Jerome Chanes, in his op-ed “Orthodox And Liberal, And Lonely On The West Side” (Oct. 26), asks, “So what happened to the Orthodox shuls on the West Side?” He describes the movement to the right in both religious and political affairs among all mainstream Orthodox congregations on the Upper West Side (with the exception of one partnership minyan).
While I share the observations of the sociological shifts that Chanes describes and don’t doubt that members of many congregations, as Hank Sheinkopf is referenced as describing, feel pressure to toe the line, I spend my days and many Shabbatot at a West Side synagogue that presents a stark contrast. Congregation Shearith Israel- The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, is distinctive in that our congregants are highly diverse politically and across many other dimensions, our congregation takes pride in its diversity, and we tend to keep politics and certainly partisanship out of our synagogue.
While many of our congregants are passionate about political, social and cultural affairs, and consider Israel a core issue, and while we offer extensive programming to educate and engage our community, our congregants feel no pressure for whom to vote, nor do they feel pressure to conform to a particular brand of Modern Orthodoxy. It’s no coincidence that the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, which fosters an intellectually vibrant, compassionate and inclusive Orthodox Judaism, is based at Shearith Israel.
As America’s first Jewish congregation, we are enormously proud of our historic and current contributions as American Jews, and our pre-denominational roots still color our attitudes today.
Executive Director Congregation Shearith Israel-The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue