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Avoiding the Abyss

Fighting society’s disintegration is a group effort. Just ask Moses.
Rabbi Justus Baird is a Senior Vice President at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He directs the North American Kogod Research Center and oversees the Institute’s interfaith and intergroup work. Prior to joining Hartman in 2019, Justus was the Dean of Auburn Seminary. He was ordained at HUC-JIR and is an alumnus of both the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and the Hartman Rabbinic Leadership Initiative (RLI). Raised in Texas, Justus lives in Montclair, NJ,

This summer, in the middle of a fifteen-hour drive from Michigan to New Jersey, I stopped to buy two old wooden doors from a salvage shop in Cleveland. I found the seller, a kind, middle-aged dad who I’ll call Jim, on Facebook. Jim renovates properties and has amassed a collection of old doors rescued from various job sites. His “shop” was a covered section of his suburban yard.

Jim had exactly what I was looking for: two matching solid-wood five panels, unpainted, 24 inches wide. When we pulled them out into the sunlight to look them over, Jim struck up a conversation.

“So, what do you guys do?”

“My wife and I are clergy,” I told him. “She works at a congregation and I work in education.”

“Oh nice,” Jim said. “What kind of congregation?”

“Well, a synagogue. We’re both rabbis.”

I shot my kids a look to see if they were monitoring the conversation.

“Oh, you’re Jewish. My favorite person is Jewish!”

“Really?” I said, with false curiosity and a hunch about what was coming next.

“Yeah, Jesus Christ! You know, there’s a Jewish cemetery across the way from our house. Sometimes I do some tree work over there. I tell my friends that Jewish cemetery is proof the Bible is true.”

He paused for a second to make sure I was listening. I nodded for him to continue.

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