By DAVID-SETH KIRSHNER
I took my children to an amusement park a while back. They could go on many of the rides but not all of them, because of size restrictions. Each ride had a different poster abutting the maze of stanchions where eager riders would wait their turn. My kids would sprint to the sign and stand parallel with it, batting hopeful eyes to measure their height. If their heads reached above the line of the poster, they could jump on board. If not, they rode the park bench with a disappointed face alongside my wife, who despises amusement parks.
One particularly twist-and-turn filled roller coaster allowed my daughter to ride, but not her younger brother. He was fuming mad. Fighting back tears, he asked why he was even allowed to enter the amusement park if he could not go on so many of the rides.
Judaism seems to be creating a similar metaphor today with every stream and stripe focusing on inclusion and making the “other” feel welcome, yet internally many are using language that shuts out people who are not in sync with their views and beliefs. It is an illogicality which sounds similar to the amusement park that markets for mass attendance but which limits our access to certain rides.
We have experienced this phenomenon with individuals who are quite welcoming, yet they believe in an authentic and absolute path when it comes to religious observance. They go so far as to classify those who do not observe in the same and “proper” manner as heretical, sacrilegious or not even Jewish. This anti-pluralism attitude proclaims, "For me to be right, you must be wrong." Sadly, this attitude has bled to conversations about Israel and the many portals for connecting to our ancient and modern homeland.
Allow me to share one example close to home. The Salute to Israel Parade in Manhattan is the largest pro-Israel celebration in the Diaspora. Recently, a vocal group of supporters has threatened to abandon the parade and protest on the sidelines if certain groups with more dovish political leanings are included in the march. In essence, this group is saying that to support Israel you must be in alignment with standardized views. To my chagrin, this group and others like it are gaining traction. It is not one-directional. These are a small sampling of a growing pool that excludes those with different views to big tent conversations.
This played out recently when Peter Beinart, a left-leaning Israel lover, had his speaking invitation rescinded at a large pro-Israel forum. Ironically, his rival, Daniel Gordis, who has dueled it out on the pages of countless news and web pages, spoke vociferously for including Beinart in the conversation. To deny him a forum is to silence the many voices that make up the coffee houses and buses of the State of Israel.
When I flip the pages of Talmud I see a Technicolor conversation dancing off the pages, replete with different opinions, traditions, and customs, all meant to share the 70 faces of the Torah. I see blues and whites and greens and yellows and reds, each shared with passion, thoughtfulness, and a deep desire to know the unknowable; God’s will. Not knowing what God wants is the very definition of pluralism. The Yiddish proverb, "two Jews, three opinions," celebrates the same. If so, then why are we painting in monochromatic tones? Shouldn’t we dip our brushes into the vivid palette of colors and share our different strokes? If all are welcome into Judaism, should we not welcome the rainbow of opinions and practices that they bring with them?
French philosopher Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you said but will fight until my death for your right to say it.” This maxim has guided the debates of Hillel and Shammai, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Reform and Orthodoxy, throughout history. It is time we use this model for those with different views on Israel. I am afraid that if we don’t, we may all be welcome at the amusement park but not allowed on any of the rides.
David-Seth Kirshner is rabbi of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, New Jersey, and a Hartman Senior Rabbinic Fellow