continue building both and, in so doing, strengthen each other and the Jewish world.