March 30, 2020

The Jewish Journal Made Me Do It

I was raised as a Reform Jew. That meant I had a lightweight bar mitzvah after a few years of Jewish education, including learning Bible Stories and being taught that it was a Jewish value to make the world a better place.

Growing up, I heard resentment directed against “judgmental” Orthodox Jews.  For example, one Orthodox relative refused to drink a cup of coffee from our kitchen (which was Mom’s level of kosher), which hurt her feelings deeply.

Over the years, my vision has broadened. I have met Jews from various denominations, and learned a lot of interesting, positive, spiritually nurturing Jewish knowledge. I have concluded that while we all have our personal experiences, we can get beyond the Jewish denominational labels, stereotypes and expectations to connect positively and learn from each other.

Then I read the Jewish Journal’s Back and Forth series, where Reform rabbi Sarah Bassin and Orthodox rabbi Ari Schwarzberg aired the conflicts between their movements, like whether Reform Jews are taught too little about Torah and mitzvahs in favor of social action and applying what they understand as Jewish values to current social issues. And whether Orthodox communities are insular, inflexible, and disrespect Jewish women.

Their arguments were framed diplomatically, but I found myself longing for more.

Don’t Jews share a higher purpose? Being Jewish can’t just be about survival and defending ourselves from anti-Semitism. But how can we Jews make the world a better place when there is so much combativeness within our own community?  What a positive impact we could have if we act like we are on the same team and express Ahavat Yisrael, love of our fellow Jews.

I decided I was going to do something about it.

I met with Rabbi Bassin, who is a mover and a shaker in the Reform community, to discuss how Jews of all backgrounds could work together to create greater Jewish unity. Rabbi Bassin and I agree that Jews are tired of divisiveness. We believe that many Jews are suffering from conflict fatigue in the “Age of Trump” and that they are thirsting for the voices of leaders who seek to unite the Jewish community instead of divide it.

She agreed to do a unity event with a Conservative and an Orthodox rabbi, saying, “Often, when representatives of different segments of our community are brought together, it’s to highlight that which separates and distinguishes us. But in an increasingly fluid and post-denominational world, a conversation around Ahavat Yisrael will help us mine our tradition and our values to strengthen the bonds that tie our whole community together.”

Rabbi Levi Cunin, the inspiring Orthodox leader of Chabad of Malibu, was eager to be a part of the event.  He said, “ ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together.’  What a great joy and blessing when we observe our children in loving unity!  Our holy Torah teaches us that when we, Hashem’s children, are in unity, we create the greatest vessels for the miraculous Divine blessings to occur in our midst! Miracles? for people and our world?  I’m in!”

The charismatic Conservative rabbi of Poway’s Ner Tamid Synagogue, Rabbi Sammy Seid, also agreed to participate.  He stated, “According to our tradition, there is room (and plenty of it!) for disagreement for the sake of the heavens. With differences we may have among denominations and communities of Jews, we serve a greater purpose of G-d and the Jewish people. This can bring us together, this can have the power to unite us – not just despite, but even because of, our differences. I recognize the great commonalities we have as a Jewish people. Although we are not homogenous people, I certainly hope that we can be a united people.”

The result will be an event focused on unity beyond interdenominational conflict, titled “3 Rabbis…1 Opinion”, on Thursday night, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at UCLA Hillel.

It should be an inspiring, informative, and transformational evening. By focusing on our unity and shared values, I look forward to our all being positively energized to join together in making the world a better place.

Be careful when you read the Jewish Journal:  you never know what good things you might be inspired to do, too!


Scott Kassner, a retired business owner, is a motivational speaker and a passionate student of Judaism.

To RSVP for this event, or contact the author about future events, email: jewishunity2020@gmail.com.

"Please note that the posts on The Blogs are contributed by third parties. The opinions, facts and any media content in them are presented solely by the authors, and neither The Jewish Journal nor its partners assume any responsibility for them. Please contact us in case of abuse."