On My Mind: Arnie Eisen

Response to “The Value of Denominations in Judaism” From Julie Schonfeld

Is Conservative Judaism to remain a denomination struggling to retain its identity and regain its footing or can it summon the assets and resources of its historic structures to bring forth an inspiring, ascendant religious Movement?

We need to return the discussion of “movement” in Jewish life to its true meaning. Over the centuries, the Jewish people has made its journeys via “movements” that provided vehicles that allowed us to be Jewish in new circumstances. Whether a political movement such as Zionism or a spiritual one such as Hasidism, these seminal periods of coming together around an understanding of the sacred mandate to live as a Jew are the chapters in the history of a people.

At a certain point in history, denominations became an effective way to organize several movements within Judaism. The idea of denomination is important insofar as it continues to afford us those vehicles. To the extent that our era is moving away from denominations, so, inevitably, must we reconsider these structures. We must be self-critical as to how much of what we do outside of denominational structures is dependent for its success on the existence of the very institutions they challenge. We must put in place the next generation of vehicles to carry forward our Movement as outdated structures inevitably change or fall away.

Chancellor Eisen points to the sacred magnets that have pulled the Jew closer to God throughout history: community, Torah study, Hebrew language, commitment to Israel, our treasured homeland.

Why are we so passionate about Conservative Judaism?

For me, it is a framework in which I can offer a meaningful Jewish response to so many of the experiences that shaped me and the commitments that inspire me: my education, the complex open society in which I live, the urge to pursue justice, the hope that science and technology can solve problems.

Many times a day I check the news on the Internet. Every occasion is a reminder that by performing mitzvot, and by being a part of the world Jewish community, I can make a difference. Every Jew stands, as though on the shoulders of all that came before us. The smallest action, taken in the context of bringing forward Jewish tradition and Jewish civilization, vastly outmeasures the greatest accomplishments that my own abilities could produce.

A movement is about powerful ideas that unite and motivate people to come together with a compelling commitment to build towards a vision of the future. Judaism teaches that we cannot do this alone. It also demonstrates that while we cannot remain stuck in the past, our respect for its accomplishments can inspire and guide our own. Our task is to take the strength of the Conservative denomination and mobilize it for a Movement that brings us towards the holy aspirations to which Jewish tradition calls.