The Joys and Pains of a Diverse Community

I cherish the rampant diversity of thought and practice that permeates our Jewish community. I celebrate the multiplicity of opinions and experiences that defines our people. A lesbian, Reform rabbi from California and a heterosexual, Orthodox rabbi from Skokie are both critical voices in the conversation; each is an indispensable sound in the chorus of Jewish peoplehood. This image is Yahadut at our best.

Unfortunately, in most streams of twenty-first century Jewish life, the utopic image of coexisting rabbis is a figment; at best an aspiration, at worst a blatant lie. At AIPAC the utopic is the norm. This is precisely why I adore AIPAC. AIPAC evokes our community’s most noble inclinations: community, tolerance, dialogue, and patience. It dismisses uniformity, and concurrently demands unity.

For the past two years I have had the unique privilege to be a Leffell Fellow, AIPAC’s trans-denominational fellowship for rabbinical students. Through this fellowship I have heard from a plethora of voices too vast to enumerate. I have learned from Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. I have listened to speakers advocating for one Jewish state, others demanding two states for two people, and even those extolling the virtues of one shared state. All voices were given time, and all speakers were treated with respect.

This reality makes one particular misperception so disconcerting. I have been disturbed and disheartened to read a slew of Facebook comments, predominantly by friends who did not attend policy conference, emphatically dismiss AIPAC (or, even worse, participants) for a particular decision. These categorical condemnations come without a nuanced decency to think critically about the challenges of a diverse community. Often the same voices advocating for a bigger-tent are articulating sweeping judgements. Our community would benefit from a more balanced conversation.

Painful differences are the inevitable consequence of heterogeneity. Though we share core values, the manifestation of these values can be quite diverse, often engendering diametrically opposed realities. Folks may use a shared text to buttress contradictory visions, or may claim as authentic incompatible ideals. Yet, as we learn, in the Ethics of our Fathers, לפום צארא אגרא, this challenge is also our greatest opportunity. AIPAC, with the help of the Shalom Hartman Institute, has begun tackling this challenge.

For example, I personally chose to exit quietly as Mr. Trump entered the arena. I did not participate in the communal learning sessions, though I respect those who did. I did not sit quietly, but I respect those who did. I did not cheer obligingly when he espoused particular ideas that I enjoyed, yet, again, I respect those who did. I may disagree strongly, but I respect fundamentally. I even have enough respect to understand that well-intentioned, intelligent friends may support his candidacy. I will argue, fight, and disagree—I will not dismiss, disrespect or attempt to other.

This is also why I was so disappointed when I learned of raucous applause, celebrating blatant critiques of President Obama (his persona, not policy) and so glad to hear AIPAC’s unequivocal condemnation of such rhetoric.

The orchestra of Jewish voices must continue to play songs of love. We are currently engaged in a burgeoning conversation vis-a-vis the parameters and limitations of pluralism; a product of a broader attempt to define this nebulous designation. Nonetheless, irrespective of the (very necessary) nascent theoretical conversation, the practical, lived experience is a fantastic one. The palpable diversity of the Jewish world is enlivening, and I thank AIPAC for being an incubator for these conversations.

Thank you for rooming me with an amazing HUC rabbinical student. Thank you for letting me share meals with the future minds of the Conservative movement. Thank you for organizing panels with the leadership of the Jewish world and of Israeli thought. I hope that we can all learn from this commitment to a multi-vocal Jewish life. This is my Judaism.

About the Author
Jordan David Soffer is a fourth year rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and is pursuing a masters in elementary education at Yeshiva University's Azrieli Graduate School of Education. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 2010, Jordan has spent the past years studying at various yeshivot in Jerusalem, Maaleh Gilboa, and New York. Next year, Jordan will serve as the Rabbi-in-Residence at Carmel Academy; a vibrant Jewish day school in Greenwhich, Ct..
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