A Voice Of Conservatism
Second of two parts
e can't expect non-Jews to respect and accept us
as Jews as part of the pantheon of peoples if we
don't show those feelings toward one another.
Stifled somewhat by the horns of this dilemma, the Jewish
community continues to grapple with its differences at the
expense of what it shares as a culture and as a
Dr. Arnold Eisen, the new chancellor-desig-
nate of the Conservative movement's New York
seminary, puts this notion of pluralism among
Jews and non-Jews high on his priority list. And
that's the right thing to do. Friction between
our streams, and our inter-stream indifference,
will kill us as a people long before conflict with
other religions does. For example, I'm appalled
at the gross apathy among Jews toward the
rising tide of anti-Zionism on university cam-
Eisen, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies
at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., is working in
tandem with a transition team and Rabbi Ismar Schorsch,
current chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Eisen
will take over the JTS leadership reins on July 1, 2007, when
In a striking moment when we talked in the Southfield
offices of the IN on May 8, Eisen said: "We've got to be able
to work with Jews whose blessing we can't get and to whom
we can't give our blessing; it's an imperative of the Jewish
people that we do this. It's also an
imperative for the United States that
we reach out across religious lines and
express respect, tolefance and coopera-
tion for non-Jews." _
Indeed, we must embrace dialogue
on both of these fronts, even without
The equation of Jewish identity becomes more complex as
growth in the Reform and Orthodox communities compels
the middle ground to re-
define and re-calibrate
what it is. Eisen realizes
he'll encounter diversity
at every turn as he travels
the U.S: as titular head of
the Conservative move-
ment. And he's ready.
"I do hope to achieve
a sense of how we can
all be a family of paths
inside one movement
despite the very real dis-
agreements that we have,'
Dr. Arnold Eisen
The movement bet-
ter stand up and take notice. Issues range from integration
of women into synagogue life to use of instruments on
Shabbat to the lures of assimilation on campus. Divergence
in thought on pressing issues of the day is the American way.
It's also a sign of vibrancy within the Conservative move- .
ment. What's hard is arriving at a decision without splinter-
ing the movement's mini-communities be they synagogues,
study teams or umbrella groups. That's why Eisen says the
rabbinic and teaching arms of the movement will decide the
white-hot issue of possible ordination of gays and lesbians,
not he, even though he isn't opposed to it. "I'm going to try
to convince everybody, insofar as it is in my power, that
there are many more things that unite us as Conservative
Jews than are going to divide us, including this
issue he says. -
"That's my fond hope."
For the sake of the movement, I hope he's right.
In terms of inter-religious outreach, there's good
reason for Jews to encourage Muslim-Jewish dia-
logue in America. If it can't take root here, where
can it? Failure to do so would be ominous. As Eisen
says: "The consequences for the Jewish people
worldwide would be bad."
In the pursuit of internal pluralism on the JTS
campus, Eisen will engage the faculty in clarifying
what it means to be a halachic movement. "I know
there are going to be different options;' he says.
Wherever that discussion leads, "we're not going to stop
speaking the language of obligation:' he vows.
He underscores that he would never support patrilineal
descent in determining whether a child is Jewish. He favors
conversion within interfaith families — a core Conservative
Eisen's new job is to strengthen JTS, but he understands
his obligation within the Conservative movement and his
obligation to Judaism. I applaud how he distills the essence
Friction between our streams, and our inter-
stream indifference, will kill us as a people
long before conflict with other religions does.
of his daunting role: "My obligation overwhelmingly is to
Torah and the Jewish people — and to God."
Here's the new ambassador of the Conservative movement
declaring the importance of Jews remaining Jews first. Says
Eisen: "I think we're all at the point where we're not going to
quibble what kind of Jews they are."
It's good to hear that he will purposefully reach out to
Reform and Orthodox leaders to bridge the Jewish streams
around our common heritage.
"My job:' Eisen says, "is to make sure that we can strength-
en the Jewish community as much as we can."
He really gets it. ❑
The hardest part
about having a
disability isn't the
disability, ft's having
your gifts and talents overlooked. It's
being left out by those who don't know
what you can bring to the party.
So do something nice for yourself.
Include someone with a disability in
your life. Discover how much more
we're alike than different. We can help
you make that connection.
Call JARC at 248-538-6610 ext. 349
or log onto jarc,org.
What's your top idea for strengthening
Is there a blurring of the lines among the
movements to the point of confusion?
Helping People With Disabilities
Be Included In Their Community -
All Through Their Lives
May 25 • 2006