By Iah Pillsbury
Iah Pillsbury serves as Congregation Beth Adam’s Rabbinic Intern. She is a fourth year student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro redefined Judaism as a means for creating compassion in our world. For him, the ultimate goal of everything we do, and all of our Jewish sources is to promote goodness and kindness. Which leads us to the question of, why be Jewish at all?
At Beth Adam the answer was surprisingly simple: because of community. Our Judaism is a lens through which we see the world, that informs us and helps us become better, more fulfilled citizens of this world. Judaism helps us be more of who we are. This means that Judaism is an active process, something we DO and actively Choose on an ongoing basis. Not all members of Beth Adam are Jewish— because you don’t have to BE Jewish to value it and be an integral part of Jewish life and the Jewish community.
This semester in Bar/Bat Mitzvah Class we are studying the question of what it means to be Jewish. It’s amazing to me how easily our 6th/7th grade students understand that Judaism is Alive and requires them to be cocreatorrs. At Beth Adam we study how our legends were formed and how mythology effects how we view the world. We take Judaism incredibly seriously.
Rabbi Shapiro also takes Judaism seriously, but he advocated for a definition of old concepts, rather than a total creation of new ones. In his talk at Beth Adam, Shapiro used the traditional language of Kashrut, God, and prayer to make wildly non traditional arguments, and then, in the next breath, admitted that he never had the guts to change the Hebrew. He grew up as a boy in an orthodox home—the Tradition was largely written for him, by people like him—and despite his personal misgivings, Shapiro wanted his son to be able to say any blessing in any traditional synagogue. At his lecture at Hebrew Union College for rabbinic students, he told us how he rewrote the English every few years, but he didn’t have the courage to touch the Hebrew.
As a queer woman who grew up in a Reform community, I am all too aware that most of our Tradition was not written for me nor by people like me. Rabbi Shapiro felt that he could not change the Hebrew, but I don’t think we have a choice. How can I pass on a tradition to my children that doesn’t include me? Who would that benefit? How can I be part of that silencing?
Judaism has been evolving and growing for thousands of years, and it is our responsibility to contribute to its evolution—to make voices heard that have been whispering on the margins for far too long. We need all the voices we can get. I am excited for the future of Judaism because it is a future we all get to create together—building bridges and nurturing meaning.