What's the Jewish Center in Your Life?
Rabbi Dovi and Esty Scheiner were married on September 11, 2001 in New York. As Rabbi Scheiner writes, “We monitored the forecast out of concern for falling showers, but nothing could have prepared us for the prospect of falling towers.”
In response, they wanted to create a center for Jewish life in the place of the destruction.
“With a plume of black smoke suspended in the skies above our wedding canopy, it was clear to both of us that our challenge in life would be to build more than a Jewish home – it would be to build a Jewish tower.”
Rabbi Dovi and Esty founded Soho Synagogue, which has expanded to other cities and now to a virtual community with members around the world. Soho Synagogue is post-denominational, cross-tolerance Judaism that has a strong appeal to young, unaffiliated Jews.
I’ve had meaningful conversations with Rabbi Dovi and Esty. I bring up spirituality when I get into a meaningful conversation. I have a soapbox speech that goes like this:
With 7.5 billion people on the face of the earth, once someone is lucky enough to have a roof over their head, food on their table, clothes on their back, good health, a sense of security of not being shot at everyday, I’m of the opinion that then, everyone is searching for answers to the same questions. And there’s more than one right answer. What’s right for you is right for you. What’s right for me is right for me.
Connecting to a Reform congregation was an important step in the evolution of the right answers for me. It has served as a home to continue my exploration and return to.
My journey has connected me to my teacher Rabbi Yisroel Stone of Chabad of the Lower East Side, who says that God did not give the Torah to this group of Jews or that group of Jews. He teaches that the Torah was given to the Jewish people. Being a rabbi is his mission in life, not just a job. Rabbi Stone is not alone in his commitment.
At the annual Chabad convention banquet in November 2013, there were 4,000 Chabad rabbis and 1,000 lay leaders from around the world. After the roll call of the rabbis from each country, the room erupted in joyous celebration with everyone dancing. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was circling in the center of the room with a small group including Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement.
The following month at the URJ Biennial in San Diego, Rabbi Jacobs relayed the following:
Genesis teaches that all human encounters can reveal wisdom and holiness.
Throughout the first book of the Torah, God speaks to our ancestors through the people they meet, in the holy moments that unfold at every turn. Abraham is blessed by Melchitzedek, Rebecca is the answer to Eliezer's prayer at the well, and an unidentified man called Ish guides Joseph to his brothers.
We, too, must be open to hearing truths from those we meet, remembering that we hold no monopoly on wisdom.
That's why I met recently with Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, a cherished member of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's inner circle, who now has the responsibility of overseeing Chabad's worldwide activities.
Shortly after we sat down in his office at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, Rabbi Krinsky leaned forward and asked, "Rabbi Jacobs, can we be frank?" I said yes, not sure where he was going. "Why are you so busy trying to get more people into your Reform Movement? After all, you don't care about kashrut, you don't care about Shabbat, and you don't care about mitzvot, so what are you so busy doing?"
I responded, "Rabbi Krinsky, we care about kashrut, we care about Shabbat, we care about mitzvot; we just care differently. My job," I told him, "is exactly the same as yours: to try and bring more and more people close to the sacred core of Jewish life."
Whether it’s Reform Judaism, Chabad-Lubavitch Judaism, the post-denominational, cross-tolerance Judaism of Soho Synagogue, or other expressions of Judaism, all are paths to the sacred core that is within each of us.
Exodus 25:8 states, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”
Beyond the walls of any building, each of us can be a sanctuary for God to dwell in our midst. We are able to be our own Jewish center of life, capable of repairing the world one mitzvah at a time.
Bruce Josephy is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism's North American Board, vice chair of URJ Community – Southern New England, and past president of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, CT.