Tag Archives | reform jew

Positive, independent self-definition: Something I can’t do at the moment.

Blogger’s note: The following post is only half of a real thought. I haven’t thought of/found the other half yet.

Required reading: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out and Reformim at the Conservative shul

In my junior year of high school (I’m estimating here), I think I can safely say that I was at my most entrenched position in the Reform Movement. I was on the board of trustees of a URJ synagogue, I was the president of a NFTY youth group, I was about to spend a second summer at Kutz,  I went to one of the RAC‘s L’taken seminars and I went to the URJ Biennial. I was really into this stuff.

And back then, one of my Reform obsessions was using positive statement to define Reform practice. I heard a lot of, “Reform Jews don’t do X” or “Reform Jews don’t believe Y.” And I was on a little crusade to come us with positive statements like, “Reform Jews do A” and “Reform Jews believe B.” The merit of such a crusade within the Reform sphere is a discussion for another time–though I won’t be surprised of the comments on this post get into that discussion anyway!

I find myself in the midst of two similar lines of thought now, one very different from the one I remember from high school and one only subtly so.

1. The one that’s only subtly different–Non-URJ Reform

Reform Jews began life (I’m talking 19th century Germany) by defining how they were not like other Jews, hence the negative statements of identity I discussed above. As time went on, we were able to move away from that and begin to define ourselves positively and independently, by what we do, rather than by what we reject. I think I’m facing that entire struggle all over again on a personal level. If, as I announced in this recent post, I am a Reform Jew, but not a URJ Jew, I am forced to go back to the beginning of the entire Reform endeavor. I must now begin again by defining myself in opposition to the URJ, through negative statements and must work my way up to the kind of ideological and intellectual self-sufficiency that will allow me two begin again the project of positive, independent identity statements.

2. The one that’s very different–Indie Minyans

I’m spending a lot of my time these days not only places that aren’t affiliated with the URJ, but in places that aren’t affiliated all. I’m talking about the organization I work for and I’m talking about places I pray, places like Chavurat Lamdeinu, Kol Zimrah and Kehilat Hadar. One of my problems in all of these places, as someone who is a little obsessed with ideology and intellectual honesty, is that I have trouble identifying the ideology. In many cases, there probably isn’t one, which I guess is okay, but it still troubles me. And in trying to articulate why I go to these places, I find myself relying on negative statements about traditionally-structured synagogues.

As Larry Kaufman pointed out in the comments on this post, “Half the fun of going to indy minyans is thumbing your nose at the shul you walk past on the way.” I recently met someone at a party who made me want to tear my hair about because this was essentially the level discourse that she achieved in explaining her love for indie minyans to me. Maybe it angers my because it hits close to home and I have some fun with thumbing my nose too. But that bothers me a lot and that’s a type of fun I want to get away from.

Whew. Moadim l’simcha.

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The Reformim in the Conservative shul

I went to Kane Street Synagogue on Brooklyn for erev Sukot/Shabat services last night. It’s a Conservative shul, but they have a Friday night minyan that has the feel of being an indie minyan, though it is far from indie.  Rather, it is the Friday night service of this affiliated, mid-size Brooklyn shul. I’ve previously written about KSS here, during my month of NYC shul-hopping last winter.

While there, I ran into to other Reformim. One is a URJ employee and the other was an HUC student. Hm.

I ask the following without wishing to insinuating that there is some crisis where none exists. What does it mean for URJ Jews when Reform Jews, who, unlike me, continue to associate with the Union go to services regularly, but don’t go to URJ synagogues regularly?

Of course, it was just a good as I remembered it, though the crowd seemed a little smaller. Last time I went, I arrived a little late and was confounded by the cluster of people who all seemed to be kind of leading the service. This time, I was there early so I got see that at the beginning of the service, Joey, the leader, just invites up anyone who wants to (“Even if you have no idea what you’re doing”) come up and help lead. What a great minhag! It also introduces a low-level buzz of chaos to the service, which I love.

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