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Not Your Dad’s Reform Movement: Rabbi Lopatin’s Breakfast of Discovery in a Reform Temple

by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

February 10, 2010 | 4:36 pm

I’m still flying from a great breakfast I had a big Reform shul on the North Shore, Temple Beth El.  What made is so special was that I expected some kind of a left-wing speaker on Israel, food that I couldn’t eat because while it might be dairy, wouldn’t be under hashgacha, and a sleepy, small Sunday morning crowd.  Instead, a packed house of 200 energized congregants of all ages clapped and cheered as General Effy Eitam, a member of the right wing of Likud, spoke about heroism and miracles of God in Entebbe and today.  While Effy Eitam is a strong advocate for all soldiers, on the right and on the left, following the policy of the state and IDF, he is also known in Israel by his strong stances on Judea and Samaria and for the Palestinians not being ready for their own state.  Some on the left in Israel have tried to get him convicted for inflammatory statements against Arabs.  Many his positions and some of his statements would have made him a stretch for my, albeit Modern and progressive, Orthodox shul.  But it was mind blowing to hear a huge Reform audience cheering him on as he talked about the need to say to everyone that, “We Jews are here to stay; go fish somewhere else!” – a reference to what you need to say to grizzly bears when they encroach on your territory.  The rabbi of the shul said that Temple Beth El was probably the most right wing Reform shul in Chicago, and someone said that Linda Gradstein – last year’s speaker-  of left wing NPR fame – was a lot more controversial! 
Wow!  As you may know, I see myself all over the map, when it comes to politics, on the right and on the left.  But if you read Norman Podhoretz’s book on Why are Jews Liberal, you might think that Reform Judaism is the religion of American liberalism.  Well, he needs to come to Temple Beth El.  I am happy for Jews to take any political stand which they feel speaks to their Jewish convictions, but I learnt from this breakfast never to judge Jews by their cover, title, or movement affiliation.
Many readers may know of the fiasco – which is historically true – of the shrimp served at the reception for the first graduating class of Hebrew Union College, the rabbinical college of the Reform movement.  Apparently, it was not done on purpose, but it scandalized the movement in the eyes of the Orthodox Jews who attended and for generations of Orthodox and traditional Jews till this very day.  So let me report: the breakfast at Temple Beth El was catered by Zelda’s, with CRC (the Orthodox Chicago Rabbinical Council) supervision, and not only was it catered by Zelda’s, but each table (at least my table!) had a sign on it that it was catered by Zelda’s, CRC.  Thanks to the new Reform movement I downed five or six delicious “mini” muffins – oy!  I would have been much safer with shrimp!  But this breakfast speaks to a new reality: Reform, Conservative and Orthodox have new ways of coming together, of learning from each other, of growing together.  We can never take each other, or each other’s positions, for granted.  Here at Temple Beth El, I was downing CRC muffins, listening to a speaker with a big knitted kippa, and learning how much of a divine miracle the existence of Israel really is!  Only in a America! 

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