Every year before the High Holy Days, AIPAC hosts a Rabbinic Symposium in Washington, D.C. to provide rabbis with material they can use for their sermons. I am grateful to have the opportunity to attend this year, which is where I am this very moment, participating in informative sessions with about 200 other rabbis.
It’s a great pleasure to be in such a diverse group of rabbis from every denomination and to learn with colleagues from around the country, from Miami to Texas to California. (For the rabbis, their congregations, and for all the residents from areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey, there is a prayer that deserves to be said here.)
I enjoyed seeing many friends including Rabbi David Meyer, the first rabbi whom I befriended thirty years ago in California and who inspired me to become a rabbi. Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, is also here along with many other passionate teachers and activists – all of whom are lovers of God, Torah and Israel.
As is always the case, some sessions are better than others. This morning I attended one breakout session in which the presenter was effective in demonstrating her facility with Hebrew, scriptural passages and rabbinic texts. It was truly impressive, though I didn’t find the points she made to be all that compelling.
On the other hand, I attended another session taught by Rabbi Aaron Panken, Ph.D., the President of HUC-JIR. I was amazed, not only by his facility in Hebrew, Torah and rabbinic texts but also by the points he made about diversity, inclusion and religious pluralism.
For example, he cited the well-known Talmudic story about a disagreement between two great scholars, Hillel and Shammai. The story goes that a voice from heaven settled the matter, acknowledging that both opinions were “the words of the living God,” and yet Hillel’s opinion was deemed to be the correct one. Why? Because Hillel modeled humility and considered the opposing view, fully articulating it even before articulating his own (BT Eruvin 13b).
The entire symposium reflected this sense of respect for diversity and inclusion, more than I had experienced in previous conferences like this one. There was much more discussion about the value of bipartisan cooperation than I expected to hear and it was truly heartening.
I look forward to sharing more of what I learned during the High Holy Days. There is much more that we can do in the coming year to strengthen our connection to Israel and to insure that it not only remains a Jewish and democratic state but that it also continues to be a source of pride for all Jews.
R’ Moshe Tom