Saul Kaiserman Director of Lifelong Learning Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York
Robbie, Thanks for your candid and reflective piece on your experience at Romemu.
I do have a few questions for you, and would be glad to hear your responses:
1. Would you have felt differently about the sermon if it had happened to be on Israel? I would think that even in Israel, rabbis choose from many different topics when they give sermons and drashot. Does every service you attend in Israel always include a reference to domestic politics?
2. Did the service really feel all that different than it would have been had you gone to a Jewish Renewal service in Israel (for example, at Jerusalem’s Nava Tehila)? Should you argue, Jewish Renewal is a North American import to Israel, I might ask in response, are you suggesting that there is some intrinsically domestic form of worship currently practiced in Israel, uninfluenced by immigration?
3. On that same point, should you argue, Renewal (and really, any type of worship that incorporates a language other than Hebrew, instrumentation, meditation, and other “progressive” innovations) doesn’t represent the majority of Israeli shul-goers, I would ask in response, could it be that the privileging of certain forms of Jewish expression through the orthodox and ultra-orthodox rabbinate has hampered the growth of progressive Judaism in Israel? Maybe a larger number of Israeli Jews would find a way to God and spirituality if the government weren’t illegitimating the kinds of worship practiced by the majority of Jews in the States.
4. Finally, although it sounds like your experience at Romemu didn’t particularly resonate for you as an Israeli, I would ask: (a) doesn’t that say more about you than about the service? There are quite a few Israelis who visit American synagogues and discover a form of worship that speaks to them in a way they’ve never experienced before, not to mention that Romemu has a fair number of Israeli worshippers. And (b) who cares? Why should a Jewish worship experience in the USA have to matter to an Israeli?
One last point: I love your writing generally (your “wrestling/hugging” metaphor is classic) and you as a person. Still, this piece came across less as provocative than deliberately confrontational. If your interest is in building common ground between North America and Israel through worship, why not start with orthodox or Chasidic congregation, where worshippers do indeed flow seamlessly between our two beloved homelands.
With best wishes