This is the closing charge given at the inaugural event of PORAT, May 15, 2016. Almost 600 people were in attendance, with hundreds more viewing the livestream.
It’s one of the more beautiful pleas in Tanakh, a description of the Beloved, God Himself, knocking — imploring those inside to open the door.
In the words of Shir HaShirim, “kol dodi dofek, the voice of my beloved is knocking — pitchi li, open the door.”
Many people who are in our community are having doors slammed in their faces. In the spirit of imitatio Dei, they are demanding that these doors be opened.
Who is knocking at the door?
Women denied gittin; women who yearn to become spiritual leaders; women and men who quest for more halakhically valid opportunities in public prayer; Orthodox Jews who seek a mesorah that maintains fidelity to the past, while being responsive to the realities of the present.
Who is knocking at the door? Converts eager to become Jewish; committed halakhic Jews who are searching for a decentralized, collaborative and transparent rabbinate;
Who is knocking at the door? The LGBTQ community seeking acceptance; individuals struggling with faith issues; and the community who strive to lead a life of true kedusha, through the lens of halakhically committed life.
Who is knocking at the door? People wishing to dialogue and learn from their counterparts in other Jewish denominations and faiths; the mentally and physically challenged demanding an equal place at the table; students, young and old, in the beit midrash, outside of the beit midrash, who search for a Torah and halakha suffused with spirituality.
But alas, it too often occurs that the knocks go unheeded and the doors remain closed. Today, there has evolved an Orthodoxy focused on boundaries, fences, high and thick — obsessing and spending inordinate amounts of time condemning and declaring who is NOT in.
In response, PORAT has been founded. It insists on an alternative approach, focusing on creating welcoming spaces to enhance the character of what Orthodoxy could look like in the 21st century.
We believe in a Torah that is divine and invites us for open and honest engagement.
We believe in a halakha that is fully scrupulous and maximally inclusive.
We believe in an Orthodoxy that welcomes, empowers and inspires. An Orthodoxy that not only resonates strongly with the Orthodox community, but builds bridges to the 90% of Jews for whom Orthodoxy today is irrelevant.
Why is a new organization needed to accomplish these goals?
Today, Modern Orthodoxy is blessed with rabbinical schools, rabbinic organizations, batei din, think tanks, feminist and LGBTQ advocacy groups, but no lay-led, grassroots membership organization thinking holistically about the broad range of issues.
PORAT fills this vacuum. While rabbis have helped spark its formation, PORAT will be a lay organization with a lay president and board. It will be shaped and led by your voices, the voices of the amcha.
PORAT charges Orthodox communities not to be passive, but to partner with our rabbis and our religious leaders in the halakhic process and in shaping the vision, values and life of the Orthodox community.
PORAT believes that we ourselves need to grow spiritually, deepen our learning, and become more activist for the sake of Klal Yisrael, Medinat Yisrael and kol yoshvei tevel — and PORAT will work with all existing institutions to improve the quality of our Modern Orthodox life.
In this spirit, PORAT’s founding members explain why THEY ARE PORAT.
I am PORAT, says Rella Feldman, because I believe all Jewish people share one destiny.
Ari Hait: I am PORAT because I believe in machloket leshem Shamayim
Shelley Cohen: I am PORAT because I want a community where people of all abilities have a place.
Atara Lindenbaum: I am PORAT because I want my children to grow up in a more unified and interconnected Jewish community.
Anat Barber: I am PORAT because I am Orthodox and engaged in modern society, lechatchila.
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg: I am PORAT because sensitivity to people of all backgrounds in our community matters to me.
Anonymous: I am PORAT because as a gay person I have been turned into an outsider in a community I love.
These are just some of the many voices that shape PORAT’s dream. Our hope is that PORAT voices will partner with our sister and brothers in Israel and around the world.
Tonight, if you share in these dreams, I ask you, I ask each and every one of you, stand up and be counted with us.
What does standing up for an inclusive Modern Orthodoxy mean?
PORAT’s immediate goal is to demonstrate that a critical mass of Orthodox Jews support the values of an inclusive Modern Orthodoxy. We believe that supporters of this inclusive Orthodoxy includes a “silent majority” in communities like Teaneck, Boca Raton, DC, LA, and Skokie, even as it includes many of the more progressive graduates of Yeshiva University, Gush Etzion and Chabad.
We encourage this silent majority to speak up, at your Shabbat tables, at your synagogues, Hillels and day schools, unafraid to respectfully identify with an inclusive Modern Orthodoxy.
Our website is open for people to sign up as supporters. There is no fee. This is not about fundraising, it’s about building community. Invite 10 people to join PORAT with you. Together, let’s reach 10,000 supporters.
We will also be quickly developing a listserv for the grass roots, encouraging people to come forward to dialogue on the pressing matters confronting our community through civil discourse — without fear of being locked out or ostracized. Sign up as a supporter on our website to participate.
The ideals of PORAT will become reality when we have strength in numbers. So in the spirit of b’rov am hadrat melech —
Be there when we have our twice-yearly programs of this evening’s kind, around the country, beginning this coming September.
Be part of our listening groups that we will be organizing in New York, and around the country so that we can identify and address the challenging issues we face today.
Together, we can share the message that our understanding of Torah, of halakha, of mesorah, is authentic. We need not look to the right for legitimacy. We will have the confidence in ourselves, in our communities, in our poskim, in our rabbis, to be an inclusive, ethical, Orthodox Torah community.
We are all in this together. No one with a yearning to be part of the fabric of our community should feel that any doors are closed. We can and must open them for one another.
We pray PORAT grows. As it does, we will, be’ezrat Hashem, look back on the first event, and we’ll all be able to say we were there, advocating for an open, non-judgmental, spiritual, big-tent, inclusive Modern Orthodoxy.
Look around, in this space there are people of disparate backgrounds, dreaming of a better Orthodoxy — together.
Together, PORAT will be true to its name and bear fruits, as we evolve and grow;
Together, PORAT will reflect its acronym, a groundswell of People for Orthodox Renaissance And Torah;
Together, let us stand up and open the door with all of Am Yisrael, singing the beautiful words of our tefilah, yachad yachad.