In 1966, Rabbi Gerson Cohen, who went on to become the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, delivered a provocative commencement address entitled “The Blessing of Assimilation”. A historian by training, Rabbi Cohen explained that Jews have always incorporated the best of the cultures in which they found themselves residing; from the exile in Babylonia, to the “Golden Age” under Arab rule, to the Reform Movement in Germany, to the Chasidic response in Eastern Europe and to our own American Conservative Movement. “Assimilation, properly channeled and exploited, can be a blessing,” Cohen reminded his audience 60 years ago. The challenge in each new Diaspora and in each generation is for Judaism to be REVITALIZED by the cultures they live in, NOT ASSIMILATED by them.
In my Yom Kippur address I enumerated three of the cultural challenges with which Conservative Judaism continues to struggle: gender equality, intermarriage, and homosexuality. To that list I would add a fourth all-encompassing challenge: and that is the rapid rate of change that exists in our society and that we have come to expect. After years of grass roots discussions, and rabbinic committee meetings and votes, our Conservative movement permitted women to be admitted to the Jewish Theological Seminary and be ordained as Rabbis in 1974. Temple Beth El hired its first female Rabbi in 2010. In a world where our cell phones become obsolete in 2 years and by the time we learn the newest social media application the next one has already taken hold, we simply cannot wait an entire generation to “assimilate” the best ideas of our American society. How many women and families did we lose as we struggled to make this change?
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the rabbinic “deciders” of our movement have struggled and made rulings on many of these important issues. I implore all members of our congregation to go to the website of the Rabbinical Assembly (www.rabbinicalassembly.org) and read through some of the teshuvot (rulings) on gender, intermarriage and homosexuality. You will learn as I did that our Rabbinic leaders have acted on many of these issues. The problem is that it is just taking too long to implement some of these decisions on a congregational level. And we are losing our children as we continue to procrastinate.
The Rabbinical Assembly issued their first statement affirming the inclusion of homosexuals in our congregations in 1992. These have been followed up with several additional rulings including the latest one in 2012 which recognized a Conservative Rabbi’s choice to perform homosexual marriages, years ahead of our Supreme Court. In 2013 the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism did a survey of their congregations in an attempt to determine how welcoming our
synagogues were to the LGBT population. The survey results and follow up suggestions can be found at www.uscj.org.
Answer the survey questions and see how YOU think TBE rates. I think you will find, as I did, that our synagogue falls in to the category of “unintentionally disinviting.”
We should do better and we can do better in making TBE a place where all members of our community feel welcome to actively participate in the life of our synagogue. Our Mission Statement clearly states that we aim to be a “vibrant and inclusive community…guided by the principles of Conservative Judaism.” I am in the process of forming a small committee of TBE members to evaluate our current policies and programs and make concrete suggestions towards helping us achieve that goal. If you are passionate about this issue and would like to help, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator Jesse Atkin at email@example.com.
… for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples Isaiah 56:7