Friday, January 07, 2005

Miraculous Connections: An Open Response to Daniel Saras

Dear Mr. Saras,

It is so appropriate that your response arrived on Channukah. In the vast internet landscape of millions upon millions of pages, you arrived at the letter I wrote to you, which was not published in the Jewish week, which I simply posted in this online journal, which I do not advertise or distribute. How miraculous it is that you found my response to your letter! Thank you for finding me, and for responding.
Your response has given me the opportunity to talk to many of my great teachers in Judaism:

--a friend raised in the Reform movement who taught me how to daven pesukei dezimra with true kavannah and convinced me of the importance of daily prayer;

--my local Orthodox Rabbi, who advises me on all issues from kashering kitchens to religious pluralism;

--two friends raised in the reconstructionist movement who inspired me leasok betzarchei tzubbur, to commit myself to the mitzva of working for the needs of the community;

--an Orthodox friend who teaches me every day that following the mitzvot means bringing tzedek and chesed, justice and lovingkindness into the world;

--friends of mine who challenge, draw from, and and transcend all denominations in their beliefs, their learning, their prayer, and their practice.

These are my greatest teachers of Judaism, who have shaped my practice and helped me develop my relationship with G!d. Your response to my post gave me the amazing opportunity to seek out these teachers again, to explore why our relationships are so powerful and important. Thank you for driving me to deepen that exploration.

I share your saddness at the deep rifts and chasms that divide our community. We begin the silent meditation of the Amida by addressing G!d as "eloheinu ve-elohei avoteinu, elohei avraham, elohei yitzchak, ve-elohei yaakov," "Our G!d and G!d of our fathers, G!d of Avraham, G!d of Yitchak, and G!d of Yaakov." In this most personal of meditations and communications with G!d, we begin be invoking the relationship that G!d had with each of those who came before us. We do not stop at simply invoking "our fathers"--this might suggest that our fathers all had the same relationship with G!d, and we seek to replicate it. Instead we continue to single out "G!d of Avraham" "G!d of Yitchak" "G!d of Yaakov" recognizing and emphasizing that each of our great ancestors had unique and powerful personal relationships with G!d. We invoke each of these individual relationships, learn from them, and shape our own personal relationship with G!d through them.

We see in the Torah that Yitchak's practice and his relationship with G!d was dramatically different from that of his father. That Yitzchak, who lay upon the altar with the knife to his throat, can declare, I pray to the G!d of my father, is a profound affirmation of Oneness.

Do either of us have the identical practices and relationship with G!d that Avraham or Yitchak or Yaakov did? Yet we learn from them, we connect to them, we affirm that we pray to the G!d they pray to. This daily declaration in the Amidah raises my awareness of how much I must learn from Jews of all backgrounds, denominations, practices and beliefs. There are deep divisions within our community that make this mutual learning difficult. It saddens me that you have never had an opportunity to connect, learn from, teach, or even interact with fellow Jews from other denominations, that you are so disappointed in fellow Jews whom you do not know at all.

I have tried to act to transform and bridge these divisions: to pray with Jews of different denominations, to take classes from and learn with rabbis and teachers from different backgrounds and movements, to celebrate, to ask questions, to listen closely and openly. For the past two years I have helped to organize shabbat gatherings of Jews from across all background and denominations of Judaism, who find new ways to learn, pray, and celebrate together. These experiences have been the source of my greatest learning in Judaism, and have guided my path.

That you wrote that letter to the Jewish Week, that you found the post on my journal and responded to it, shows that these rifts are deeply troubling to you, and that you too want to bridge them. I have learned that such bridges are not only possible but necessary, essential to the future of our people, and to each of our relationships with G!d. Thank you for teaching me that the potential for such connection has no limit.

Shabbat shalom,

~Ari Johnson

Below I am including the text of our correspondence for reference:

Galut and Geulah: An Open Response to Daniel Saras

I walk into Hillel this morning to find my friend Reb Mendel, the local Chabad Rabbi, reading The New York Jewish Week, looking physically hurt, as if someone had punched him in the stomach just a few minutes earlier.
--Boker tov, Reb Mendel, what's wrong? What happened?
--Read this.
He hands me a copy of the LETTERS section and I read the following:


Your editorial "Jewish Unity at Stake in Election (Oct. 29) is laughable. There is no Jewish unity and never has been.
I am a 52-year-old Orthodox Jew who was born and raised in Washington Heights and ahs since lived in Jewish communities in Manhattan, Queens, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I have been active in Jewish organization since my youth as a leader in Bnei Akiva. In all this time and all these places, I have yet to participate in any activity with Conservative or Reform Jews. I have never been to their synagouges and, best I can tell, they have never been to mine. I have never engaged socially with any of these people.
Nor do I want to. As an Orthodox Jew, I have conservativve values and an unshakeable love of Israel. These other groups are composed mainly of liberal Jews whose support for Israel is questionable. Indeed we Orthodox have far more in common with the Christian right than we do with Reform Jews, who seem to be Jews in name only.
Unity? More like a quiet civil war, but a war that we Orthodox are sure to win. The Reformists and many reform-minded Conservative Jews will intermarry right out of our religion in generations to come. I say good riddance.
Daniel Sara
Rego Park, NY

As I look up, Reb Mendel says to me,
--This, this is Galut.
We walk in silence together toward the Beit Midrash, I in my red hooded sweatshirt and he with his black hat and black coat and beautiful long beard. I think of the Conservative synagogue I grew up in, the Orthodox minyan I attended at my multi-denominational high school, my most recent shabbat when I prayed in one voice with Jews of nearly every major denomination and background.
--How was your week?
--I'm sorry, Reb Mendel, give me a moment. That was a hard letter to read. Let me take a deep breath.
--I apologize for making you read such a sad letter.
--No, Reb Mendel, thank you. I am glad I read it. Sometimes I forget the reasons for what I do.
We sit down together in the beit midrash, and open up two books of Talmud masechet Chagiga, and begin to learn together.
posted by Ari

11:05 AM


I am Daniel Saras, who wrote the letter to the Jewish Week, and I wrote it in sadness, not anger. Read what I wrote, not what you want to read into it. What have we become if we care more about abortion than Israel? Explain how Reformism is Judaism? Is it enough to laugh at Seinfeld and eat bagels?

If so many of our people are disappointments to me, they should be even more disappointing to the Rebbi.
Do not shoot the messenger.


At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

amen for transcending transcendence, for crossing the sea between walls of division...we are peacemakers through can-doers like you ari! ~abby(leh)


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