Among those who staff non-profit organizations in the Jewish community, I am known as a “road warrior.” There are many of us—Jewish communal professionals who spend a lot of time on the road. In my case, most of my travels are related to my goal to promote “Big Tent Judaism,” a term that we coined at the Jewish Outreach Institute to refer to the notion of an inclusive Jewish community. When I am asked to define what I mean as a “big tent,” I often say that the Jewish community is big enough and strong enough to contain those people with whom I disagree. I may disagree with many people in the Jewish community and the positions that they may take, but I vehemently argue for their right for a place in the tent.
Not all of my travels are for the strict purpose of spreading the message of an inclusive Jewish community. Sometimes, I travel in order to learn more about the community and its efforts around the world. This helps me to understand the community better and emboldens my efforts to bring more people into the community, especially from its periphery. I just returned from one such trip: a mission of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America to Hungary and Israel. While I have been to Hungary before and am blessed to travel to Israel at least once a year, this trip promised to be different. It gave me the opportunity to engage in dialogue with rabbis representing the various points along the continuum of the Jewish religious community. It also provided me access to parts of the Jewish community and government that only JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel), the Joint (the Joint Distribution Committee) and the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) can provide.
And so I joined 30 colleagues on an 8-day journey of exploration and learning. This is particularly important to me as a loving critic of the Federation system in the United States and Canada, pushing Federations in the local communities with which we at JOI work to reimagine and reinvent themselves so that they can continue to provide service to the Jewish community. I have to admit that this trip hardened my resolve. Everything we saw and everything we experienced, the good work that these organizations are doing in particular in these two countries (and in Jewish communities throughout the world) made me even more determined to help fix whatever may be broken in local communities in the United States and Canada.