ROCHESTER, N.Y. (Aug. 29)
One of the largest–and probably the most diverse–joint Sabbath celebration by Jews representing different modes of observance occurred last weekend at the Second Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education, convened on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology Wednesday through Monday, it was reported by Edith K. Schapiro, staff writer, The Jewish News of Metropolitan New Jersey.
The great majority of the approximately 700 educators–teachers, principals, supervisors and community workers–whose personal customs vary from non-observance to practice of the most Orthodox ritual, shared experiences of spiritual renewal.
Emphasizing respect for differences and urging recognition of the authenticity of various means of observance, the Conference planners arranged for eight different minyans, varying from Orthodox to “Alternatives to Prayer” and a “Teaching Service.” Included also were halachic women’s davening, a havurah minyan and an egalitarian minyan, described as “following halachic principles in a style that recognizes equality of the sexes,” Ms. Schapiro reported.
The Conference Shabbat, in its planning and smooth realization, “could serve as a model for people of different backgrounds organizing communal events and encourage them not to shy away from spending Shabbat together,” according to Dr. Seymour Epstein of Montreal, a member of the Conference’s continuations committee.
Having had experience with Shabbat observance at other large conventions of Jewish organizations, Epstein stressed the uniqueness of the Alternatives Conference approach. He said that for this Conference, the Sabbath was viewed as a unifying force, as it should be in Jewish life, and not as a complication to communal gatherings because of diverse practices.
SYMBOL OF UNITY EMPHASIZED
This theme of the Sabbath as a symbol of unity was given further emphasis by the presence and participation at the Conference of Menachem HaCohen, a member of Israel’s Knesset representing the Labor Party. He has been, both in Israel and speeches he has made throughout this country, an outspoken critic of the intransigence of the National Religious Party and others of Israel’s Orthodox establishment. He believes that religious and secular antagonisms must be gradually eliminated for the sake of the unity and strength of the State and its people, Ms. Schapiro reported.
At the Conference, people with divergent sets of belief either celebrated in ways they were accustomed to, or tested themselves in new situations. Epstein described the scene, as it unfolded through out the Sabbath day, as an expanded diasporas version of the atmosphere at the Western Wall, where Jews get the opportunity to see the various ways of prayer. The result is “to heighten people’s sensitivity to the spiritual needs of others,” he said.
The preparations for Sabbath observance began in early afternoon with the construction of an eruv delineating an enclosure around most of the Conference area so that the Orthodox could carry prayer books and many families with young children could push their carriages. On Friday evening, many of the women, each in her own way, lit candles and the dining hall was aglow as streams of people left to make their way to the sites of the various minyans.
Following the special Sabbath meal, at which all were again united, many attended a D’var Torah by Rabbi lrving J. Rosenbaum, president of the Jewish University of America, Skokie, III., on “thoughts of T’Shuva in the month of Elul.” T’Shuva, return and repentance, was also the subject discussed in the study groups held in informal settings on the Sabbath afternoon. They were led by several of the rabbis in attendance as well as lay leaders.
The various morning services had been followed by a Great Kiddush, the festivity of which was enhanced by the large number participating and their enthusiasm for the shared Shabbat. A similar atmosphere pervaded the Havdalah service held in a large courtyard at the Institute campus as three stars appeared in the darkening sky, signifying the end of the Sabbath.