“Unity starts from the top,” says Rabbi Yaakov Luban, executive rabbinic coordinator of the Orthodox Union and rav of Ohr Torah in Edison, New Jersey, who swapped pulpits this past year with Rabbi Steven Miodownik of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park.
The OU’s Community Pulpit Swap Synagogue program, under the direction of Frank Buchweitz, OU national director of community services and special projects, set this rabbinical matchmaking into motion.
“It’s an opportunity to hear a different perspective,” says Buchweitz. “More importantly, it’s a chance for communities to connect with each other.” The program targets shuls primarily in the New York metropolitan area.
The shteller-sharing, often falling out on Tzom Gedaliah, takes place between Minchah and Ma’ariv. “Our welcoming one another into our shuls is a sign of the relationship between the rabbanim,” says Rabbi Luban.
Apparently, the idea has made its way south. Disturbed by the news from Beit Shemesh, Rabbi Adam Starr of the Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta, Georgia got the rabbis of the local Chabad, Sephardic and other Orthodox shuls in his area to swap pulpits this past Aseret b’Tevet. “People don’t realize that rabbanim from different shuls actually talk and relate to one another,” he says. “It’s good to hear other Jewish voices. We could all learn from one another.”
Even if they don’t necessarily always see eye-to-eye.
“My concern was that the gesture would seem disingenuous if the message was that we’re all the same and we don’t disagree,” says Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta who made sure the program’s announcement made clear that although there may be differences in outlooks, they value each other’s friendships. “When I interact with other human beings, I see them as human beings,” says Rabbi Feldman. “When I just hear about them, they’re not human; they’re [just] wrong. We disagree on fundamental issues, but we love each other. That’s really the message.”
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.