As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I write to thank my colleagues for a year of service and friendship and look ahead to the opportunity that the new year holds for all of us to work together to build the Jewish community. The past year has been one of some turmoil, for the Jewish people, and among the Jewish people. Our tradition highlights for us, and also creates for us, our hawgim, to facilitate our reflection and strengthen our resolve. We have spent the summer shuttling back and forth to Israel, convening conversations and crafting our tools to speak on Israel’s behalf. Then, amidst all the external challenges, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, a last minute conversation about the Kotel was convened in Israel. How do we understand ourselves in these events? As we enter the עשרת ימי תשובה , my thoughts return to the theme of אחדות. In תנחומא נצבים we learn:
In the nature of things, when a man picks up a cluster of reeds, can he possibly break them at one time? But if picked up one by one, then even a child can break them. Thus you find that the Israel cannot be redeemed until they are one cluster.
בנוהג שבעולם אם נוטל אדם אגודה של קנים שמא יכול לשברם בבת אחת, ואילו נוטל אחת אחת אפי' תינוק יכול ומשברם, וכן אתה מוצא שאין ישראל נגאלים עד שיהיו אגודה אחת.
In the Rabbinical Assembly, and the Conservative Movement, the Jewish people has an asset of immense value as we strive to remain one אגודה (cluster). Over the past few months, we have dedicated ourselves assiduously to the mission of bringing the Jewish people closer together, defending ourselves in the face of those who would seek to harm our people and our Homeland, and extending ourselves in true love and support to the IDF and the many who have made such profound and lasting sacrifices. At the same time, we know that Tradition’s teaching of the unbreakable quality of a אגודה של קנים (cluster of reeds) requires that each of the reeds is strong in its own integrity. An individual reed can be broken by a weak person, but even a cluster of reeds only has the strength Tradition ascribes to it if every individual reed is strong. The future of a Jewish state and a Jewish people characterized by a Judaism recognizable as continuous with the pluralistic, tolerant, and forward-thinking values enshrined in our sacred texts is dependent very much, dear colleagues, on the efforts of each of you.
As I stood on Monday with Steve and Yizhar on the temporary platform at Robinson’s Arch with the ancient Roman stones symbolizing the tragedies of our past just meters away, and the many real conflicts we face today, internally and externally, just steps beyond that, my heart longed to have each of you with us. The group from the government, Women of the Wall, and the Masorti and Reform Movements stood in deep conversation about the complexities of this negotiation. I could not help but smile to myself that while we did so, Rabbi Sandra Kochmann, quietly and without fanfare, came to carry siddurim from an undistinguished closet to a Bar Mitzvah family, a task undertaken by our colleagues in the Israel RA countless times over these past 14 years, with each simcha bringing us one step closer to a time when the dignity and potential of that space can be fully realized. No matter what these conversations bring, the real future of pluralist, egalitarian worship at the Kotel still lies very much with the most mundane activities of the Israel RA and the Masorti T'nuah, every Monday and Thursday, and their resolute determination to bring Jews to this open, welcoming encounter with our people’s past and future.
If we are as sharp, as supple, and as resilient a reed as we can collectively become, then we can hope to have a positive impact on those challenges that lay within the larger circles of אחדות of the Jewish people, and our people’s relationships with the larger world. But most directly within our control is the אחדות of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Conservative movement. The power of these relationships is much stronger than we grasp, probably because we have not devoted enough energy to nurturing them. Our Assembly is a group of profoundly thoughtful, brilliant, unconventional and complex leaders and thinkers. How do we achieve אחדות without asking any one of us to forego the complex Torah and the personal views that brought them to our Assembly in the first place? Do not forego them. But as I stood at Robinson’s Arch, I could not help but feel that a larger, Holy purpose had brought our rabbis and our Movement to personally till and tend so carefully over the past 14 years that place within the historic precincts of our ancient Temple that most clearly tells the story that שנאת חינם, a failure of אחדות, is the most weakening force for the Jewish people. I hope that the coming year can be an exercise for us in discovering the untapped power of the אחדות of our Assembly. I shall pray for this in the coming days, and for your health and happiness as well, as I hope you will join me in those בקשות.