In Hillels across the US, pluralism is sought after, grappled with, and left comfortably on the shelf with other concepts we understanding theory rather than practice, like politeness on the subway. The seemingly unanswerable question of implementation and understanding of pluralism looms. While a value established as integral to the Hillel mission, vital conversations around student censorship and acceptance within Hillels have pointed a flood light at the ambiguous yet desirable notion of pluralism.
I look to NYU’s Bronfman Center’s Friday night Shabbat services as a microcosm for pluralism in practice. On Friday nights, three services take place through Bronfman: Orthodox, Indie Minyan (student-led Egalitarian), and Reform. There is no expectation of commitment to one service, and students are encouraged to move around until they find a service that “fits.” At the end of the services, all us students converge around one long table in the Bronfman Center for dinner.
I’ve spent a great deal of time this summer grappling with the working definition of pluralism, a piece that’s resonated with me most is from a New Voices article by Daniel Levine, “The end-goal of pluralism is not to engage in an exchange of ideas in search of some objective truth.” We aren’t attempting to abstract each Shabbat service in order to repackage them all as one unified “inclusive” service.
On Friday nights, students at Bronfman are being given the space to practice their Judaism straddling harmony and cacophony. Our physical separation into three rooms for services serves to remind us that our practices need not be synonymous to be sympathetic. And amidst the recognition and honoring of our different practices, we still find ourselves at a communal table at the end of the night, united in the end, by an infatuation with the slightly soggy babka, and the question of just where is exactly did all the challah come from and why we can never seem to order the right amount.
As students at Bronfman, we are being entrusted with the task of remembering to come together around the table, remembering that the community we practice with is not the entire Jewish community on campus. It is an active choice to come downstairs to dinner and engage with our wider community, and it is the trust Bronfman Center puts in us students, to choose to not only build our identity in the familiarity of our services, but in the chaos of the dinner table, that makes our Jewish community on campus so unique, so loud, so nuanced, and maybe even truly pluralistic.