On My Mind: Arnie Eisen

Response to “Jewish Peoplehood and Israel” From Norm Kurtz

A core tenet of Conservative/Masorti Judaism is, as Chancellor Eisen notes, that its common goal is to safeguard the life of the Jewish people as a religious civilization. We profess an appreciation and connection to our past and we strive to assure continuity for future generations. Referencing Conservative Judaism as a “movement” would inaccurately and unfortunately imply that Jews should be classified (code for accepted or rejected) on the basis of practice or belief. I have always been taught that Conservative Judaism is pluralistic, that we have a broader vision than that of other modern Jewish streams, and that we welcome those who seek to live life as a serious Jew (however one defines that term) wherever we find them.

A few years ago, while visiting the State of Israel with my teenage children, I experienced what felt like a dagger to my heart. While walking to the Kotel on erev Shabbat my daughter looked at me sadly and commented how she did not feel accepted in the land of our People. She felt judged, looked down upon, and isolated. She was reacting to the condescending stares and “attitude” she had been receiving from those of our People who are judgmental and who reject the concept of Pluralism. Imagine, having your child, a young, impressionable, and committed Conservative Jew, not feeling a part of the Jewish People while visiting Israel. Such is the intolerable result of Jews not accepting Pluralism.

So if we in fact profess to accept a broader vision, and if we truly understand what it means to be pluralistic, we must open our tent, live the principles of keruv and welcome those who seek inclusion among our people and to live Torah (again, however one defines that term) wherever we find them. We must encourage with sincerity the seeker to come forward and join the community. Although somewhat daunting, this task cannot be seen as a threat, but rather as an opportunity. We are not a “movement,” we are a People, and as such, we need to listen to Chancellor Eisen – we must try to connect with all Jews, regardless of ideological commitment or level of observance. Although not all Jews will choose to live according to the principles of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, the unity of kelal Yisra’el is essential to the fulfillment of Covenant.