Why I Can’t Quit B’nai Jeshurun

A Vibrant Jewish Community Trumps Politics

Mr. Abbas’s Drama: Not everyone at B’nai Jeshurun agrees with the rabbis’ statement about Palestinian statehood. But that doesn’t mean they are going to abandon the congregation, either.
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Mr. Abbas’s Drama: Not everyone at B’nai Jeshurun agrees with the rabbis’ statement about Palestinian statehood. But that doesn’t mean they are going to abandon the congregation, either.

By Jordana Horn

Published December 13, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.

(page 2 of 2)

The BJ statement did not reflect my politics, nor do the rabbis’ words in shul serve as a mirror image of my feelings on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace or others. But these rabbis do lead what, for me, is the most vibrant, engaging and Judaism-affirming experience I’ve ever had within the walls of a synagogue — and I cannot leave that behind.

Once you have tasted what it is like to truly be moved by a service — to be pushed to tears, to laughter, and to depths of feeling by liturgy that is centuries old — you find that you don’t want to go anywhere else, and that is the case for me at BJ. For me, every other service feels dry and cold by comparison. I go so far as to schlep into the city for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, despite the fact that the drive from New Jersey prolongs my fast on each end by about three hours every year.

In order to feel comfortable at BJ, though, I have to check my political leanings at the door. So why don’t rabbis do the same?

Let me be clear — I’m not just talking about BJ. I’ve been a member of various congregations in my life, and each time the rabbis opt to spend sermon time on a political issue, there’s inevitably a backlash. I understand that many rabbis must feel the need to poke their sleeping congregants into engagement — or at least, consciousness — with their sermons. And it works: Whenever rabbis talk politics, people listen, get irritated and discuss the sermons over their meals.

But when I go to shul, I generally don’t want to feel like a Democrat or a Republican: I want to feel like a member of Am Yisrael. I want to take my part and raise my voice as an active member of a Jewish community and congregation.

And that’s why I won’t quit BJ. I won’t quit because I believe in the ideal of a Jewish community in which not everyone has to believe a certain way or lean in a particular political direction. I believe in the ideal of a congregation that contains disparate politics convened under the chuppah of heritage.

And none of that will be any closer to being achieved if I opt to walk away.

Jordana Horn is the former New York bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post.



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