View from the President
A message from Stuart Ratzan
President, Temple Beth Am
I have been thinking about this topic for quite some time. How does a Reform congregation accomplish a true embrace of diversity? How do we achieve the “audacious hospitality” that the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) so proudly and capably espouses? And, why should we?
My first experience at the URJ Biennial several years ago was when it was held in Boston. Everywhere we went we heard about it. Audacious Hospitality. Judaism, it turns out, is loaded with people from all walks of life: LGBTQ, people of color, people from different nationalities, and of course people with differing political views.
The URJ was and is doing a great job of encouraging us to embrace people of different sexual orientations and different ethnic, racial or national origins.
But what about people with differing political views? At my most recent Biennial experience, in Chicago, I attended a session regarding this very topic, making the Reform Movement home to political voices on the right, center and left. Does audacious hospitality reach Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike?
This is a question that many will say is debatable in the Reform Movement, but I believe we can answer it bluntly: of course the Reform movement’s principle of audacious hospitality applies across the political spectrum. There is every reason to believe that, within the Jewish community, people across the political spectrum can come together on mutual acceptance and embrace political diversity. It may take some work, but it is our moral imperative and it is also what makes the Reform Movement so special.
In our congregations, we must commit to embracing our entire community, across every boundary and barrier of difference. We must, as Jews, embrace the right of each person to be the fullest expression of themselves, respecting them for whom they are, and expecting the same in return. That is the essence of community and the essence of places like Temple Beth Am. We build community based on individuality. We crave difference. We don’t merely tolerate it; we seek it and embrace it. By doing so, we elevate our own individual nature while learning from and respecting others. What is more Jewish than that? We find peace along the fault line of the universal and the particular. We believe in both simultaneously, and neither on their own.
So once we pledge ourselves to diversity, what about audacious hospitality for fellow Jews with more and less traditional practices and beliefs? Can we make room for each other? At Beth Am, for example, some of us recite the full Amidah, even if most of us recite the shorter version. Does it matter? Can we accept and embrace both approaches at once? I believe we can so long as each of us respects the other’s right to practice Judaism within the confines they have chosen for themselves.
Meanwhile, Reform Judaism and the practices at Temple Beth Am have grown more traditional over time. Simple things like wearing kippot and tallit, once considered taboo at Beth Am, are now commonplace. But Beth Am remains a place that cherishes freedom. So, whether you are more traditional or less so, Beth Am is a home for you. We embrace you and want you to find your own road on your Jewish Journey. We want to be a place that always has its arms open, asking how can we help, how can we make your Jewish lives more fulfilling and meaningful? You may be wondering: how this is done, and why we should strive for this?
It’s simple. Build a community based on mutual respect. We all come together with a love for our community, our history and a strong belief in our future. That’s a good start and a recipe for building an enduring kahal. I believe that has been Temple Beth Am’s mission for decades, and it will continue to be Beth Am’s mission far into the future. What Beth Am gives all of us is a special place to engage, to learn and to give back to our community, with full acceptance of every Jew, as they are and as they are meant to be.
We should strive for this because it is the best way fulfill our legacy as Jews. We should strive for this because it nurtures us as individuals, encourages us to be our best individual selves, while at the same time it gives us the comfort and joy of community.