This morning at Hod veHadar, we had a minyan. That's nothing unusual; we have one (almost) every Monday morning (6:30 – you’re welcome to join us if you’re in the neighborhood). The unusual thing was that each of the people who had an aliyah to the Torah recited a slightly different blessing before the reading: one, the traditional blessing – who has chosen us from all peoples; one the Reconstructionist version – who has brought us closer to His service; and one a more subtle adaptation of the traditional blessing – who has chosen with all peoples [does anyone know its origin?].
Towards the end of the service, three versions of Aleinu were heard, “who has not made us like the nations of the lands…” “For all people will walk, each in the name of its god, and we will walk in the name of Adonai Lord our God forever and ever;” and “Who gave us a Torah of truth and implanted within us eternal life.'
Cynics might claim that lack of uniformity is negative and evidence that the Conservative movement is wishy-washy. To the contrary, I think that our ongoing grappling with tough issues and desire to be true to tradition while not declaring things we don’t really believe is one of our best traits.
Afterwards, we talked about these differences in light of our varying feelings about the fact that the Israeli press highlighted Jewishness of one victim of the shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut. Is feeling closer to people who are part of our religious or ethnic community a natural trait to be accepted, a positive characteristic to be encouraged or a negative one to be overcome? I don't have any answers, but I think that dealing with the question davka in shul is important.
On the liturgical level, much of the discussion about chosen-ness and uniqueness centers around Aleinu. If this interests you, I invite you to join my class (in English) on the topic this Wednesday evening, 19 December, at 20:15 in the Hod VeHadar library. We'll discuss the history of the prayer, its text, meaning and our relationship with it. The class will include the material from the class after tefillot in July but go beyond it, so please feel free to come whether you were there or not.