Eleven Rabbis from across North America gathered in Boca this week for a day and a half of meetings, under the auspices of the Orthodox Union. The Legacy Group, as we have affectionately been titled by OU leadership, convenes twice a year to discuss and compare what is happening in our communities, commiserate over challenges, share best practices and inspire one another to collectively confront some of the ills that plague our people.
A theme that emerged from our conversation was the horrible disunity, discord and divide among the Jewish people from all directions. The left is just as intolerant of the right as the right is of them. Those that define themselves as the center are often dismissive of anyone unlike them. A famous comedian once observed, “Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.” For many a similar description applies to their religious orientation and practice.
How can we close the gaps that are dividing our people? How can we heal the wounds of marginalization that have hurt so many individuals and communities? How can we restore the feeling of achdus, unity and harmony that characterized the moment of receiving the Torah described in this week’s parsha?
The Legacy Group came to a simple conclusion: One on one interpersonal relationships, friendships and bonds. You see, it is easy to dismiss, demonize and reject whole groups, philosophies or lifestyles. It is much more difficult to speak negatively and critically of someone with whom you share a rapport.
If we are to heal our people, we must get so called “right wing” Roshei Yeshiva to sit and talk with “YU” Roshei Yeshiva. We must reach out to colleagues from Reform, Conservative and Liberal Orthodoxy to build warm, personal relationships around what we share in common. If the leaders at the top can get to know one another and feel a kinship together, we can put a stop to hurtful proclamations and statements that serve to divide, and replace them with encouragement and efforts to unite.
Indeed, it was this motivation that two weeks ago led me to a decision that I am so happy I made. Rabbi Richard Agler, who recently retired as the Sr. Rabbi of Congregation B’nai Israel , a Reform Congregation, suffered a terrible tragedy when a car struck and killed his 27 year old daughter as she was jogging. To be honest, I don’t have a particularly close relationship with the Aglers. In light of his recent retirement, we will unlikely overlap in a professional capacity moving forward. However, despite the reasons to do nothing, I decided that the proper thing to do, if for no other reason than my role in the Orthodox community of Boca, was to pay a shiva call. And so, Rabbi Broide and I went to the Aglers’ home to simply communicate that we care, feel their pain and pray for their comfort.
The time we spent together and the inspiration Rabbi Broide and I received that day, were remarkable. I asked Rabbi Agler how this tragedy impacts his faith in the Almighty? As a Rabbi, he undoubtedly has spoken about bad things happening to good people, but now he has lived it.
His answer blew me away. He said, “My Judaism, my relationship with God and my faith are what empowered me to raise such a wonderful daughter and these values are what gave her life meaning and purpose. Why would I throw away the very things that made her so special, just because she was taken so prematurely and tragically? Faith allowed me to raise a special daughter, and faith will guide me through the tragedy of her death.”
At the end of the time we spent together, Rabbi Agler and I had the same observation. Why did it take a tragedy for us to spend some quality time together? The result of that interaction coupled with the discussion at the OU Legacy meetings is a renewed sense of commitment I feel to reach out to my colleagues in every direction and work to build genuine friendships and warms bonds.
Healing our people is not just the job of Rabbis, it is the responsibility of every caring Jew. Let’s work together to restore that feeling at Sinai, k’ish echad b’lev echad, one people with one heart.