April 2, 2020

I Drove on Shabbat

I drove on Shabbat. I was away from my community on vacation. I did not drive out of necessity or distance. I was not invited to a family simcha that forced my hand. I drove because I wanted to see what impact it would have, if any, on my spirituality. I am aware that many Conservative Rabbis, for a variety of reasons, drive to synagogue on Shabbat. However, my driving might be a bit shocking to my congregants, colleagues or anyone who has heard me advocate for a more traditional Conservative Judaism. In some ways that was the challenge or hump to get over in my own head rather than “breaking” Shabbat for a five-minute drive.

Recently, I heard a Rabbi tell her congregation that while in Rabbinical School she was asked to intern at a pulpit that would give her a different perspective into Judaism. She respectfully declined because she was already content in her own community. I also thought I knew the congregation/community I wanted, but over the last four years stretching my own spiritual inclinations has proven to be a tremendous gift for reinvigorating my own Judaism.

As a student coming out of Rabbinical School, my wife and I were blessed to interview at a variety of different synagogues and communities; each presented us with a different dilemma. Not one community was perfectly reflective of my own Hashkafa (religious identity). Either I was to eat dairy out (something I did not do in New York, Chicago or Israel), drive to shul on Shabbat (only houses in walking distance were upwards of $5 million), sacrifice professional growth as a Rabbi or live in a city in which we were not interested. Faced with this predicament, we understood that we must explore our own Judaism. And because of this situation and the choice we made I have been able to open my eyes to a world of Judaism that I never completely understood. My heart is much fuller for the individual rather than the system, while acknowledging that I should never be so ignorant to ignore the other side.

Over the last several months I have heard my colleagues bash or support political candidates (far before narrowing it down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump). I have watched my newsfeeds cluttered with hatred towards parties and people. I have also witnessed, like all of you, a world of ungodly acts and unspeakable harm. With chaos has come finger pointing, blame, and blind loathing. Like, many of you, I get the splattering of police hugs and good deeds, but it is always overshadowed with the next round of turmoil and fault.

I do not claim to have answers for all of this insanity. I am not going to tell you who to vote for or if you should vote in this election at all. But I do hope we can take a moment out of our certainty to recognize the perspective that pushes our spirituality and stances. You will not find it on Facebook because your newsfeed are those of your friends. Your news channel of choice caters to you. And it is certainly time to understand the other side. There must be a difference between standing your ground and advocating for your perspective while not completely faulting or viciously attacking the opposition. We must seek to understand even if the other side makes you want to scream. If you are a Trump hater, find out exactly why he has captivated so many people. If you think that Clinton has been on the wrong side of issues, read about the issues on which she has been on the right side. Talk with policemen and policewomen in your community and ask them what they are feeling. And attend an informational session about Black Lives Matter. All change comes rooted in some personal discomfort, but it is our obligation to understand our personal discomfort if only to reinforce our own stability.

I drove on Shabbat because it forced me to face my own discomfort, something our most inspiring Jewish minds of the 20th century often did. Rabbis Saul Lieberman (Orthodox) and Mordecai Kaplan (Reconstructionist) both taught at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, which forced them to mingle with their adversaries. Rabbi Menachem Schneerson sent his Chabadniks to cities, many with limited number of Jews, to help the world embrace Judaism. It is our job to challenge both our secular values and spiritual lives with opposition to our core so that we can walk in this world with others and our fully confident selves. As Rabbi Schneerson said, “Imagine you could open your eye to see only the good in every person, the positive in every circumstance, and the opportunity in every challenge.” How true does this statement hold in today’s complex diversity.