Local rabbis for different denominations talk about their top values to students at Milwaukee Jewish Day School | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Local rabbis for different denominations talk about their top values to students at Milwaukee Jewish Day School

When local rabbis from different denominations were asked for their top Jewish values in a roomful of students, they found a lot to agree on, including truth, tikkun and kindness, among other values.  

Milwaukee Jewish Day School hosted a talk with four rabbis from different denominations on Feb. 2.   

The goal of the conversation was to expose students to a discussion among the rabbis. The rabbis included: Rabbi Joel Alter, Rabbi Wes Kalmar, Rabbi Jessica Barolsky and Rabbi Joshua Herman.  

Alter is the spiritual leader for Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale, a conservative congregation. Kalmar is the principal rabbi at Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah in Glendale. He is an Orthodox rabbi. Barolsky is a Reform rabbi who will lead Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun after the coming retirement of Rabbi Marc Berkson. Rabbi Joshua Herman is a Reform rabbi and Jewish educator, affiliated with an Illinois nonprofit.  

Top three Jewish values 

The rabbis were asked what their top three Jewish values were. Although they were from different denominations of Judaism, they all tended to work off of one another’s ideas and often seemed to agree with one another’s choices. 

“I’m going to go with sort of traditional ones, which are chesed, Torah, and emet, which means kindness, Torah study, and truth,” said Kalmar, from the Orthodox denomination. “We talk about truth being the sign of G-d, that G-d is absolutely truthful. We need to hold ourselves to that. We have to be true to ourselves, you have to be kind to others, and you have to study and be learning with absolute rigorous truth.” 

Barolsky responded next, agreeing with the two choices of kindness and truth that Kalmar cited.  

“The first one is really love, which I think parallels your kindness, the idea that we need to love each other, love the people around us, love ourselves. I think that that is really crucial,” said Barolsky of the Reform denomination. 

She stated her third choice was tikkun. “I think tikkun, repair, repair of the world definitely, but also of ourselves, trying to make ourselves better and more whole than we were yesterday.” 

Herman, a Reform rabbi, agreed with Barolsky on her choice of tikkun, but added tzedakah and the idea of disagreement. 

“I would say tzedakah. It’s justice. Especially sort of in opposition, how we think of tzedakah usually is like in charity, it’s actually not a nice thing to do. It’s actually the right thing to do.” 

Building on the previous rabbi’s responses, Alter, of the conservative denomination, stated that his favorite Jewish values were kindness, humility and holiness. “Judaism teaches us that not only can we find holiness, anywhere, there’s nothing that is separate from holiness. But we can create it too.” 

Why become a rabbi?          

Included in the discussion was why the panelists chose to become rabbis. 

Alter’s reason for becoming a rabbi was that he “wanted to be involved in people’s lives in moments that matter whether there were easy and happy moments like a bar mitzvah or really hard moments like sickness or death. I wanted to be involved in people’s lives, and in moments that matter, but be involved through Judaism ….” 

“I just got very excited about compassion, about the Jewish people, and the study of Torah and sharing that with other people,” Kalmar said when speaking about why he became a rabbi. 

When describing her reason for becoming a rabbi, Barolsky said, “I was just so comfortable in the synagogue, and Judaism became for me, something that could bring me great joy, and also comfort beyond what I knew when things were not nice. 

Herman responded with “I was always fascinated by big questions. And I loved the idea of grappling really, really hard questions that seemed to have no answer. Judaism always was like the way I found that I could approach them and deal with the fact that I didn’t know.”