Last month, at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J., a panel discussion brought together a Reform rabbi, an Orthodox rabbi and a Conservative rabbi. The clergy exchanged ideas in front of more than 250 people.
Among the rabbis was Shmuel Goldin, spiritual leader of the Orthodox shul hosting the evening. Goldin is also the president of the Rabbinical Council of America. Also on the panel was Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of the Conservative Temple Emanu-El and Dr. Kenneth Emert, the rabbi of Temple Beth Rishon.
Editors from the New Jersey Jewish Standard and New York Jewish Week wrote that the three rabbis spoke with honesty and with candor. It was a comment, however, by Goldin that seemed to capture not only the evening, but also the cooperative environment in many Jewish communities. Goldin said that Jews have to find a way to value each other without validating each other.
“We don’t necessarily have to agree,” he said, according to the Standard. “We have to respect our right to differ and to value each other’s contribution to the entire Jewish world. If we can agree to do that, we can move beyond our walls.”
We have been down this road before here in Baltimore, and we’ve always managed to take the high road on the differences we have.
Three examples come to mind.Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and the Seaboard chapter of NCSY, which is part of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, put together a remarkable program called Bridges. There, in the temple’s library, teens from Baltimore Hebrew’s religious school met regularly in an open, honest dialogue with their Orthodox peer group. Stereotypes and concerns were taken on. Bridges ultimately brought adults from both communities together, too.
About five years ago, Shomrei Emunah Congregation hosted an equally remarkable experience called The Twain Shall Meet. This brought together Jews of the Orthodox community, Reform and everywhere in between. I remember how much effort was put into the meetings by former Shomrei spiritual leader Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Weinreb. Larry Ziffer, CJE’s executive director, was involved, as were community leaders such as Ellen Lightman, currently a co-chair of the Baltimore Israel Coalition.
But I think that when I saw the most respect was in May 2009. That was when the boards of the Jewish Community Center and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore voted to open the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Shabbat. This was a sensitive, difficult issue. But it was handled on both sides with dignity and respect.
It was around the same time when volunteers showed up at nearby Fallstaff School to build a playground. On a warm spring day in 2009, it didn’t matter if the person next to you was wearing a kippah or a baseball cap. There we were, a community, building a playground together.
Certainly, there is much we can do to bring the denominations closer together.
Baltimore has proven time and time again there are ways to value one another. Validation might come in a different form, in different ways. But I think this is why this community works so well. We get our differences, but we emphasize our similarities.