Sign In Forgot Password

Youth Shabbat Sermon 1

11/10/2018 08:45:38 AM


Jared Boretsky

Growing up in Montreal, I was exposed to a very limited image of what being Jewish means. As a kid, Judaism was exclusively associated with traditional orthodox Judaism. Surely I had met other types of Jews, but in my schools that I attended and of course here at my synagogue, it was this traditional form of Judaism that was shown to me.


In the summer of grade 10, I went to Israel as part of the Diller Teen Fellowship, where, for the first time, I had the chance to meet and connect with a much more diverse group of Jews, from across the world. Until then, I had only known Montreal Jews who were fairly similar to me. I suddenly met Jews from across Canada, the United States, Israel, South Africa and Australia. And these Jews were Reform, Conservative, unaffiliated, atheist, and yes, Orthodox. All kinds of Jews from all walks of life.


Meeting these new Jews drastically shifted my understanding of what it means to be Jewish. I remember one instance in particular, when a friend of mine from the United States got a tattoo of a Magen David. I remember seeing that tattoo, and immediately feeling conflicted. Growing up, I had learned that Jews did not get tattoos. I understood that getting a tattoo was against Jewish law, directly based on a verse in the Torah. However, here was a friend, who felt so strongly about his Judaism, he decided to get a symbol of his faith permanently drawn onto his body. Surely then, he is a committed Jew. But he’s showing it in a way that contradicted everything that I had been taught about being a committed Jews. It was a new and confusing idea.

In this morning’s Parsha, Toldot, we read about two brothers feuding. This is not a new phenomenon. From Cain and Abel, to Isaac and Ishmael, to Joseph and his brothers, Bereshit is filled with conflict between brothers. Toldot is no different, documenting the upsetting rivalry between two twins, Jacob and Esav. However, the idea of sibling rivalry is upsetting. My three siblings and I never, ever fight! Why does it seem that in the Torah, brothers are destined to fight, and that families are to be ripped apart?


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that the book of Bereshit teaches us that we can rise above these sibling rivalries. “Sibling Rivalry may be natural, but it is not inevitable”. The torah teaches us that through generosity of the spirit and active efforts of reconciliation, we can overcome this force that divides us. The story of Jacob’s children illustrates this so beautifully. Although the brothers initially fall prey to the entrapments of sibling rivalry, they manage to overcome it. In the end, all 12 brothers become members of the nation of Israel, each as their own tribe with their own identity and contribution. As Rabbi Sacks explains, “Only as a confederation of tribes can Israel exist.”


My friend who decided to get a tattoo, may have done something that I would never do in my own Jewish life. But his doing so, however, doesn’t make him less Jewish. Like the 12 tribes of Israel, we all bring our own unique values and character to the Nation of Israel, and it is only when we live together that the nation is at its strongest. Towards the end of my highschool career, through the Diller Teen Fellowship and other experiences, I started to be presented more views on how to practice Judaism, views different from my own, and my conception of what it meant to be Jewish changed fundamentally. I realized that to be Jewish is to not only be part of a religion, but to be part of a people, a nation. There is no one right way to be Jewish. For some people, Judaism means coming to synagogue weekly, or keeping kosher. For others, being Jewish means eating bagels and lox in the morning, or going on a birthright trip with other Jews. For some, being Jewish could even mean getting a tattoo of a Magen David. Even though I wouldn’t personally take that approach, seeing my peers so confident in practicing their own expression of Judaism, gave me the confidence to practice my own Judaism, which I learned from my schools, my synagogue, and my family.


On this occasion of Youth Shabbat, I think it is important for us to reflect on the next generation of Jewish leadership. Here today are many future leaders of the Jewish community. As we move forward into our leadership roles, we should be thinking about how we can help create a Jewish community that is more inclusive and diverse. We should remember that diversity is our strength, and that we truly are at our strongest when we are united as one nation, with every Jew bringing their own unique contribution.


Shabbat Shalom.


Saturday, May 8, 2021 26 Iyyar 5781