The Need for Masorti Leadership

Jewish culture By Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch 16th May 2016

Three special needs children celebrated their Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony at variousMasortisynagogues in Israelin the first week of April 2016.The parentsof these childrenhad previously resigned themselves to the fact that thissignificantceremony would not take place since no other venue wasaccessiblefor this event.The reason that theseceremonies were heldatMasortisynagoguesis due to the fact that,for over 20years,theMasortiMovementhasplaceda high priority onBar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies forthose with disabilities.This example demonstrates that Israel needsvisionaries,peoplewho willhelp steerthe countryto better places.Israel has grown and flourished-it is an economic and military paradigm, andthere are many other accomplishments of which it can be proud. Nevertheless, many spheresofIsraeli society requiresocial action-andtrainingan open and pluralistic religiousleadership isonesolution.After three years ofmeaningfulrabbinical work atKfarVradim, I now serve asDean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, which trains men and women to serve as rabbis and leaders in the realm of Jewish renewal, thereby providing hope for a better future.Fear, hatred and a lack of interaction among different groups of people represent some of the majorchallenges forIsraeli society in general,forand theSchechter Rabbinical Seminaryin particular.Many Israelis fear membersofvarious unfamiliar and unknowngroups such as Arabs, migrantworkers,Jews who are ultra-Orthodox,Ethiopian,immigrantsfrom the FSU,East Asian,Ashkenazic,Kibbutzniks, MessianicJews,LGBT,etc.In some cases, this fear is based on afragmentary view ofreality orona politicaloutlook;in others it is derived from a religiousstance.Masortileaders must bring a new Jewish voice to the forefront. This voicemust bebased uponthe traditional Jewish view regarding the obligation to do justice to the stranger/foreigner.Sensitive community leadersshoulddevelop their group’s Jewish identity whileacknowledging and supportingmembers ofother groups.For example, aMasortikehillah(community)couldassist those with special needsliving nearby,by inviting them to participate in prayer services andbydeveloping a partnership with them. Likewise, thekehillahshoulddevelop a dialogue withneighbouringcommunities who holddifferent religious views orwho areof different nationalities.Yet these initiatives represent only one tool for dealing with fear and ignorance.Anotheristocreatea space forcontemplative thinking,a goal which can be accomplishedbyusing the traditional format ofaBeitMidrash-literally, a house of hermeneutics.When learning in a Beit Midrash framework, one’s own feelings are confronted with those of past generations. The distancing from the present actually enablesusto employ a complexthoughtin order to deal withcurrent problems,a processwhich iswidely divergentfrom modern-day modes of abbreviatedcommunication, such asthe 140-charactermessage.This learning process canhelp us understandwhy, on the one hand, one is commanded to love the stranger while on the other, it is forbidden to intermarry. Indeed, the Beit Midrash is the best place to clarify this thin line between love and hate.The intensity of contemporary life represents another challenge. Most of us experience the world via acomputerscreen and events via a camera lens. Weexistin one place and aresimultaneously connected to many other places. While preparing dinner for the family, we visit our workplace by reading emails; while reading a book weglance atFacebook.This intensity increasesthe need for structuredopportunitiesto stop, to experience a spiritually uplifting moment. Such moments should be offered not only in the synagogue but also on the beach, in the park or inthecommunitycentre. Rituals and prayers represent only oneway of putting aside the present and joiningthe eternal. Such moments can be the source of vitality for our existence.Individualism represents another challenge for modernJewishsociety.We are privileged to live in aculture in whichpeople make their owndecisions.Yet this freedom of choicemay underminebeing part of a larger group, which, during moments of crisis and loneliness, can offer support and assistance.Such support involves the connection to Jewish tradition and the connection to the community.Masortirabbis strive to be the agents whowill connectpeopletotheir heritageand to theirneighbouringcommunity.The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary strives to respond to these challenges by developing a leadership to runcentresof learning, prayer, andlife-cycle events; initiate social and communal projects; introduceTorahstudywhich balancestradition, criticism and innovation; andmost importantly, train rabbis who will provide a response to the societal needs of the 21stcentury,yet have a deep knowledge of Jewish tradition.This week Iwitnessedhow one of myrabbinicalstudents accompanied and assisted akehillahthat had lost one of its young members inanaccident. This student supported the family andkehillahmembersduringtheir time of mourning; she provided hopein the midst of tragedy.This episode reminded me of my former role as akehillahrabbi, and like many other instances in which my students carried out their rabbinical tasks with distinction,helped merealiseyet again how crucial the role of a community rabbi can be in 21stcentury Israel.

Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch is Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. He was ordained as a rabbi by the SRS in 2003 and has an M.A. in Jewish Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He served for nine years as a pulpit rabbi at twoMasorticongregations in Israel-most recentlyHaminyanHamishpachtiMasortiKfarVeradimin Israel’s Galilee.

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