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Sunday, 25 November 2007

Reform Reflections: Lunch in Jewish Disneyland

November 11 2007;
Reform Reflections:
Lunch in Jewish Disneyland
Rabbi Michael Marmur |
Jerusalem is special for many things, and despite serious worries about
her future, she continues to beguile and enchant her inhabitants. Well,
this one at least. I plan to write something another time about what is
happening to the city of Jerusalem, but at present I have a more modest
goal. I want to talk about lunch.
In Jewish terms, Jerusalem is Disneyland. Within a few miles you can
find a unique selection of Jewish pundits, sages, saints and sinners.
They cover a dizzying array of religious and political viewpoints, and
among them you will find some of the most original and significant
voices to be heard anywhere in the Jewish world. One way of gauging how
special Jerusalem is in terms of Jewish culture is to survey the range
of lectures, seminars, and lessons on offer every day of the week. I
believe that when the cultural history of our current times is one day
written, the sheer wealth and depth of intellectual and artistic
stimulation on offer in Jerusalem will be regarded as one of the most
stunning aspects of the great experiment of Jewish sovereignty in our
time. And the lunches are great, too.
All over the city of Jerusalem on Shabbat, Jews are sitting down to
lunch in unlikely configurations. We tend to think that everyone boxes
in their own corner - ultra-Orthodox, secular, Conservative, Ashkenazi,
Sephardi, Reform, right wing, left wing, well-heeled, down at heel. Of
course, in large part it is true that Israelis (like most people the
world over) stay within their own tribes. This is particularly and
tragically true of the psychological fence segregating Jews from Arabs
in this city.
But in Jerusalem there are also encounters and contacts going on which
reach out beyond the stereotypes and the boundaries. There are people
sitting down to lunch who do not belong to each other's tribe. Sometimes
there are bonds of blood which tie these unlikely lunch partners – every
family has someone who broke the mold, a rebel secularist from a highly
Orthodox home, a ba'al teshuvah from a kibbutz, a Revisionist reared
among socialists, and so on.
Another reason is even more disturbing: friendship. People encounter
each other and decide they like each other's company. One thing leads to
another, and before you know it Jews are sitting down to eat lunch with
each other even though they are not meant to be fraternizing with
members of Another Team.
Over Shabbat, my family and I were fortunate enough to sit at the table
of an eminent Orthodox rabbi and his family. Also present were a highly
impressive couple, also at the forefront of Zionist Orthodoxy in Israel.
I learned a great deal over lunch (and the moussaka was delicious). I
learned that many of the great challenges faced by the Modern Orthodox
world are highly similar to those we in the Liberal camp are grappling
with. Between mouthfuls, somebody opined that there is an urgent need to
include a theology of humanity in our religious doctrines. We need to
remind ourselves of what our tradition teaches us about the dignity of
each person in the world, and our responsibility to act vigorously in
defense of that dignity. I learned that we are all thinking about our
children who are in the Army or on their way to it, and we all stay up
at night wondering what the future holds for them. I was reminded of
something we all once knew but seem to forget: that there is so much
more to bind us as a people than there is to separate us, and that we
are meant to love our people, even when we may not always like every
last one of its constituent parts
As an avid eater of lunch, I know that similar meals and encounters are
taking place all over the Jewish world. Sometimes, the rules and
regulations governing dietary practices makes these encounters
particularly challenging. Often, in my experience, goodwill and
flexibility can prevail without compromising anyone's integrity.
There was no saccharine served at lunch, and I am not offering any here.
We may disagree profoundly about crucial issues, and no one is expected
to give up on any of their firmly-held beliefs. All that is required is
that curiosity, hospitality and solidarity win out over extremism,
obscurantism and chauvinism.
It's almost impossible to come up with a workable recipe for pluralism
within the Jewish people. It's fiendishly hard to know where the
division runs between being open-minded and empty-headed. Like every
other thinking person, I am struck every week by attitudes and behaviors
I find difficult to condone or to excuse. There's a portion of the fan
base of my local soccer team, for example, which covered itself in
ignominy last week by expressing support for Rabin's assassin. It's hard
for me just to smile and excuse their behavior away.
We don't have to change our opinions about people (although developing
the art of sympathetic listening wouldn't do any of us any harm). But
here's something we can do. The next time you meet someone from outside
your natural catchment area, someone whose theology or accent or wage
bracket is different from yours, and as you talk to this person you see
you actually like them despite the difference, don't challenge them to a
duel. Do something more dangerous and more significant. Invite them to
lunch.

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