Fresh from Cal­i­for­nia, a new kind of Ju­daism

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY SI­MON ROCKER

WHEN JONATHAN Sacks pub­lished his book The Dig­nity of Dif­fer­ence, lit­tle could he have imag­ined that it would help in­spire a dy­namic new com­mu­nity in Cal­i­for­nia led by a fe­male rabbi.

Rabbi Sharon Brous launched Ikar in Cal­i­for­nia with just four other peo­ple in 2004. Now it has some 600 af­fil­i­ated house­holds and wel­comed 2,000 peo­ple to ser­vices over the last High Holy Days.

It is one of a new wave of in­de­pen­dent con­gre­ga­tions set up out­side the es­tab­lished syn­a­gogue move­ments that are be­gin­ning to change the map of Jewish Amer­ica.

Post-de­nom­i­na­tional, it com­bines so­cial ac­tivism with spir­i­tual open­ness and has been held up as a model for at­tract­ing young Jews who would have oth­er­wise re­mained com­mu­nally es­tranged. Rabbi Sharon Braus

When she first read Dig­nity in 2004, she was par­tic­u­larly struck by a pas­sage in which the then Bri­tish chief rabbi spec­u­lated on whether the world was head­ing for a new golden age of peace, pros­per­ity and sci­en­tific ad­vance by 2020 or a dystopia of in­creas­ing con­flict and vi­o­lent re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism.

Won­der­ing what kind of world her then six-month-old daugh­ter would grow up in, she de­cided there was no use sim­plybe­moan­ingth­es­ta­teof af­fairs­but that she had to do some­thing. By her own ad­mis­sion, Rab­biBrous—whowass­peak­ing at her first Bri­tish Lim­mud — came to the rab­binate as “an out­sider”.

Al­though raised in a Pro­gres­sive fam­ily with a strong Jewish iden­tity, by the time she reached univer­sity and “en­coun­tered the es­tab­lished Jewish com­mu­nity, I re­alised how much I wasn’t part of it,” she said.

“I felt stunned and un­com­fort­able by my alien­ation from my own com­mu­nity.”

But, dur­ing a year in Is­rael, she “fell in love” with the Tal­mud, study­ing at the He­brew Univer­sity.

The fu­ture Rabbi Brous also came to the re­al­i­sa­tion that “the agents of so­cial change in the world who I ad­mired most were peo­ple like Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Abra­ham Joshua Heschel, peo­ple who had faith at the core of their ac­tivism.”

While she had al­ways been an ac­tivist, she felt that she was “miss­ing the link” be­tween that and her Ju­daism. “The call to hu­man dig­nity as a faith com­mit­ment was so strong, the call to jus­tice and equal­ity so pro­found for me, that I re­alised that Ju­daism… was where I needed to de­velop, to spend my time learn­ing and ul­ti­mately us­ing my voice.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Con­ser­va­tiveJewishThe­ol­o­gyRab­binicSem­i­nary, she said she “started meet­ing all th­ese dis­con­nected, un­af­fil­i­ated, marginalised Jews who were a lot like me when I was on this jour­ney years be­fore.

“I as­so­ci­ated with their strug­gle and sense of dis­con­nect. I started to see how the in­sti­tu­tional Jewish world and the Jewish communal es­tab­lish­ment was really alien­at­ing for a lot of peo­ple who had a yearn­ing for a pur­pose­ful life, for a spir­i­tual prac­tice, for a sense of com­mu­nity, for rit­ual, but were not look­ing in es­tab­lished Jewish spa­ces for ful­fil­ment of those de­sires.

“And the more young peo­ple I spoke with, the more I re­alised that what they were re­ject­ing was not Jewish ideas, prac­tice, or even God, but they were re­ject­ing Jewish in­sti­tu­tional re­li­gion.”

The typ­i­cal 20th-cen­tury Amer­i­can Jewish syn­a­gogue felt “re­mote and aloof” and its three-pronged agenda of “fight­ing an­ti­semitism, fight­ing in­ter­mar­riage and saving Is­rael” was not enough for many of the younger gen­er­a­tion.

When she moved to Los An­ge­les, she found that “the smartest, most cre­ative, most in­ter­est­ing young Jews I was meet­ing had all given up on Jewish life”.

They nei­ther at­tended syn­a­gogue nor signed up to main­stream Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions.

So she set about try­ing to trans­late the ideals which in­spired her in Ju­daism into a lan­guage that could res­onate with them.No­ton­ly­hasIkar­it­self grown­bu­tit has helped to en­cour­age oth­ers.

An­other first-time speaker at UK Lim­mud, Rabbi Lizzie Hey­de­mann, who founded a new com­mu­nity in Chicago, spent time at Ikar, as did Bri­tish Rabbi Oliver Joseph, who has re­turned to work for Ma­sorti here.

Rabbi Brous thinks that it is no accident that women have been at the fore­front of some of the new in­de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties.

Women rab­bis, she says, by en­ter­ing what is tra­di­tion­ally a “pa­tri­ar­chal busi­ness”, are break­ing the mould.

And once they do that, “you start think­ing in a cre­ative way about all kinds of things”.

PHOTO: YESHI­VAT MA­HARAT

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.