A New Thanksgiving Reality

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As I begin to think about packing for our thanksgiving trip to see my parents, I’m looking at the books and games we’re bringing and I am unsure. What’s this thanksgiving going to be like anyway? For the first time in as long as I can remember, thanksgiving won’t be celebrated at my aunt’s house in Pittsburgh.

The reasons for the change are unimportant, but it makes me think about the significance of time and space in interpersonal relationships.

I know that thanksgiving will be wonderful at my parents house, but there was something about pulling up the hill in the crisp cool weather that evoked a wonderful nostalgia. Sitting in the livingroom with no plans for the rest of the day was a rite and tradition as strong and meaningful as turkey and football.

Change is good and necessary. Those who live to recreate the past never really live. Our purpose as humans is to infuse life with meaning, and sometimes that means making significant changes to what has happened before.

New traditions and nostalgiac feelings will develop around this new thanksgiving tradition. The positive memories of the past will never disappear, but be enhanced by their connection to the present and future.

What will this thansgiving be like? It will be different.

Reflections on the JFNA (UJC) General Assembly

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I spend a good part of last week in Washington D.C. at the Jewish Federations of North American (formerly the United Jewish Communities) General Assembly. This gathering of over 3000 Jews from across North America, and the world, is an amazing experience of the diversity and eclectic nature of the Jewish people.

I think that all Jews, from time to time, think that they are the “average” or “normal” type of Jew. We often forget that there are so many other types of Jews out there, and that so many of them are living very connected Jewish lives. It’s important to have experiences like these with different types of Jews in order to break that feeling of homogeneity.

I had the opportunity over the course of the program to participate in a session run by and for a group of young and passion Jewish Social Entrepreneurs. I was sitting at a table with an active and involved Jewish atheist, two representatives from Keshet (working towards the full inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life) and other types of Jews I rarely have the honor to connect with. As one of the few Orthodox Jews in the room, I was as unique as everyone else – I felt a strong sense of achdut in that moment of plurality.

There is often a misnomer in the Orthodox community that we are the only keepers of the Torah, and that the other denominations mostly consist of lazy or apathetic Jews. In reality, there are so many passionate and educated Jews out there in the world that we are simply ignorant about. We need to break out of our shell, and appreciate the diversity and richness of the Jewish people today.

As a kehilla we need to continue to strive for more of these experiences that bring us together as Jews. We will all benefit from knowing more about eachother, learning from one another, and bonding closer together in our peoplehood.

I look forward to building upon my GA experience at Limmud NY 2010 – will I see you there?

The Jewish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

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A friend recently sent me links to a newspaper article and a blog post about the need for greater acceptance and welcoming to homosexual Orthodox Jews within the Modern Orthodox community.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner wrote on Morethodoxy about the distinction between halachot that are moral, and halachot that are simply rules. We generally would not consider someone who doesn’t keep Kosher a bad person – they are simply a sinful person.

We need not worry that welcoming homosexual Jews into our community means we have no moral compass and tomorrow we will welcome adults who commit sexual acts with children (which is not actually one of the sexual sins in the torah) or brothers and sisters who want to marry.

An article published in the YU Commentator anonymously made three specific and reasonable requests from the Yeshiva University community:

  1. For the Rabbis to “recognize our existence, and to take a proactive role in organizing open discussion of the issue of homosexuality.”
  2. Break the taboo of homosexuality by cultivating an “atmosphere of acceptance and open discussion.”
  3. To form a Gay-Straight Alliance on campus to promote an environment that will be comfortable and accepting of gay students.

It’s been too long that homosexuality remains a taboo only within the Orthodox community. We need to stop denying the reality of a significant minority of our community, and strive to be accepting and open to these Jews.

The gay Jew is not living an immoral life. We as a community need to openly discuss how to find an understanding of the Torah’s attitude on homosexual intercourse, but the welcoming of openly gay individuals should not be delayed until that is achieved.

We need to make our synagogues and schools safe places for gay Jews to associate themselves, and exercise the beautiful values of community, unity and togetherness that we have otherwise valued so greatly.

Read Rabbi Shafner’s article here: Is the Torah Moral?

Read the Commentator article here: The Gay Question

The Judges of your Times

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There has been some interesting debate in the comments about the evolving nature of halacha. I wrote a dvar torah two years ago on this subject (for Parashat Shoftim), and I would love to share it with you.

The one-line summary is that the Torah instructs us to consult judges from our own generation who are able to interpret and understand the unique needs of our time.

Check it out for yourself:

“Parashat Shoftim: What do I do?” (Care of: Eimatimes.com)