The Synagogue Council's groundbreaking Annual Unity Mission to New York City, just completing the celebration of its nineteenth, year, is an intensive two-day program for select Jewish leadership designed to spark personal interaction and increased understanding among Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist participants. The group meets with scholars and denominational leaders from CLAL (the Center for Learning and Leadership), the Jewish Theological Seminary/United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion/Union for Reform Judaism, Yeshiva University, and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation.
Check out the Photo Gallery! from the 2005 Mission.
In celebration of the upcoming twentieth anniversary of Unity Missions, the 2006-07 Mission will take place in Israel. Unity Mission and Shabbaton Alumni along with members of Amoodim will be the first group eligible to attend this trip, which is scheduled to take place in January 2007. Look here for more information as the Program and Planning develop...
The "Mission" of the MISSION
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According to Jon Brody, a Mission participant from Andover, "The Mission was a whirlwind 41 hours which literally started 7 AM Sunday morning and didn't end until about midnight Monday night. I will say that the spirit and demeanor of the rabbinical students at all 4 schools and some of the new fresh programs the schools have to offer was like a breath of fresh air and really raised my level of anticipation of what Judaism may become through the eyes of these new leaders. What was most striking was the level of overlap that exists now between the various religious groups: from the traditional Reform where they are putting on Tallit and Tefillin and keeping Kosher to the liberal Orthodox where they are allowing women to have meaningful participation in a service and breaking through barriers that have been facing them for centuries. We absorbed and observed so much in so little time that I haven't fully processed everything that I learned, or determined what I want to further develop into something I can share back with my community."
2007 Mission Participants in New York City
"Diminishing the Impenetrable and Painful Divide of the Jewish People" by B. Ariel Cohen Ph.D.
As someone who attended this year's Unity Mission to NYC, I believe the Synagogue Council should be very proud of the results of this important program. I would like to illustrate these remarkable and life-changing results on two levels: communal and personal.
On the communal level, the Unity Missions completely succeed in reaching their goal of bringing people together. It is very moving to see Orthodox individuals wrestling with halacha, especially its challenging areas, such as the issue of the aguna or of the role of women. Suddenly, there are caring faces to link to these hard issues, diminishing the impenetrable and painful divide the Jewish people experiences. To see Reform Jews struggle with how to reconcile their beliefs with the taking on of a more historically observed and commanded relationship to HaShem is very inspiring, as people strive toward menschlekeit according to their best understanding of what is entrusted to us as Klal Israel. Equally moving experiences blossom from all of our many branches--Conservative, Reconstructionist, Secular, and those yet unnamed in our hearts.
On a personal level, the Unity Mission gave me the sacred framework that a painful and perplexing upbringing as a German-American crypto-Jew simply could not. Ironically, it was a Catholic salesman who supplied the question to which the Missions gave the answer. We had just left an account where we had met with a rather hostile prospect, who treated us roughly and was critical of us and our product. Yet this salesman seemed cheerful and undaunted, leading me--heavy-hearted and, as a scientist, uncomprehending of the experience--to ask how he could be comfortable in such a meeting. He replied, "The prospects who are positive like the product and often buy. The negative ones feel passionately, and they are engaging with me for a reason. As I meet with them, they often become positive. The only prospect I can't work is an indifferent one." I was amazed. It was also embarassing for me to realize from this something very critical about myself. I had to acknowledge a frightening truth. My driving to Chinatown to pay cash to eat pork on Yom Kippur was most certainly not an act of indifference. But what to do with that passion?
Ah, the camaraderie of the Unity Mission, where I didn't have to feel afraid--where it was finally safe to be publicly identified as a Jew. Incredible--to learn of how, through times of joy, difficulty, even horror--Jews have striven to bring tikkun olam to a world so in need. Sacred--to see how, in the everyday life of the rude New York city drivers, in the cold raw weather, in the libraries where the silence echoes ages of learning, in the jokes and laughter and the skillful leadership of the Mission staff--we all came together with our myarid journeys, joined by the common thread of covenant and commitment. Going forward, how could I do less?
I turned to tshuvah, to study, to observance--that is, I emerged a better Jew. Nor am I the only one. There are many others who could speak in this same way, each with their own experience of hearing Sinai so much more clearly through the caring support of the Synagogue Council.
Our Rabbis teach that one who saves a life, it is as if that person had saved an entire world. What you do as a governing board and what the staff of the Synagogue Council achieve through these Unity Missions is just this, and through this, you bring tikkun to people and worlds you will never personally know. You create a true kiddush HaShem. May you continue to go from strength to strength in this holy endeavor.
Joy Friedman; JCRC Synagogue Social Justice Coordinator
The Synagogue Council's Unity Mission was truly an incredible experience and gave me a lot to think about, especially regarding my professional work at JCRC with these different movements--but it also had a profound personal effect as well. My understanding of the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements as theological institutions AND as they intersect with social justice was deepened by this trip and I'm still reeling from going from "Open Orthodoxy" to JTS to Borough Park to HUC to Yeshiva University--but as all of this absorbs I am sure to have learned and grown for the better personally and professionally.
Seeing Judaism in a shtetl-like atmosphere in Borough Park, where (I found out after we retuned) my father was raised, was an amazing dabble into what New York has to offer the spectrum of Jews who reside there. One of my favorite parts of the Mission was my 5:30 AM run on Monday. I got up before dawn, and when I turned back half an hour into it, I got to both see the sun rise and dodge Chassidic men in their black hats, suits, and curly peyes, diverting their eyes as I ran by them and the building my fatherís first memories come from. All in all, this was an amazing, cyclical journey into better understanding our people."