Call it a Brooklyn Jewish version of the red-state, blue-state chasm.
As the borough’s Orthodox community continues to thrive and spread, liberal Jews are looking for a voice, as well as reaching out for new blood.
A bold step in that direction is the Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn, which will kick off a series of lectures, workshops and support groups next month.
Currently a conglomerate of Jewish community centers and Reform and Conservative synagogues, organizers hope it will one day become an entity in its own right, with quarters and full-time staff. For now, the events will rotate between synagogues.
The first is a discussion of Maimonides at East Midwood Jewish Center on Dec. 4 with Rabbi Michael Chernick, an Orthodox rabbi who teaches at the Reform
movement’s Hebrew Union College.
“Hopefully, at least in the short term, this will give strength to people in Brooklyn who are not Orthodox,” says Rabbi Chernick. “I think some of them are feeling somewhat isolated and looking for company.” But he adds, “Friendly Orthodox parties should not be excluded. They have a place at the table here as well.”
Howard Honigman, a past president of East Midwood Jewish Center, views the institute, his brainchild, as a “non-denominational center for learning” that will offer lectures on pressing topics of the day, workshops on Jewish observance and ritual, instruction for religious school teachers on developing progressive messages and a support group for those undergoing lifecycle changes like divorce, empty nests or caring for a parent.
“We want to be a strong, articulate voice among Brooklyn Jews who both feel deeply committed to their heritage and at the same time feel deeply committed to progressive values,” says Honigman, a clinical psychologist who lives in Marine Park.
Among the issues he’d like to see tackled are the separation of church and state; equal participation by women in society; protecting the environment and the Middle East peace process.
“There are certain aspects of the liberal program that not been given sufficient strength and articulation in the Jewish community of Brooklyn,” he says.
Attracting unaffiliated Jews who may not feel comfortable in synagogue because of their lack of knowledge is a key component.
Honigman says reaction from Orthodox synagogues has been “hospitable,” if not enthusiastic. But he remains optimistic. “Maybe rabbis who are hesitant on an organizational level [will show interest] once they see we have a serious, scholarly approach,” says Honigman.