Ugh, why would I want to go and hear a speaker like that, I say to myself. To be fair though, my husband and I do belong to an Orthodox shul. We also belong to a Conservative one, the local Chabad, and on some occasions, we attend events at the Reform synagogue as well. We support all Jews in our community and find inspiration with every congregation and many jewish organizations.
Therefore, why would, I, a Non-Orthodox Jew very comfortable in my spirituality and practice, care what this speaker, Allison Josephs, has to say about being an “Orthodox Jew in the City.”
You don’t say “no” to a Rebbezin, no matter who you are or what you believe.
”Okay Chamie,” I tell her, “I’ll come tonight after Shabbat for the Oneg.”
And to myself I say, but, I am not coming to tomorrow’s event at the JCC, or the women’s only breakfast on Sunday. I will come only tonight. The kids had gone to bed, my husband is home so fine, I’ll go. I don’t want to go, but I’ll go.
Fast forward to a few hours later that evening, to the end of Allison’s first speech. I..was..floored! In no way was I expecting to be that engaged and inspired after hearing her speak. First of all, I could relate to her. She was dressed modestly yet stylishly. She referred to the pop culture references that I know. We grew up in similar backgrounds and education. We had so much in common with how we saw our People and how we hope the world sees us. I listened closely to her give direct examples on how the deliberate misperceptions of mainly Orthodox jews in the media, are hurting all Jews around the world. That hit the nail on the head for me. In light of the recent events in Gaza over this summer, I personally spent much of my time on social media trying to increase support for Israel and educate, not just the improperly informed Non Jews, but other Jewish people across the country and around the world. These people quite honestly, are unaware that their limited perceptions on Israel are contributing to the rise in anti-Semitism everywhere.
“Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh” from the Talmud means “all Jews are responsible for one another.” The miracle of the Jews; such a tiny disproportionally small population on this planet, who have survived persecution and attempted annihilation over and over, are still here today. Why? Perhaps because we have consistently “loved each other into strength.” We come together in celebration and also in need, we support and take care of our weakest links. We therefore, are responsible for each other all the way up the range from ultra orthodox to unaffiliated. Sure, like I mentioned to Allison, there are some Orthodox people out there (some of whom I have met personally,) who give off a sense of superiority thinking they are the “real Jews.” Sure equally, there are some extreme left Jews (some of whom I have also met personally) who are biting off their noses despite their faces by taking for granted their Jewish heritage and the existence of a Jewish State. But, there are many more jewish people who believe in another passage from Pirkei Avot “Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.”
Moreover, I will paraphrase the Chassidic idea I love, which Allison also speaks to; ”It’s not what you are doing or not doing, its about what you can be adding to bring more divine light into your life.” I can support this idea, and I think most Jewish people can too.
So, back to that weekend with Allison as the scholar in residence. I came to every event she was speaking at that weekend, I could not get enough of what she was saying. I went online during her stay and familiarized myself with some of Jew in the City’s really watchable and informative videos. I read articles and watched the kinds of accomplished people she was having really meaningful conversations with. What Allison has been able to do as an advocate, fundraiser and inspirational speaker, not to mention as a wife and devoted mother of four, is impressive for most women and people in general, to admire.
At her final event (the women’s only breakfast I never in a million years thought I would be attending), I didn’t want the conversation to end. I came up to her and asked if I could be her “unofficial non-orthodox ambassador” for this amazing already well-established movement. She invited me personally to the All Stars Gala event in New York that would take place just three weeks from that Sunday. Guess what? I went. Who knew?! The event blew me away. The incredible people that were honored, the amazing contributions from businesses and professionals, and Allison herself who spearheaded it all. Now, to the final kicker from the Jew who initially, didn’t want to go and hear from a Jew in the City, I am now writing to you all as an invited guest blogger on the website. How marvelous is that? This is my big take away; we need to stop stepping on each other’s toes, here. We are all Jews with our own divinely deemed paths. We don’t need to come together only when there is a real threat to our existence. It is written that the Jews are, “the light unto many nations.” We are the teachers, the “Chosen,” not because we are any better than our divinely created Non Jewish brothers and sisters, but, because we have a different responsibility. Ask any teacher you know, and I am sure they will tell you; they teach better when they are standing on a foundation of solidarity and support from their contemporaries. So let’s stand together in strength and tolerance, by seeing the “light” in each other instead of looking for the “right.” I am truly honored to have this opportunity to share this inspired story with you. With love and light, Danielle Leibovici.
Photo by Rachel Renov Photography