A progressive Modern Orthodox Rabbi friend of mine sent me this video a few weeks ago:
The video was actually made by another rabbi who I don’t know at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy here in Los Angeles. The basic gist of this little video is that we need to stop labeling each other as methods of division in the Jewish community, because we are all Jews. Period.
As a person who sees myself as one of the growing number of “post-denominational” Jews who see a kaleidoscopic aspect to Jewish identity—as opposed to one defined by labels and groups—this video thrilled me.
Now obviously, there are times when labels are important. If you are trying to explain to someone what kind of prayer environment you like, for example, you might say, “I’m Reform,” and people would then know that you don’t mind sitting with men in synagogue, or that you dig groovy guitar and piano as a part of your Shabbat experience. Or if you are looking to date and someone asks what you’re looking for in a partner, you might say, “Well, I’m Orthodox,” and that might indicate that you are looking for someone who keeps kosher and observes Shabbat, and you might even be looking for someone who doesn’t want to have sex—or even touch!—before marriage.
But what this video does is it takes a variety of Orthodox people—mostly kids and teenagers—and it has them all lip syncing to a lovely script talking about how we are all ultimately One. One as in One, you know? Like, “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai ECHAD” (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”). We label each other and it only divides us. There is beauty in our unity, even when it’s so diverse.
The faces we see in this video are so different from one another: The notion of Eastern European Jewry that dominates so many of our minds and perspectives is not the only thing we see here. Sure, there are some Ashkenazi faces, but we also see faces that look like they come from every corner of the globe. And they just might! Jews spread out from the Middle East thousands of years ago and we have lived everywhere, adapting local culture to make it our own. We are wanderers, and Israel is indeed the one place we are all supposed to fit together. Yet even that is a challenge.
Videos like this have to be the future of the Jewish people, right? Kids and teenagers need to learn to see similarities and not differences. This is not to say we need to ignore the differences; in some cases, we have to celebrate them. But this video got me remembering how hotly debated patrilineal descent was when I was in college, and then I started thinking about how many amazing Jews I know whose dads are Jewish but whose moms aren’t and who are fantastic, contributing members of this community. The legal halachic (according to Jewish law) complexity of these Jews is not something I am ignoring; but this video did exactly what it was supposed to do: It gave me faith that we are indeed One and finding the way to make that connection should be a major goal of the larger Jewish community, globally as well as locally.
Jews are not a homogenous community and we never have been. The images we see in the movies and on TV don’t express who we really are. This video, though, in many ways, does.
I commend Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy for their bravery and their creativity and I hope other communities will follow suit and find ways to unite their students and make more young Jews understand that despite our differences, there are things that unite us as One and that is our identity as Jews. Period.