Feb 4, 2013  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Transcending Denomination in the Desert

An old saying goes, “Two Jews, three opinions.” But its truth extends well beyond mere satire.  A rigid divide separates modern Judaism into secular and religious camps, and the unfortunate consequence is a confused cultural identity broken into a dizzying array of traditions and levels of observance.
Labels emerge to put us in our place: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Hassidic, Progressive, Traditional, Reconstructionist, Modern-Orthodox, secular, and so on.  Oy vey…

The respective camps draw their lines in the sand, wary of the others and content within their own communities. Frankly, it’s a sad reality.

Over winter break, I volunteered with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in a campaign to help build up the Negev, the southern desert area of Israel (Please see Dalya Arussy’s article!).  To my amazement, close to 120 college students from around the US dedicated their time and effort to this incredible cause.  Now, I must admit my initial hesitance when I first signed up.  I feared being among an Orthodox minority (which I indeed was) and everything that came with it.  Every morning I woke up early to pray independently. Naturally, there were countless questions I encountered concerning my  “Modern Orthodoxy” (oh, how I cringe at the denominational pigeon-holing).

Despite the apparent differences I witnessed, my experience reaffirmed my faith in the Jewish people and my hopes for a united nation.  The JNF volunteers came from all walks of life and affiliations; nonetheless, they shared a collective passion and love for the Land of Israel that transcended all religious barriers.  The teamwork and friendship that emerged was truly inspiring.

Too often we fail to recognize the underlying commonalities that have kept our nation strong for thousands of years.  Our unique connection to the Holy Land is a common thread and a special bond that unites us, irrespective of our particular denominations within Judaism.  It is my hope that we continue to work toward our common goal, and I look forward to seeing you all next year in Jerusalem!

written by Gideon Glass