So much has been made by rabbis and the media about divisiveness in the Jewish community in America and in Israel that we have been left with a distorted picture. Buried underneath the headlines and sermons (including some of my own) is the reality of the essential unity of our people, be they Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, or secular.
Over the summer, I communicated by E-mail and by telephone with Laura Gold, a JTS rabbinical student who was studying the extent of interdenominational among rabbis for the New York Board of Rabbis. Her 55-page report, "Unity in Diversity: A Vision of Rabbinic Cooperation" will soon be released. Gary Rosenblatt of the (New York) Jewish Week wrote about some of her findings regarding other parts of the country. Allow me to share with you what I discussed with Ms. Gold about central Connecticut.
I am a member of the Rabbinic Fellowship of Greater Hartford, which consists of rabbis from all the movements, who study Torah together and who work on issues of concern to the Jewish community. In contrast to many other communities where the use of mikva'ot is denied to non-Orthodox converts, the RFGH supports a mikvah that is open to all rabbis and their conversion candidates. In contrast to some other communities where liberal Jews place obstacles in front of traditional Jews regarding eruvin (special Shabbat boundaries), kashrut standards and funeral procedures, the RFGH works to guarantee - through words and dollars - that the religious needs and rights of all Jews are respected by those from the other movements. In contrast to New York City, where many Orthodox Jews refused to participate at a Yom Hashoah service because it was hosted at Temple Emanuel, a prestigious Reform congregation, Reform and Orthodox congregations in our region have joint services and adult education sessions. At last spring's annual Ner Tamid Award Dinner of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford (a Conservative school), Orthodox and Reform rabbis joined Schechter staff, parents and students for dinner at a Conservative synagogue.
Here in our part of Connecticut, our congregation and our sister Conservative synagogue in Waterbury joined with B'nai Shalom, the Orthodox congregation, for joint services on Purim morning and on Tisha B'Av afternoon. The Orthodox-run mikvah in the region is open for Conservative conversions. The Orthodox and the two Conservative rabbis do not even consider any denominational differences when it comes to the education of our children in the joint religious school. I have equally cordial relationships with my Reform and Reconstructionist colleagues in this area.
Jewish unity is a theme of Sukkot. It was on Sukkot that King Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem as a sign of unity not only for Israelites but for all the nations of the world. The synagogue and the sukkah remain symbols of Jewish unity in the absence of Solomon's Temple. Then and today, observant Jews wave the four species of the etrog and lulav. The Rabbis teach that the etrog and lulav must be held together. To the Rabbis, each of the species represents a different type of Jew - one who is learned and pious, one who is the opposite, and the rest of us in between. Yet, not even one willow or myrtle branch may be missing for the etrog and lulav set to be kosher for use. In the same way, all Jews ... should live the lesson of unity of Sukkot to maintain the strength and mission of our congregation and community.