Nebulous Jewish Ideas Daily

"Today's rising Reconstructionist leaders, little concerned with Kaplan's ideas, seem driven instead by nebulous notions of personal fulfillment combined, however improbably, with "progressive" political activism."

I was reading the JTA today and ran across a link to Jewish Ideas Daily with an article about one of my favorite topics, Mordecai Kaplan. I've never met Joseph Siev so I really can't tell what is behind his rant here, but it starts out in a good place and ends up with some truly outrageous accusations about me and my colleagues.

Here's the comment that I submitted.

As an RRC graduate (1997) I am proud to say that not only is Kaplan's vision of an Israel (and klal yisrael) centered Jewish civilizational approach still alive, but it is thriving. Our approach as reconstructionists is communitarian, it takes Jewish and secular law seriously (take a quick look at the groundbreaking work of the Center for Ethics at RRC) and it is having an impact far beyond any boundaries of the movement.

If you haven't met many Reconstructionist rabbis, here's a hint at what makes us a little different -- we are non-conformists to begin with and we are taught to challenge the status quo. Are some of my colleagues questioning Zionism? Absolutely. And it has become increasingly easy to point fingers at them and shry. But one could have also chosen to highlight my colleagues who have fully embraced the Zionist dream and have moved to Israel and are working on Kaplan's vision within the ultimate "normative" context. But the vast majority of us are in the place that Kaplan himself occupied -- critical thinking Zionists living outside of Israel. Kaplan was a Hebrew speaker and had the opportunity to travel to Israel, but he ultimately felt more comfortable on the Upper West Side. When I look around at my colleagues in the movement, I sense that the Israel-centered Jewish civilization still resonates with us, so we send our children to Zionist summer camps and Israel programs, we spend time studying in Israel or taking our sabbaticals there, we read the Israeli papers daily, and we debate one another about possible ways to keep Israel looking like the place we fell in love with at some point in our lives. But, for all sorts of reasons, we have not made the leap of packing up our bags and throwing ourselves into the ultimate normative Jewish civilization.

So we find ourselves working in America - many of us in chaplaincy (where we see the struggles that elderly Jews face in the health care system) and on university campuses (where we see the impact of declining investment in public education) and in communities across the U.S. (where we encounter an incredibly diverse group of congregants.) So, yeah, we adopt predominately Progressive views -- mainly because we still have faith that democracy and communitarianism can be forces for good.

You write:

"Today's rising Reconstructionist leaders, little concerned with Kaplan's ideas, seem driven instead by nebulous notions of personal fulfillment combined, however improbably, with "progressive" political activism."

This line is, uh.... a bit hyperbolic? I have spoken with over a hundred reconstructionist rabbis. They are not driven by nebulous notions of personal fulfillment (and if they were wouldn't that make them like all other humans?) but by a desire to serve something greater -- in this case the Jewish community and to quote Kaplan, the "power that makes for salvation." These rabbis mainly place their personal fulfillment as a distant second to their community's (and sometimes family's immediate needs) -- and do not receive the financial rewards or status points of others.

I am proud to be a part of such a community of rabbis. Does it drive me a little nuts that some of my colleagues have adopted anti-Zionsit positions? Absolutely. But anti-Zionism has been part of the Jewish community since Zionism was born. (hey, remember when the anti-Zionists were Orthodox and Chasidic rabbis? Oh wait, there still are Chasidic rabbis who are anti-Zionists? and they live in Israel? What????)

I'd rather be part of a movement that values open debate and critical thinking about Israel, about American politics, and about, well, just about everything. That's Kaplan's legacy. And it is one that I see my colleagues embracing and living out on a daily basis.

Am Yisrael Chai!