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Jewish world is stronger because of pluralism
November 30th, 2010
Milwaukee — I wonder, when the first Reformers gathered 200 years ago, could they have really imagined the effect they would have 200 years later?
Rabbi Eric B. Stark
Every so often, I try to imagine a Jewish world without the Reform Movement. To be honest, I’m never successful.
I can’t imagine a Jewish world where there isn’t religious space for Jews who believe in full equality between men and women; a place for Jews who believe that the love between gay and lesbian Jews is as holy as the love between heterosexuals; a place for Jews who find their kavod is enhanced on Shabbat by musical instruments.
Of course, not everyone shares those beliefs. That’s OK. The Jewish world is stronger because of our pluralism.
As a religious school student, I remember one of my classmates asking our rabbi, Rabbi M. Robert Syme z”l, if he thought Reform Judaism was the “right” form of Judaism. Without missing a beat, Syme replied, “Yes, for Reform Jews.” He concluded, “Just as Orthodox Judaism is right for Orthodox Jews.”
Has Reform Judaism always gotten it right? Of course not. But that’s to be expected.
As a movement committed to fully integrating Jewish life with secular, there will always be tension. Sometimes we’ll error too far toward the secular world, sometimes to the Jewish. Yet, precisely because Reform Judaism isn’t static, each generation will shape it to fit their unique needs.
In my role at the Federation, I’m often asked what kind of rabbi I am. My stock reply is, “A Jewish one!”
Yet, the truth is that I’m a proud Reform Jew and Reform rabbi. I’m proud because of the way that Reform has shaped the Jewish world and enabled generations of Jews to express their Jewish selves in a fully contemporary context.
What will the Jewish world look like in another 200 years? I don’t know, but I’m certain that there will continue to be people asking how they can be fully Jewish and yet fully engaged in the world around them.
Will they be called Reform Jews? I don’t know. But I do know that they will owe a major debt to the reformers who came before them and paved their road.
Rabbi Eric B. Stark is campaign director at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.