Katie B., a Spring 2016 student, is a junior from Minnetonka, Minnesota. She is a member of Temple Israel of Minneapolis.
On March 22, EIE visited and toured Hebrew Union College. We sat and listened to three rabbis as speakers from the different movements of Judaism. They lectured about their understanding of Judaism and the way Jews should live their life in today’s world.
The first speaker we heard from was a rabbi from the Conservative movement. He first explained what the Conservative movement is and that it formed from the struggle of being pulled between traditional practices of Judaism and modern times. He said while we obviously can’t live exactly how the Torah tells us to, we can’t lose the roots and values of Judaism. The Conservative movement looks to halacha as a guide to daily life. Though this daily life is very demanding, it is also flexible, intellectually open, and honest. The Conservative movement is shrinking because many people end up swaying towards orthodox or reform lifestyles. One of the most surprising things he said was that to him, and the Conservative movement, many EIE students are not be considered to be Jewish according to halacha. He stressed how important it is to keep Jewish values and traditions. I agree with him that we need to remember these aspects of Judaism and find a way they can fit into everyday life.
The next person that spoke was a Modern Orthodox rabbi. I was expecting to see a traditionally dressed rabbi with peyot and was surprised when he came in wearing jeans and a knit kippah. He seemed surprisingly relaxed and casual. He first told us about his past and how he decided to become orthodox. He was a teacher at EIE until a few years ago when he realized he needed to be in a more observant setting. A lot of the things he explained were very new concepts to me. He told us that most Jews are colonized, and that God is a colonized word; he prefers to use the word Hashem. The word God often brings a mental picture of some magical guy in the air that controls everything. To him, that is like idol worshipping. Hashem is the creator of all things and gives life to everything. Hashem is everywhere, and in everything.
He spent a lot of time discussing Israel and what he thinks of the government. He said right now is the time for us to build the soul and direction of the country. He had very strong opinions that were often somewhat offensive. For example, he said Reform Judaism is not a real way of faith and that it’s very self-involved, which is not what he believes Judaism is supposed to be. Just like the Conservative rabbi before him, he said many of us are not halachically Jewish in his eyes. Personally though, he was the most interesting speaker of the day for me. It was so interesting to hear this perspective, especially from someone who comes from a very similar background to me. His lecture made me question many of my ideas and values and made me continue to think about these things long after he was done speaking.
The last speaker we heard from was a Reform rabbi. The first things he said were in opposition to the Orthodox speaker. He told us that we were all Jewish in his eyes and explained why Reform is the best way of being Jewish. He said bloodlines don’t matter, and we should not obsess about who is or isn’t a Jew. The mission of being a Reform Jew is to make the world a better place, that God is meant to make us better people, and that we should not be defined by our belief in God. In addition, I really liked how he talked about Reform Jews fighting for religious rights. I enjoyed many of the things he had to say, though after hearing the other speakers, I was a bit critical. Though he was very outgoing and personable, this speaker was the least interesting to me.
During our time at Hebrew Union College, we also toured the campus. It was beautiful, to say the least. Covered with Jerusalem stone and so much history, it was awesome to see where so many Reform rabbis study (including my own rabbis back home). Every student on the HUC campus is there because they want to discover more about Judaism and their Jewish identity. We heard some of the students tell us why they want to become rabbis and study Judaism all day long. It made me feel really proud to be a Jew.
Overall it was a really informative and interesting tiyul. I learned about the different movements of Judaism and began to really think about where I fit in. I do not know what my opinions on all of this is yet, but these speakers really made me think and want to find out.