Rabbi Allen – Our Judaism
Only one Jerusalem synagogue has a daily egalitarian morning minyan. Indeed in that regard then St. Paul, MN and Jerusalem are nearly identical. Of the many things that I reflect upon with pride in my rabbinate, creating and sustaining a vibrant and meaningful morning minyan at Beth Jacob Congregation is one of my greatest joys. Our daily minyan began at the start of the first Gulf War and has been a central part of the strength of our shul community. In the past 24 years, our MMSR (Morning Minyan Success Rate) has been in the 97-98% range. People know that they can count on our daily minyan for inspiration, assuredness of a minyan for Kaddish and for support and a definite sense of community. In fact our high MMSR was the reason that another Conservative shul in St Paul ended their morning minyan and encouraged its members to daven at Beth Jacob. All of us have been enriched by this joint venture.
Coming to Jerusalem to visit my mom four months after my father died meant that I would return to the one egalitarian morning minyan in town. Most years when visiting my parents, I would try to get to morning minyan but occasionally did not. During this year of mourning, trying is not an option. So on my first day in Jerusalem, I began it at Moreshet Yisrael at 7:30 am. Every morning minyan has the same basic cast of folks–people in need of a minyan for Kaddish; folks who like to daven; and folks who like to talk to those who like to daven. What differentiates one minyan from the other is the special ta’am of the particular setting. In the case of Moreshet Yisrael, it is the new addition of Conservative Movement rabbinical students who are spending their year studying in Jerusalem. These men and women now help sustain a minyan that once was populated by retired American Conservative Rabbis, Cantors, and congregants but which now has sadly few of either. My dad was in the latter grouping and how he loved to be in the presence of those retired and significant rabbis who led American Jewry through the latter half of the 20th century. Now sitting in that shul these past few days, I was moved to be in the presence not of older colleagues (save for one dedicated senior colleague) but rather that of thoughtful and eager students who will lead our Jewish world in the coming decades with fervor and erudition, candor and a belief in the importance of seeing Judaism as Heschel must have imagined it–fully connected to the world and understanding our responsibilities for it.
There is more, though, to celebrate. In a world where there are still Conservative Jews and colleagues who reflexively believe that in looking over their right shoulder they will see the “real” Judaism, these young rabbinical students demonstrate that the movements in Judaism are not a linear construct from “more authentic” to “less authentic” but rather the movements present very different messages about the meaning of our Judaism and the visions by which we are to live. If one wants to still hold onto a linear approach to Jewish life, there are many minyanim in Jerusalem available. But if one wants to see a vision of a world of shared religious leadership and a shared sense of responsibility for sustaining and –more importantly–growing and further developing the Jewish story, then this minyan with its strong commitment to egalitarian Judaism is not only available but necessary. One sees many men walking to shul in Jerusalem on weekday mornings, but only when approaching Moreshet Yisrael does one see any women. That fact alone should cause anyone who romanticizes with a “Fiddler on the Roof” nostalgic longing for Judaism to return to more “traditional”ways, to pause and reconsider the message they are sending. These young men and women are dedicating their lives by demonstrating the ability of Judaism to continually develop and reflect the best of the world that it finds itself in at any moment. In the world in which we live today, where women and men are doctors and lawyers, teachers and nurses, CEOs and line workers, believing that Judaism should present a vision that gender alone determines access to religious leadership and responsibility is not only foolish, it is dangerous. I affirm that there are various visions of Judaism, but I am partial to and embrace unapologetically a Judaism that sees egalitarianism and a serious commitment to engaged observance as necessary underpinnings of its religious basis.
There are those who would see the many gender divided minyanim flourishing in Jerusalem and the one egalitarian minyan and say “if only we were more like them!!” Not me, walking into my parents shul home for these last 27 years, spending my professional life toiling to build a serious and egalitarian Jewish community in Mendota Heights, I celebrate our vision and our determination to honestly present a compelling vision of a world that is open, accessible, honest and responsive to the real world in which we really live.