Greetings from Eretz Yisrael, where I’m privileged to be studying and traveling with a group of CCAR colleagues. What distinguishes this journey from previous ones: an opportunity for us to reflect on “using” Israel as educators — both in terms of intentionally creating meaningful itineraries as we lead groups (of congregants) here, and in terms of bringing this week’s experience back to our respective communities.
Our itinerary has been chock-full of the pressing issues of the day. We had mifgashim that have touched on the ongoing Arab-Israel question, gender, LGBTQ inclusion, and the list goes on. But for the moment, I find myself holding on to the interaction we had with the Druze outside of Haifa. Many of us (myself included) have encountered the Druze, and their world famous hospitality, in previous visits to Israel. We have heard of their vaunted sense of service in contributing to the Jewish State (as Arabs) by serving in the Army, often volunteering for combat roles.
This week’s encounter went deeper. We were privileged to hear from Reda Mansour, a prominent Israeli Druze who holds the distinction of being the youngest Israeli ever appointed as an Ambassador in the Diplomatic Corps.
Mansour was teaching us about the Druze and their desire to be an active part of the communities they are living in. Beyond their noted IDF service, he talked about the Druze’s longstanding commitment to building institutional relationships with the synagogue and church communities that are their neighbors. The Druze embrace the notion of surrounding themselves with those who are different from them.
Mansour went so far as to suggest a strong similarity between the Druze of Israel, and the Jews of America. Both communities, he noted with pride, have long records of engagement in the surrounding world.
Mansour also reminded us that the Druze have a very strict policy: a Druze cannot marry a non-Druze and remain in the community. Period. And they do not have a mechanism that would be analogous to our sense of conversion.
This seemed paradoxical. On the one hand Mansour’s community was open to assimilation. Young people are not required to dress traditionally. Everyone is expected to engage with the non-Druze community. And yet, their tradition does not seem to be equipped to deal with the social ramifications of that assimilation.
As Mansour repeatedly invoked his assertion that American Jews and Druze were similar, I couldn’t help but think that in one respect he was incorrect. We liberal Jews have worked hard to adapt (and we continue to adapt) our Judaism so that it fully engages with modernity. Our ritual practice has evolved. And the definition of a Jewish family has evolved with it. We’ve made room in our homes, synagogues, and communities for significant others who are not Jewish by birth – regardless of whether they are moved to formally convert. We’ve embraced this willingness to regularly reform our sense of (communal) self, because we recognize that the survival of a meaningful contemporary Judaism depends on it.
I’m grateful for the Druze for the warm hospitality they extended to our group. And I’m grateful for their devoted service to the State of Israel. But most of all, I’m grateful that our encounter reminded me how proud I am to be part of a tradition that has the capacity to grow, change, and thrive over time.
Rabbi Jeffrey Brown serves Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El in Scarsdale, New York.