The two parts of my psyche- or perhaps of my soul- are warring again.
There's an organization called the IFYC, otherwise known as the Interfaith Youth Core. A female student at Brandeis who is Jewish and attended North Shore Country Day School with me is the one who alerted me to its existence. She and her fellow IFYC fellows are passionate, caring people who truly want to change the world and create a place of unity, togetherness, tolerance and understanding. They've put together a beautiful video you can watch below.
On one level, I think this initiative is beautiful. It's great that people from different backgrounds, religions and spiritual traditions are trying to work together in creating a less fragmented, more appreciative world. On her blog, Erica (that's my friend) tells over a beautiful story that illustrates the ways in which respect for different religious traditions can lead to wonderful results.
On the other hand, I feel deeply uncomfortable when I watch this video. There's a strong emotional response on my part that says: no. The question becomes: what is it that I'm saying no to?
And I think it's like this. I think there's a dramatic difference between respecting people's life choices, religious decisions and beliefs inasmuch as we don't express hatred or violence toward them due to these and deciding that religion must change itself to fit our cultural norms. I don't think that respect means that all of our religious differences should or must be embraced, nor must they all be tolerated. As a Jewess, I do believe in an absolute truth and I believe that Judaism is it. I also think that there is a great deal of spirituality and beauty in other faith traditions and admire them but I wouldn't want to incorporate them into my tradition, change or modify my tradition or otherwise agree that certain tenets of my religious tradition are outdated. For example, in today's world, being open about one's sexuality (and/or homosexuality) is embraced. I imagine that Judaism would be criticized within this IFYC culture for its strong stance that homosexual activity is forbidden by God and I would be told to be open to all sexual diversity. Now, I can respect people who happen to be gay, but I will not accept that my religious tradition ought to change to fit the Western culture of our time.
It also troubles me that many of the fellows in the film are not necessarily the most learned in what their faith truly entails. Of the Jews represented, are any of them Orthodox? Do any of them believe in a Bible that came from God rather than one formed by a Redactor? How can you really serve as a representative of your faith when you are following a modified version of your faith to begin with? This isn't to say I don't respect Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal or other devotees of different affiliations of Judaism. I just wonder what it means to represent a faith if you yourself don't understand many of the tenets of that faith- or understand them only inasmuch as your professor has explained J,P,D and E to you.
In short, I am troubled by this movement and this video representation. I think it is beautiful a la Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' The Dignity of Difference. And yet I also wonder whether it is possible to remain part of an interfaith organization without compromising your own standards or indeed, your religious values. I, for example, while more than willing to learn from others with different faiths, would not be interested in raising money to fund a Jewish LGBT program. That would be deeply uncomfortable for me. And so I wonder whether one can truly serve as an IFYC fellow without comprising their identity- especially if they are observant or Orthodox- as a religious person, and in my case, as an Orthodox Jew.