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Unity Takes Compromise

on Tuesday, September 25 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
In my column in the most recent Weekly, I mentioned our communities slogan, “Valuing Diversity, Celebrating Unity,” and the great challenge in finding unity opportunities.  One of the most uplifting for me, and many others, is the combined community Neilah in the Rand Sanctuary. Shimmie Kaminetsky who is the Ba’al Tefilla of this minyan, and I hear incredible feedback for weeks, months and throughout the year following Neilah.  Some have described feeling moved by the singing in a way that davening has never touched them before.  Others have mentioned that despite feeling exhausted, hungry and thirsty from fasting all day, the enthusiasm, fervor and excitement in the room provide a burst of energy that could carry them for many more hours.

Last year we sent out a survey following Yom Kippur.  The response to the survey as well as the comments submitted, overwhelmingly confirmed the sentiment that people have been sharing anecdotally about how special this minyan is and why people look forward to it with such eager anticipation.

There is, however, one drawback and I understand it well.

Southwest Airlines does not offer reserved seating.   They use an open seating policy as a way of getting the passengers to board their flights faster than any other airline.  For that reason, I absolutely abhor flying Southwest and try to avoid it if at all possible.  Not knowing where I am going to sit brings me angst, anxiety, and uncertainty that I don’t need or want.  Open seating may work for Southwest, but it is miserable for me.

In order for us to accommodate the participants of the Rand Minyan as well as those of the Shechet Minyan and other minyanim who join us in one location without knowing who is returning for Neilah and who is not, we have no choice but to have open seating for Neilah.  I understand that policy can be difficult, stressful and unpleasant for some.  I get it, and I am sympathetic to those who are frustrated by it.

But here is where the real test of our commitment to the value of unity and the experience of inspiration come.  You see – it is easy to practice unity when it doesn’t require compromise.  It is simple to enjoy inspiration when you don’t have to work for it or give something up to get it.  But the truth is that authentic unity and genuine moments of inspiration take work, require compromise and at times mean making a sacrifice.

The great medieval authority, the Rosh, explains that the entire tradition of asking mechila, forgiveness from others on the eve of Yom Kippur is to promote unity.  After all, unity is what we pray for – “v’yeiasu chulam agudah achas, please God, help us become one.”  On Sukkos we walk in a circle saying hoshanas and on Simchas Torah we dance in a circle because a circle has no beginning and no end.  All who participate are part of one unified, equal whole.   We take the arbah minim, the four species that represent four different types of Jews, we bundle them together and we take them as one.

Unity must not just be a cliché, or something we believe in only in theory.  It must be something we practice and there is no better or more important time than Neilah, when the gates of heaven and the book of life are closing.  

If you normally daven in the Rand and you are giving up your assigned seat, or if you have been participating in the Shechet minyan and you are moving to an altogether different space, I thank you.  On behalf of the hundreds of people who find inspiration so great that they draw from it the entire year, I thank you for your commitment to our community and to Jewish unity.

Please know that this year we are sectioning off an additional large space in the back of the men’s section for more women.  We are confident that there will be enough room for everyone to fit comfortably.

No matter what minyan your assigned seat is in, when it comes to Neilah, you are invited to the Rand Sanctuary for a commUNITY experience you won’t soon forget. With the spirit of compromise, a pledge to practice perfect decorum, and a willingness to be swept away in song, we can look forward to what may just be the most inspiring Neilah ever.

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