Rabbi Ellenson's Thoughts on Discussion Topic: Warm and Welcoming?

            As we move into the twenty-first century, the task that confronts your congregation and our Movement is how to make our synagogues and other institutions relevant, compelling, joyous, meaningful, welcoming, comforting, and challenging to the vast and diverse array of people who participate in our community and enter our spaces.

            If we are to respond to the challenges that lie ahead, we need above all to be aware of the larger American context in which your Temple is situated. We must begin by recognizing that ours is no longer a largely homogeneous immigrant community seeking to adjust to the United States. Despite the newsworthy and painful reappearance of antisemitism in unanticipated ways over the past year, American Jews have been accepted into American life in unprecedented ways.

            Intermarriage rates have soared and traditional Jewish communal attitudes opposing exogamy have undergone revolutionary changes. Old ethnic patterns that formerly divided the Jewish religious community are also no longer present. A vast cultural and ethnic heterogeneity – a heterogeneity that even now continues to grow – has come to mark the community, both demographically and ideologically.

            We must candidly admit that current trends have led many to abandon the Jewish community altogether. The State of Israel is often a source of debate, as well as pride, for contemporary American Jews. At the same time, the voices of women and LGBTQ persons have been empowered and have found novel expression, and in modern-day America Judaism there is a vibrant sense of religious revival and a renewed search for religious and spiritual meaning.

            All these factors must have a decisive impact on Reform Judaism and on the work of the synagogue. While divisions will continue to exist among the Jewish community in America, Reform Judaism has rightfully welcomed contemporary Jews of all stripes, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations to become full participants in the cultural, social, religious, and political life of our community. We acknowledge that ours is a diverse world and we struggle to be as inclusive as possible, even as we realize that the complete achievement of such inclusion remains challenging.

            We also must understand that Reform Judaism today stands at a crossroads, where trends of waning Jewish commitment and attachment compete with pockets of intense Jewish revival and knowledge. The task of your synagogue as a leading institution is to help all Jews strengthen those pockets. It requires recognition that such revival and knowledge will take place both within and beyond the denominational universe and the four walls of institutions.

            At the same time, the future of Judaism in North America, in Israel, and throughout the world depends to a large extent on the ability of Reform Judaism and your synagogue to maintain and revitalize Jewish religious tradition in a voice that is relevant and inspiring to the Jewish people today.

            The past has witnessed enormous creativity and efforts to meet the challenges of the modern situation. The years to come will require no less.

Rabbi Ellenson