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So I did end up going to KI for services today. They were OK, and I can see that Rabbi Sussman is probably more intellectual than most Reform Rabbis... But I saw that there are still significant things that annoy me about Reform Judaism. For one, the whole idea of the suburban, upper middle class Jewish ideal, which is so obvious in a Reform community. I guess it's ingrained in me, too, but...I guess I've learned to be aware of it, at least, rather than just accepting it as good... Well, I guess that comes from Swarthmore, doesn't it? I also really realized something else on the comparison between Reform and Reconstructionist Judiasm. I think Reform really does feel like it's your responsibility to be Jewish, it's your responsibility to contribute to and be a part of the Jewish community, it's your responsibility to raise kids Jewish, and so on. So Reform make that responsibility as easy as possible, but...there's still the expectation that you don't necessarily WANT to do it. Or if you do, it's because you want to contribute to the community, or you feel that it's your duty from God. But the idea of wanting to do it for yourself, because you think Jewish traditions themselves are valuable and interesting, and that they're actually meaningful... I don't think Reform has as much room for that. I may be wrong on this, and Reform synagogues do talk about community a lot, but I still feel like there's less actually wanting to be a part of the community, and more getting brownie points for being a "good member" of the community. Well, I don't know maybe that is just my experience, but... I'm pretty sure Reconstructionism has a stronger focus on actually making people WANT to be Jewish, and on showing why the traditions themselves should be meaningful and important. Well, hmm, I was starting to think that that meant Recon is more focused on Jewish history (and culture) where Reform is focused on community, but maybe that doesn't exactly work, since Reconstructionist does really try to build a sense of community... But...oh, actually one thing I was thinking of at services, Reform does a lot of things for APPEARANCES. That's what really annoys me about it (and what really annoys me about that suburban, upper middle class Jewish ideal, really). That was why I liked Edward Parrish so much--because he blasted Magill for wanting to do things just for APPEARANCES. Parrish, on the other hand, would never do something just for appearances--if he did something, he wanted it to be really meaningful. I think Reconstructionist really tries to give things a deeper meaning, like Parrish would have, where Reform Judaism figures that nobody really cares, they just want to get on with their lives, so you might as well try to look good...

On a separate note, I was also somewhat annoyed with the sermon, which I had really been looking forward to. Well, I guess hearing Rabbi Sussman give a sermon was my main reason for going there, to hear what an intellectual Reform perspective would be like... He was talking about the Israeli pullout from Gaza, and how great it was, and how Israel handled it so well. And actually, even though I haven't followed that all that closely, I really agree with the decision; I think it's good for Israel's own interests, and it's also really good to at least try to let the Palestinians have some freedom. But he was only talking about how great Israel was, and how Jews HAVE to support Israel, and giving the entirely one-sided perspective that the mainstream Jewish community has. I mean, I AM relatively pro-Israel, and I definitely think Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews. And I really believe something that I mentioned last night, that people in my grandparent's generation couldn't dream of criticizing Israel, because they were alive when it was still a dream, and then they saw it actually created, so it's still something really special to them. Where people in our generation take Israel for granted, and we can be more critical of things Israel has done, because, well, Israel HAS done some bad things, and Jews SHOULDN'T be expected to just blindly support Israel just because it's the Jewish state. I was actually a little shocked at one part of what Rabbi Sussman said, that KI especially has to be sure to show its support for Israel in the wider Jewish community, to erase the stigma on the congregation from 60 years ago (when, I'm guessing, KI must have come out publicly against the state of Israel...) I guess I didn't realize that support of Israel was so expected in the Jewish community (or at least in the Reform community) that there actually could be that strong of a stigma for not giving Israel full support.

I should mention that in general, I thought the sermon was in general articulate, and he did go into some intellectual depth on why Israel's decision was a good one, which was interesting.... But, wow, I had forgotten how being pro-Israel is so strongly dogmatic, at least in the Reform Jewish community...

But I don't regret that I went there, I don't think, because it was interesting to go somewhere different, and like I said, even though Beth Israel's services are OK, and I like Reconstructionism, Beth Israel's services aren't perfect for me either... I do wish I could go to Reconstructionist services for Yom Kippur instead of my family's Reform temple in St. Louis, but ah well... It will be nice to actually go with my family for Yom Kippur, though, I think...

Oh, and I should also add, L'shanah Tovah

Date: 2005-10-04 11:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Rabbi Sussman extends an invitation to eat lunch with him after the holidays and chat. Call KI and say you are the local grad student who critiqued his sermon.

He is always interested in talking to people who are smart and emotionally fierce.

Date: 2005-10-06 06:16 am (UTC)
ext_248645: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, hmm... I actually didn't realize when I first read your comment that that was a personal invitation from him to me. (I had a midterm today, so once I finally started studying last night, I wasn't entirely focusing... And I'm still sleep deprived, but hopefully this will be coherent...) Did you pass this on to him? Cool... The thing is, though...I'm really uncomfortable with (and really bad at) debating, unless it's with someone who I already know well. And from the mindset that I had when I wrote this, it would be something of a debate. So, I don't know... I think it would be really interesting to talk to him about this, and I wish I could have while it was so intensely on my mind. But I don't think I'd be comfortable actually setting up a time to do it. This post actually flowed out of my head really clearly right off, but I'd be worried that I wouldn't be very articulate if I were meeting to talk about it at a predetermined time. I don't know, though...

Actually, it's funny, after I wrote this, the next place where my mind went was trying to explore exactly where this opinion comes from, and whether it's actually right to hold it. I realized that it's partly from the influence of Swarthmore's values, but also, that my mental image of Reform Judaism has some strong basis in a research paper I did on the beginnings of Reform Judaism. I do tend to think that studying an institution's history is a really great way to understand what drives it today, it wrong for me to see Reform Judaism as still being something that developed mostly because Jewish tradition looked "weird" to non-Jews (and to somewhat assimilated Jews), so they decided to make the services more like Christian services? And the other thing I have in my head is "Goodbye, Columbus", which was famous for characterizing the kind of meaningless Reform Judiasm that I'm thinking of... But even though that resonated with me (more than I realized when I first read it, actually...), is that a fair thing to apply to all of Reform Judiasm?

So yeah, this is why I have trouble taking a solid position to debate with... But after typing this, I am feeling a tiny bit more comfortable with the idea of actually talking to him, so...I don't know.

Date: 2005-10-06 05:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hey Michael,

Sorry I didn't reply to your last post. I haven't been keeping up with LJ so much this week.

I've never been to a service at a Reform Synagogue other than the one in my hometown where I was Bat Mitzvahed, so I don't know much about the movement as a whole. And I certainly didn't have a sense of Reform Judaism as the Judaism of suburban upper middle class Jews. In my hometown, the Reform and Orthodox shuls were near downtown and the Conservative shul was in the suburbs. If KI seems to cater to a certain demographic, that might be a function of its location.

Israel wasn't a huge issue in my mind growing up. My memories of Lance center more around the discussions he led between my classmates and me about classical texts and his emphasis on understanding the history behind holidays like Hanukkah. If his sermon was about Israel, that's probably something that's very important to his congregation and that he thinks ought to be important to his congregation. I've no doubt that he thought long and hard about the topic for his Rosh Hashanah sermon.

My advice: go to lunch with him. You already went through all the trouble to see him from afar. Now you have the opportunity to talk to him in person. I wish I could be a fly on the wall to the conversation you'd have over lunch.

Date: 2005-10-06 11:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Lance is a really nice guy.
He taught college for years.
He doesn't need to be debated.
He wants to make a friend.


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