This past week we had the honor of hosting the “Traveling Chassidim” (google them!) at our annual Jfx Shabbaton weekend retreat.
We have been running these retreats for about 16 or 17 years, and every year we bring in a guest speaker whom we hope will inspire and educate our community, and connect personally over the weekend as well. This year we were trying something different. We were going to bring in six Chassidic families who travel all over to different communities bringing their signature spirit, singing and dancing, and breaking down barriers within the community.
To be totally honest, I was a little nervous. I hadn’t ever seen them in action. Could Chassidic families from Brooklyn, New York and Rockland County really connect with our families from Solon and Shaker Heights? Could they answer all the questions that our community members had? What if the conversations touched on controversial issues such as dating and marriage, dress code, and worst of all, vaccinations?
But I had been reassured by friends in other communities that they had hosted the Traveling Chassidim, and it had worked out beautifully. So we decided to throw caution to the wind and trust the process.
Well, I do not have enough words to express our elation at how everything went. These families were so open to discussing anything that came up. They were actually very experienced in dealing with a diverse array of Jews from many different standpoints. And in one of my favorite surprises of the weekend, our own 16-year-old daughter and her gaggle of friends stayed up till 3 o’clock in the morning having DMCs with the Chassidic women.
I think that sometimes we are very protective of our dear Jfx community. We only want to bring in guest speakers who are five star. We only want to bring in messages that are on par with our own and will create positive vibes. But sometimes it is interesting to see what happens when we connect with people who are different from ourselves, and have enough faith in the power of two human beings’ souls touching one another.
Maybe the lesson here is that messages should not always be curated, and that exposure to people who are different from you is a good thing.
In the Torah portion of the week, we read about the Jewish people coming to encamp at the foot of the mountain in anticipation of receiving the Torah. There, at Mount Sinai, the Talmud states that they came together as a single human being, like one person with one heart.
I don’t think that kind of unity is possible without a lot of hard work. Suspending judgment and accepting those who are radically different from ourselves, in looks, in ideology, even in politics, takes a lot out of us. But Jewish unity, as one of the Chassidic rabbis told us, is the greatest single defense against anti-Semitism. Abraham Lincoln famously said that ”a house divided cannot stand,” and the flipside of this is that a house united cannot fall.
I am grateful to the Traveling Chassidim for their generosity of spirit and time. But mostly I am humbled in the face of the power of Jewish unity. This is the power that will save and heal the Jewish people. This is the power that can save the world.