A Rosh HaShannah Message from Bay Area Masorti Visiting Scholar, Rabbi Avi Novis Deutsch
Erev Rosh HaShannah 5771
I am honored to announce the beginning of the Masorti initiative in the Bay area and in North California. I have just spent two months at camp Ramah California and I must say that I am proud of the Conservative movement. I am proud of the young people committed to Masorti/Conservative Judaism, I am proud of them expressing unconditional love for Israel, and I was moved to watch the counselors fill their role as young Jewish leaders with boundless enthusiasm.
It would be wonderful if all this energy could be coupled with that of the Conservative movement in Israel, the Masorti (literally "traditional") movement, which is growing and spreading from the Upper Galilee to Eilat. This is the time to add another ingredient to the life of Conservative Jews in North California, which we like to call "Masorti" thinking. Masorti is more than a movement - it is a pluralistic, inclusive and egalitarian ideology which we should all embrace, both because it is crucial to Israeli society to develop along that track, and because it can add a meaningful dimension to North American Conservative Judaism as well.
Let me to tell you a little bit about myself. I was born and raised in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem and spent eight years in Yeshiva after my high school studies. During these years I realized that I am experiencing something tremendous and unique; the in-depth study of Torah. When I realized that this is a men's-only experience I felt frustrated, believing that such a spiritual experience should not be gender-limited. Orthodoxy in Israel could not accommodate this line of egalitarian thought, and thus I found my way to the Masorti movement, became a Masorti Rabbi, served in a Jerusalem pulpit (Ma'ayanot) for six years and taught at the Israeli Masorti Rabbinical school - the Schechter institute.
My family and I are spending this year in the Bay area and I hope to use my time here to enrich and strengthen the relations between the Masorti movement in Israel and the Conservative communities of the Bay area. By encouraging support of and deeper acquaintance with theMasorti ideology, we are supporting the sort of egalitarian and liberal Israel that we all hope for.
Israeli society is a blend of diverse people with different needs. Masorti is a track that can allow these differences to co-exist peacefully while building the country together. Many of Israel's challenges stem from its diversity and from the fact that some groups would like to dictate a single agenda for all Israeli factions. Masorti favors pluralism and dialogue based on Ben Zoma's notion that the wise learns from everyone and the respected is the person who respects everyone. Masorti does its best to make this understanding part of the way Israel will develop in the future. In order to delve into some of these ideas, we will offer three classes in October at CNS on Israeli diversity.
This is also my opportunity to thank Congregation Netivot Shalom and Rabbi Menachem Creditor in particular for their strong support of the Bay area Masorti initiative. We will be happy to have all USCJ congregations of the Bay area join us in this unique opportunity.
I would like to end this letter by sharing with you two things that are happening in the Masorti movement in Israel on the month of Tishrey: The first is the large amount of visitors the Masorti congregations will be attracting during this month. Many non-religious Israeli Jews search for an accessible synagogue for the High Holidays and find this place at a Masorti congregation near their home, where they feel welcomed and accepted for who they are.
The second is a special initiative called Sukkat Shalom (the Tabernacle of peace). This is a large Sukkah erected in the Upper Galilee where dialogue, learning, joint meals and cultural events take place between Jews, Druze and Moslem Arabs. This beautiful initiative, which has been taking place for over a decade led by Rabbi Tzvi Berger and his congregation of Kfar Veradim, has become especially crucial during this period of animosity, when some religious leaders have been expressing harsh critique of other religions. Tolerance and dialogue are called for and the Masorti movement is stepping up to the challenge. I hope we can support this crucial peace initiative.
I hope to see you all soon.
May we and the entire world be blessed with a year of love, peace and harmony.