Just before I began serving as President of Masorti Olami, some 8 years ago, I visited one of our kehillot around the world and was immediately embroiled in conflicts, local, regional and movement-wide. Just after that, I was privileged to meet with our founding president, Rabbi Benjamin Kreitman, z’l. He asked me how things were going with Masorti Judaism throughout the world, and responded “Just like it always has been, yesh bayaot (there are problems). He immediately corrected me. “Not problems”, he said; “challenges”. Of course, he was right–and it is the word I hear everywhere in every language: etgarim; desafios; defis; problemy; herausforderungen; uitdagingen! How can it be otherwise? Our mission as Masorti Jews is a challenge. We are informed by and respect halacha while believing that authentic Judaism demands that halacha develops in ways that are consistent with our tradition and the world in which we live. We strive for pluralism and diversity. But we have a framework that governs the ways in which we go about our search and recognizes defined limits. We are, in essence, “challenged Jews”. Challenged to learn; challenge to rely on our texts, our sources and our scholars, be they ancient historic or modern. We are not monolithic nor are we governed by one temporal authority. And we are committed to passing all of this on to young people, some of whom want questions answered with certainty and others who want a world in which there are no rules at all.
And with all of these obstacles and issues, we work each day to meet the challenge.
We do so by transforming uncertainty and doubt into an asset. We do not reject uncertainty or variation in our understanding of our tradition. Just the opposite, we embrace those values because, when coupled with study, learning and practice, the range of our behaviors represents authentic Judaism that can be transmitted from generation to generation.
We strive for principled change without change in principles. We need to be excited and inspired by that task, and to inspire others to recognize that it is the core of Jewish life, and our Jewish future. And we cannot do it alone. During the past eight years, I have been blessed with the active support and involvement of our regional Presidents, Claude Machline, Gilllian Caplin and Joanna Kubar in Europe and David Raij, Daniel Kohn, Mario Grunebaum and Daniel Cohen in Latin America, and by the work of Rabbi Joel Meyers in every venue, together with many other men and women working with them — but we, as lay leaders, cannot do the task alone. I have benefited from the guidance and tireless energies of our professionals, Rabbi Joe Wernik, Dr. David Breakstone and Rabbi Tzvi Graetz — as well as the staff working with them to build Masorti Olami, Marom Olami, Noam Olami and Mercaz Olami. But organizational professionals, while necessary, are not sufficient to accomplish our goals. And we have enjoyed support of Rabbis throughout the world, who have placed no limits on their commitment to building our movement. But they, too, cannot do it alone.
The task before us (in which I pray I will be privileged to continue to contribute) demands the combined efforts of lay leadership, organizational professionals, synagogue Rabbis and individual men and women of all ages who will maintain our growth, enhance our depth and build our future. And, in particular, the message to our incoming President, Gillian Caplin, is quite simple: You have no problems; you have only challenges, and all of us will work together so that they can be met. Please join me in that promise.