My study partners and I examined texts, batted around ideas about being Jewish and American -- and revealed some of the most personal aspects of our lives.
I had never met the five men at the table before tonight, and yet with very little small talk, we jumped right into an examination of the essence of our identity as Americans and as Jews.
That some of us were Orthodox, others Reform, Reconstructionist or simply Jewish, was a fact lost as soon as the conversation began -- which was the point of "Meeting In Torah," an evening of interdenominational study at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' Westside facility, sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, a Federation-affiliated agency.
Later we would sing together to the music of Sam Glaser, then gather in different groups with different rabbis.
The buzz of learning enveloped the 250 people, including 15 rabbis, who sat at conference tables in two rooms, and spilled over into the lobby.
In my group, Abraham, who had come from Iran in the midst of the hostage crisis, spoke of the intermingling of his two identities: He was able to enter America more easily because he was a Jew, and he could practice Judaism more freely because he is an American.
Salvador tapped into the idea, brought through Biblical and Talmudic texts, that we are responsible not only to the Jewish community, but to all those around us.
Allen grappled with the question of whether he had more in common with other Americans, or with Jews from anywhere in the world.
Most of us in my group came to the conclusion that in an inexplicable way, there was something remarkable about the common language all Jews share, where creating a connection with someone you've never met comes naturally.
We weren't talking about ourselves. But we may as well have been. The connection was there. The shared experience was there. And for one evening, at least, the differences disappeared.