One of the themes of many of my drashot and written pieces like this one is the fact that as American Jews we live in two cultures. Each of us decides how to navigate the tensions which sometimes arise and some of us live more in one than in the other. But even institutionally we see signs of the bi-cultural nature of our lives. For example, my graduate school program through Spertus Institute, a Jewish institution located in Chicago, is now on break for three weeks. There is nothing in the Jewish calendar which would indicate the need for such a break at this time, but most of the professors in my program also teach at Northwestern which of course operates according to the secular calendar.
For those of us who observe Shabbat but also participate in the general culture -- or in what I would consider American Jewish cultural traditions like going to the movies or for Chinese food on Christmas, or those who usually attend a party or go out for New Year’s Eve, this year poses particular challenges because both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Shabbat. Moti’s Market in Rockville offers a Shabbat dinner special every week and it’s usually not the typical Ashkenazi Shabbat dinner of roast chicken and kugel; I look at their ad every week and we always get their Shabbat special when it’s carne asada and sopa de tortillas. I’m curious to see if next week’s Shabbat special will be Chinese food of some sort.
The evolution of these kinds of specifically American Jewish traditions proves that we are not simply Jews who happen to live in America, we are American Jews. Our Jewishness influences our involvement in American society (for example on questions of reproductive freedom or separation of religion and state) but our Americanness influences our Judaism as well.
Because as American Jews we believe in religious pluralism, we believe that all streams of Judaism should have equal status in Israel. Almost five years ago under the previous government of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a compromise was proposed but not implemented which would create an egalitarian section of the Western Wall. Once again this week implementation of this agreement was put on hold because it is opposed by some of the Orthodox members of the current governing coalition. Coincidentally, the announcement that this agreement would once again be stalled came on Asarah B’Tevet, a minor fast day which marks the siege of Jerusalem which ultimately led to the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.
For more information see this article. Personally, I am disappointed but not surprised. While as an American I believe that religious rights should not be determined by how many people affiliate with a certain movement or denomination, the reality is that this is an issue of interest mostly for Diaspora Jews.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian