It wasn’t supposed to be this way. There wasn’t supposed to be a distinction. There wasn’t supposed to be a divide. There was supposed to be one strong, unified Jewish nation. No Reform, no Orthodox, no Conservative, no sects. What has led us to this divide? What has led us to this tragedy? Whatever it may have been is beyond me; I am not here to discuss the origins of the different sects of Judaism. Instead, I am here to acknowledge the fact that there is nothing we can do now. There is no going back. Orthodoxy will forever remain traditional. Reform Judaism will progressively assimilate. Conservative Judaism will try to hold on, but it is unlikely that this will happen. Judaism has been, and will continue to be, adaptive to the times.
There is nothing we can do to revert back to the way things were.
There is, however, a simple task that must be carried out. We, as a collective Jewish nation, must open ourselves up to people of all different sects. Us Orthodox Jews must respect Reform Jews. Reform Jews must respect Conservative Jews. In order to keep Judaism alive in the world, we must cease this separation and instead opt for unity. We must return to being that united Jewish front that escaped slavery in Egypt and accepted the word of G-d. Things are different, I will give you that, but the same basic need to live in harmony remains.
Some of you may be wondering what a naive teenager would know about accepting different types of Jews. I would know. Trust me, I would know. My personal journey toward acceptance began this past summer. Prior to this summer, I often saw other teenagers walk around in the JCC or shul and ignored them. I didn’t give them the time of day. I knew nothing of them personally, but I knew they were not Orthodox and therefore I thought they were not worthy.
There came a point this past year where I had a realization. I realized that my close minded discrimination was illogical and, quite frankly, moronic. With a new outlook on sect acceptance, I set out on a journey to broaden my horizons. The results have been staggering. I can sit here and proudly write that I have an entire group of Conservative and Reform friends, I am the Vice-President of a Pluralistic youth chapter in BBYO, and I have learned to accept my fellow Jew, despite our distinctly different backgrounds. I have learned not to judge based on a simple affiliation. I have learned to be open to things that stray from the norm. My life has changed for the better this past year and I intend on spreading my experiences with the rest of my Orthodox peers.
Once my journey was underway, I realized that, at the end of the day, we are all Jews. I may believe the Torah came from G-d, and my friend at public school may believe G-d had no hand in the Torah’s creation. I may feel he’s wrong and he may feel I’m wrong. If I learned anything from operation Pillar of Defense, if I learned anything from the countless nights tossing and turning in my bed because I was too concerned for my brother’s well being to sleep, it’s that if the Jewish nation doesn’t come together, the Jewish nation will be no more. Ultimately, I didn’t care that my opposite-sect friends held different ideological beliefs. Ultimately, I realized that I love them no matter their beliefs. I love them for the good, Jewish people they are. I love them because, if you strip away all of the superficial things, if you look past the nitty gritty details of who believes what, we are Jews all the same.
I’m not endorsing Reform or Conservative ideologies, nor am I encouraging the Orthodox members of our community to stray away from Orthodoxy. What I’m encouraging is simple. I’m encouraging the members of our community to open their eyes and open their minds. I’m encouraging members of our community to make an effort to broaden their horizons, to branch out and delve into the beliefs of other sects of Judaism. Ignorance has no right to hate. I encourage you, the man or woman reading this right now, to look into the beliefs of other sects, to try to be more accepting of the people they are, to try to understand that, no matter what laws we abide by, no matter what version of G-d we may believe in, and no matter how different our core ideologies may be, we remain, now and forever, Jews all the same.