Thursday, January 26, 2017

Our Reform Shul

 From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Our Reform Shul

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away (well, actually, back in the 1970s over in Forest Hills, New York), during a Confirmation class at Temple Isaiah (which no longer exists, having merged with five other synagogues decades ago), one of my classmates referred to our temple as Reformed, and our rabbi was quick and quite insistent in responding: It's Reform, not Reformed, we didn't do anything wrong!

This stuck with me all of these years, and it seems only appropriate to bring it up here and now, given that Rabbi Schwartz has devoted this year's Saturday morning Torah Study sessions to the topic of the Reform movement, not to mention the fact that the officers and trustees have recently sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu protesting the treatment of Reform and Conservative Jews wishing to engage in egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, in an area that the Knesset decided would be set aside for such worship.

As Reform Jews, we are reformers, active participants in an ongoing process of reformation. What we stress is the need for individual reflection and choice regarding our form of worship. Each one of us must decide for ourselves what aspects of our religion are meaningful to us. We are asked to make our own decisions regarding what rituals and practices are significant to us, what traditions we wish to embrace, what we do and do not believe in.

Of course, we must make informed decisions, which is why we value education so highly, for our children and adults alike. As reformers, we are not asked to discard all of our 4,000-year-old history and religious traditions, and we are not tasked with creating our religious experience by starting from scratch. Rather, we are taught to view Judaism as a living tradition, one that continues to evolve and grow, and does so through our own efforts.

As reformers, we are not passive subjects who have been reformed by some outside agency. We are active participants, asking questions, engaging in discussion and debate, we are seekers, learners, doers. Ours is a spiritual quest that takes us beyond rote memorization or rituals that no longer convey a sense of the sacred. Our goal is true communion, together, as a caring community.

As reformers, we are inspired by the Torah's call for justice, the ways in which it teaches us to see the face of God in every living being, and directs us to pursue tikkun olam, the healing of the world.

We refer to the Reform movement as a branch of Judaism, acknowledging that we do not represent a schism or separate sect, bur rather one of several legitimate ways to approach living our lives Jewishly. Affirming the unity of the Jewish people, we are reformers, but we do not seek to reform others, we do not claim that ours is the only way to practice Judaism, we do not deny to our Orthodox, Conservative, or Reconstructionist co-religionists the right to practice Judaism in whatever way they find meaningful.

We are reformers only in insisting that each branch has defined our religion in new ways, that no branch lays claim to a more authentic or correct form of religion, that no branch practices Judaism in the way that Abraham, or Moses, or Hillel did long ago. We are reformers in our belief that Judaism has a long history of reformation, and innovation. We are a religion of progress, and Reform Judaism is Progressive Judaism.

Adas Emuno is a Reform shul, not because we are less Jewish than the other branches, and not because we represent some form of light or lightweight Judaism, but because we are an assembly of faithful reformers. We are active participants in our religion, not in adhering to all of its traditions, but in working out how to be Jewish in the 21st century, and what it means to be Jewish today.

That is our mission. We invite all who share in our outlook to join us on this ongoing journey. And we ask all who are willing and able to support us in any way that you can.

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