Being One Without Being the Same: A Vision for Orthodox and Secular Jews

It is time for those who want to be a part of a Jewish community - any Jewish community - to focus on the ties that bind us together as opposed to those that pull us apart.

I am a product of a movement, the Conservative Movement, to be precise. As a child, I went to a Conservative synagogue, attended a Conservative summer camp, and helped lead a Conservative youth group. Today, I work for three distinct Conservative (or as its known in Israel, Masorti) movement institutions, and I'm studying in a fourth. My Judaism is firmly rooted not only in the values of Conservative Judaism, but in its institutions.

I am happy with these affiliations, and I do not seek to give them up. But something is missing from my Jewish life. In fact, in my 28 years, 24 of them have been spent in exclusively Conservative-affiliated communities. What I experienced in those four other years—the years I spent as a member of the Hillel at Harvard University— serves as the basis for the Jewish community that I hope to create.

Year end

What I experienced at Hillel was a place that enforced my own Jewish values while introducing me to new ones. I continued to pray in the Conservative minyan at school, while I ate my meals, studied classes, and just spent time hanging out with Jews of all different stripes. They challenged my beliefs, introduced me to new customs, and most importantly, opened my world to new groups of people.

Now that I have been away from this world for more years than I was in it, I know that I want it back. The same religion that has been such a positive force in my life creates divisions in Israel. People are proud not only to proclaim their own religious affiliation but quick to disown any other identities. Rather than seeking to create inclusive communities, people tend to define themselves by who they are not.

It is time for those who want to be a part of a Jewish community- any Jewish community- to focus on the ties that bind us together as opposed to those that separate us. We do not need to find a common ground to enjoy being with one another. I do not intend to pray in a place that separates men and women, nor do I expect my Orthodox friends to respond to a woman leading services. But that does not mean that we cannot learn from one another.

If Israel strives to be a model for Jewish communities throughout the world—and despite its failures, it certainly should—Israel should be the breeding ground for new, pluralistic Jewish communities in the style of Hillel. Jews in this country can and should learn together, eat together and play together, even when we do not pray together, or even pray at all.

Many synagogues in Israel, as abroad, strive to be places where people do much more than pray. The most successful synagogues have weekly classes, potluck dinners, and weekly meetings of Bar Mitzvah students. Now imagine if our synagogues joined forces, offering a variety of teachers each providing their own perspectives, brought Jews of different beliefs together for meals, and allowed religious and secular Jews alike to discuss what adulthood means to them as they begin adolescence.

This vision may seem far-off in today's Israel with all of its religious tension. However, instead of waiting for the religious tension to die down, we should be the ones to fix it. If American universities are able to bridge the gaps among Jews while allowing them to maintain their identities, surely we can create similar communities in the Jewish state.

Arie Hasit is an educator at Ramah Programs in Israel and is beginning the Israeli bet midrash program at the Schechter institute. The views expressed in this article are the author's alone.