Tradition and Change Meet Here

Message from our President, Alan H. Silberman

If you are one of the “average” individuals interested in Masorti/Conservative Judaism — and my “average” includes rabbis, hazzanim, educators and lay leaders — you will read this newsletter, smile when you read about new developments and exciting programs and then return to your work. It is not surprising. All of us have other things in the Jewish and secular world that demand our attention and our affection.
The work of Masorti Olami is recognized by all as something that is good for Klal Yisrael, and good for the Masorti/Conservative movement.  But I’m afraid this is not very exciting for most people. We tend to be content with modest, semi-automatic acts of involvement, expressions of admiration and support, and perhaps even some fundraising.
Does it really matter if young men and women in Budapest grow from programs of social activity into a real kehillah with t’fillot and a rhythm of Jewish observance with which they feel engaged?  Does it really matter if we are working in Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles to increase the opportunities for Masorti communities, multiplying the number of Masorti kehillot in France?  Does it really matter if the leadership of Rabbi Gesa Ederberg in Berlin has put Masorti Judaism on the map within the German Jewish community?  Or, does it matter if new synagogues are formed in the United Kingdom?  Or, even if young men and women throughout Latin America are engaged in regular study programs with their rabbis?  We answer these rhetorical questions with an unequivocal and non-rhetorical “YES”.  It does matter!
We believe that approaching study, observance and community through the scholarship and inspiration of Masorti/Conservative rabbis and teachers is the foundation for the future.  We believe that it is the key to transmitting tradition and commitment to the next generation and beyond in a framework that adapts to the secular world without the diluting principles of Judaism.  We believe, in the words of Rabbi Alan Silverstein, that this is “holy work”.
The challenge, for all of us, is to be willing to confront our inertia.  Knowing about our work, and believing in our work, is unfortunately not enough.  The achievements reflected on these pages are the result of efforts by devoted men and women.  We need more from you than a smile. We need many more of you to join us in our efforts with contributions of time, and contributions, direct and indirect, of funds.  Please tell us that you are willing to become engaged in fulfilling our mission.  I, and other leaders of Masorti Olami, will be pleased to find time to visit and work with you to build, strengthen and renew Jewish life throughout the world.

Message from Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, Executive Director of Masorti Olami and MERCAZ Olami

You may say I’m a dreamer…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
-from “Imagine” by John Lennon

In our Jewish tradition we learn to dispute our great and mighty sages, so allow me to dispute with “Rav” Lennon for a moment. After a full year in my position traveling around the world, meeting so many fellow Jews, hearing a multitude of languages and being exposed to the culture of different countries,  I can indeed say how beautiful and enriched our world is with all its diversity.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting our Masorti communities in Paris, Marseilles, Nice, London, Prague, Madrid and Buenos Aires and to meet our dedicated board and supporters in the New York area as well. I’ve spent quality time with French, British, Czech, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Argentinean, Chilean, Brazilian, Uruguayan, Australian and other Masorti Jews and can testify how different they are all are from one another. On the other hand, because of our shared Judaism and the values of our heritage, we also have a great deal in common and care deeply for one another.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.

Here I agree with Lennon. The world, specifically the Masorti world, could be “as one” if we can imagine it correctly and work together to make it happen.  We need to respect the customs of each country and the Jewish culture that was created in those places, influenced by the traditions of the general population.
Masorti Olami is trying to do exactly that—to bring everyone around the world that identifies with Masorti / Conservative Judaism to one table of negotiations and become part of one movement. This may sound simple but, after one year, I can humbly say it is a challenging task—difficult but doable. But I’m not the only dreamer. Working together, I believe we can make it happen.