In light of continuing signs of tension between Orthodox elements in Israel and representatives of the Conservative and Reform communities, Ohr Torah Stone, one of Israel’s largest educational networks, announced an initiative to better expose its educators and students to thought leaders from across the breadth of Jewish denominations.
The program was introduced to heads of the network’s various educational arms in a letter from President and Rosh Hayeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone Rabbi Kenneth Brander.
Rabbi Brander wrote that while he has been witness to many troubling displays of disunity within the Jewish people, the most recent altercation at the Western Wall that took place on Tisha B’Av evening demands actions by educational leaders.
"The Jewish people, with all its streams and movements, make up one family," he said. "On the night of Tisha B’Av, when we should be embracing each other as we commemorate our common tragic past, we were witness to 'Orthodox' Jews torching their relationships with their own Jewish brethren."
The programs that will be developed are designed to create a "spiritual language that is engaging and inclusive." This will include ongoing scheduled meetings between students in the network's post-high school seminaries and yeshivas, emissary training and outreach programs, and rabbinical and spiritual leadership programs with leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements.
Rabbi Brander says that while Ohr Torah Stone is an educational network strongly aligned with the Religious Zionist community and proudly espouses values and practices identified with the Orthodox movement, the students need to understand that respect for fellow Jews is a basic Jewish value.
"There are differing pedagogical approaches regarding whether to engage in dialogue with the other denominations, or whether to recluse into isolation to avoid granting legitimacy to the other movements through a shared, open discourse," wrote Rabbi Brander. "While I am a strong proponent of dialogue, I can understand how well-intentioned people would feel uneasy, in light of the challenge regarding the best way to educate. But what is entirely illegitimate, in my eyes, is violent behavior intended to undermine other Jews' attempts to practice as they believe."
He added that the intention is "for us to engage, to challenge one another, and to recognize our own brethren. Our goal is not to always agree, but when we disagree to do so agreeably, to celebrate all that we share and to mutually respect the ways in which we differ."
The program is already in development for the coming school year and will be implemented for participants in the post-high educational programs within the network which includes three branches of Midreshet Lindenbaum, the Robert M. Beren Yeshivat Hesder Machanaim, Metivta Yeshiva in Carmiel, the Susi Bradfield Women's Institute of Halakhic Leadership, all of the network's emissary training, outreach and leadership programs, and its Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary students.
In addition, staff of the network’s six high schools will also be included in the program.