Religion & Beliefs

Why Be Jewish: Engaging the Sacred Pt. 2

In the 12 years that I have been connected in some form or another to The Samuel Bronfman Foundation –first as the Executive Director of the Bronfman Center at NYU, then as founder of Brooklyn Jews and today as Rabbi … Read More

By / May 13, 2010

In the 12 years that I have been connected in some form or another to The Samuel Bronfman Foundation –first as the Executive Director of the Bronfman Center at NYU, then as founder of Brooklyn Jews and today as Rabbi at CBE in Brooklyn and faculty member of BYFI ,  one consistent reality has never wavered from the ethics and values of The SBF–Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulam–the Study of Torah is equal in weight to all other mitzvot.  I have seen this over and over again and it’s a commitment shared by Edgar and Adam in their father-son relationship and is celebrated and appreciated by all those who work at the Foundation as well.  I admire it deeply. So to be privileged to take two days retreat high atop Park Avenue and think about matters of Torah–away from the noise and the commerce of the street below–is indeed an elevation into the realm of the sacred that I am always grateful for whenever I make the trek from Brooklyn to Manhattan for visits to 375 Park Avenue.  I also admire greatly the collection of individuals that the family gathers–rabbis, professors, activists, practitioners of Jewish life–all devoted to the highest attainment of the ideas and ways of Jewish life, as understood by its teachers for more than two thousand years.  Like conductors of a great orchestra, the Foundation puts together varieties of voices and perspectives that demonstrate a profound respect for and understanding of the Jewish past while pushing on into new realms of the unfolding manifestation of the Jewish people.  Put another way, you have got to bring your best stuff to these meetings–there’s a kind of athletic, intellectual competition that’s good for the body and soul of these Jewish conversations.  There’s always something to learn from a colleague; a new insight to understand about the family and its commitment to the Jewish future; and, with blessing, something to take away for oneself.  Amidst it all, there is friendship, warmth, and laughter.  This year, I left the conversation with two texts shared by Rabbi Shimon Felix, director of BYFI.  Shimon brought Chaim Zhitlowsky into conversation with Rav Nachman of Bratzlav–each a hundred years apart from one another but both long dead, though very much alive in their articulation of the sacred, albeit through a slightly different lens of interpretation.  Zhitlowsky brings to bear the modern person’s propensity to deconstruct our ritual relationship to God and Tradition, asking "what does it really mean that we do this or that?" and Rav Nachman allows such questions but as a person of deeply committed faith insists that despite our doubts, we necessarily differentiate between faith and doubt and come out on the other end of our doubting affirming because this is our way–into the world of an insistence on manifestations of holiness, greatness, awesomeness. There are truths we know and even when we allow ourselves to tell the hard truths of existence, our way as a people is to assert the holy and the sacred not just despite but alongside the questions.  This reality strengthens us as individuals and ensures that another generation of our people will once again sing songs of praise.