Before we say l’hitraot, I want you to look around at your classmates’ faces. If you look at each other, you see a microcosm of the Jewish people in its diversity.
Some of you are dark skinned. Others are light skinned. Some of you look Sephardi. Others look Ashkenazi. Some of you are Israeli born. Some of you have Russian speaking parents. Some of you have South African parents; and some of you have parents that come from my country, the one brings us Donald Trump, the USA! Some of you belong to Orthodox schuls; others belong to Conservative synagogues and some Reform temples.
TanenbaumCHAT is a place where the silos come down and the labels vanish. It’s a place where students encounter classmates who are unlike them and yet everyone studies together, celebrates together, laughs together and lives together.
Unfortunately, the reality of the rest of the Jewish world is that it is divided–between hawks and doves in Israeli politics, between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, between those in favour of women rabbis and those against.
Recently, the Kotel in Jerusalem became a battleground again between groups of Jews. A group that had gotten permission to hold an egalitarian minyan was jostled and harassed by a group of Jews who oppose egalitarianism. It was ugly.
But it’s not just Israel. Here in North America, we live in a world where the typical Jew in a Reform temple never meets an Orthodox Jew, and the typical Jew in an Orthodox synagogue never meets a Reform or Conservative Jew. We live in a world where it’s more likely that a non-Jew will be asked to speak from the synagogue pulpit than a rabbi from another denomination.
When you have no first-hand experience of another person’s viewpoint, when you never have a conversation with people who define their Jewish identity differently, you only know each other by stereotypes.
Not so at TanenbaumCHAT.
Under one roof at TanenbaumCHAT, you can meet an observant Jew, a questioning Jew, a liberal Jew who dreams of a day when Jews and Arabs will live together in peace, and a right wing Jew who believes that Israel must be strong and on guard against the Arabs every moment of the day–and that’s just one student!
At TanenbaumCHAT, you have met fellow classmates who observe shabbat differently and eat differently and pray differently. And sometimes this may have made you feel uncomfortable.
But I hope it also taught you to see the world through the eyes of someone else. I hope it helped you understand your own convictions better and that despite our differences, we are part of one faith and one family with one fate.
Let me tell you a brief story about the benefits of first hand experience with people who hold different ideological or political views. There’s a rivalry that’s heating up now in Israeli politics between Prime Minister Netanyahu and a former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Netanyahu is from Likkud and Barak from Labor. Netanyahu’s politics are right of center, and Ehud Barak’s are left of center.
The last time Ehud Barak challenged Benjamin Netanyahu’s candidacy, it was 1999. Netanyahu was the incumbent, and Ehud Barak beat him. Journalists and political commentators had expected it to be one of the dirtiest campaigns for PM. But it wasn’t. It was one of the most civil.
And I’ll tell you why.
In 1972, there was a Sabena Airlines jetliner that was hijacked to Israel by some Palestinian terrorists who threatened to blow up the plane with all the passengers on board. A brave group of Israeli commandos from Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli equivalent of the American Delta Force, dressed up in overalls and pretended to be airplane mechanics.
They charged the plane, rescued the passengers, and neutralized the terrorists. The commander was a 30 year old man named Ehud Barak, and one of the members of that elite unit was a 22 year old young man named Bibi Netanyahu.
When two people risk their lives on a joint mission, they’re not the same again. It’s hard to demonize and malign and mock another person after an experience like that. They don’t see each other as Likudniks and Labor, hawks and doves. They see each other as much more than any label can describe: they see each other as human beings–complex, conflicted, committed.
That’s the beauty and uniqueness of the TanenbaumCHAT experience. Whether in classes or during extracurricular activities, you have met and have made friends with classmates whose Jewish lives are very different from your own. You’ve made friends with classmates who aren’t necessarily any less passionate or committed.
Imagine a Jewish world where Jews who interpret our tradition in diverse ways, would listen to, learn from, and honour each other. Imagine a Jewish world where those who affiliate with a movement realized that the biggest danger that faces the Jewish community isn’t the encounter with people they disagree with but the fact that there are so many Jews who don’t want to participate in the conversation at all.
Imagine a Jewish world that mirrored the large tent of TanenbaumCHAT. You’ve experienced and appreciated that kind of world at TanenbaumCHAT. Now, go out and help shape the Jewish community of tomorrow to appreciate and mirror it too.