So, you’re out of college, you’ve chosen a life path, you’re trying on the adult label and adjusting as necessary to make it fit. Some of the changes and responsibilities come easy, others not so much, and yet others don’t seem to have any relevance in your life whatsoever. Your bar/bat mitzvah was a long time ago, and you don’t have time or money for a synagogue membership and all it entails. Besides, it seems as though the classic model of synagogue worship really only appeals to families with school-aged children (and maybe the older ‘daytimers’) but, not so much for you. You probably also assume that you don’t have many options out there, except you do.
For most of my life I thought that Judaism came in three flavors: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. Eventually, I learned of another denomination (Reconstructionist), and then another (Aleph), and then of the many divisions within the Orthodox, and then the “just Jewish” or “secular Jewish” and then….I stopped counting and classifying. Did our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents pick and choose from types of Judaism? Mostly, no. They were Jewish. They attended a synagogue on the High Holy Days. They had Passover seders. They said prayers over Shabbat candles and wine.
Today, we are faced with myriad choices, not only in religion, but religiosity, spirituality, worship styles, food traditions, and so much more. To address this diversity a new movement has emerged, called Jewish Universalism. What? Another choice? How is this remotely helpful? Give me a chance and I’ll explain. The Union for Jewish Universalist Communities (UJUC) doesn’t want you to change who you are and how you worship. The UJUC “embraces the diversity of the Jewish world without judgment, conditions or requirements and asserts that all paths to the divine are equally holy.” What we hope to do is give everyone an opportunity to express themselves in a way that they find appropriate and comfortable.
UJUC is based on seven doctrines. The first and foundational one is “Hear oh Israel (and Humankind), Adonai is G-d, Adonai is One.” This is the Sh’mah, arguably the central prayer of Judaism, and the cornerstone of Jewish practice. The remaining six doctrines are:
- Jewish Universalism believes the Torah is divinely inspired and is Holy.
- Jewish Universalism believes all paths to the divine are equally Holy and that one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth.
- Jewish Universalism believes Judaism is a constantly evolving spiritual practice.
- Jewish Universalism asserts that all people who follow the dictate to love your neighbor as yourself are “chosen.”
- Jewish Universalism embraces Interfaith Families and unconditionally welcomes all people to participate in our Jewish worship and rituals.
- Jewish Universalism honors our Jewish rituals, traditions, teachings and texts and seeks to repair the world, Tikkun Olam, through acts of loving kindness, G’milut Hasadim.
Clearly, we don’t live in a world that works with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to Judaism. As a Jew today you want to embrace your traditions and culture, but at the end of the day, you are quintessentially American–that is, fiercely independent and open to change. Jewish Universalism does not look to create barriers, but to break them down. Denominations arose to allow Jews to express their differing levels of observance and to express their American identity in a way that encompassed their Judaism. These twin goals remain vital and the establishment of a movement that recognizes that a many-thousand year old religion is bound to have many paths is by its very nature a welcoming notion and welcome change. Besides, you don’t need to pick just one “flavor” you can be Jewish Universalist and something else.
To see Jewish Universalism in action, you can tune in on weeknights to Sim Shalom an online synagogue with live services. Alternatively, the UJUC website can refer you to local affiliated rabbis who can provide a range of services, from life-cycle events to individual or group teaching.