Lo Bashamayim Hi. It is not in heaven. [Deut. 30:12]
Every Sunday, I make the 40-minute drive across from Northern Virginia to Rockville for a few hours of learning.
The teachers guide us through some text, introduce provocative questions derived from the text, and then join us in
the discussion. Who wrote the Bible? Why do bad things happen to good people? Does everything “happen for a
reason”? What is Judaism – an ethnicity, a culture, a religion, a set of values, a people…more than one? What
does it mean to “believe” in God? Class often ends with me confused and unsatisfied. But no one knows the
answers to these questions. Maybe there is no one right answer. Maybe we’ll never know the answer. Yet I still
always come home with new ideas that resonate with me. As soon as I see my Mom after Shoresh, I almost always
have a question to share with her that's been troubling me or exciting me since earlier that night. And the pursuit of
the answers to arguably unanswerable questions makes three hours feel like no time at all.
What initially started as a forced-by-my-parents program so that I would stay connected to Judaism, tolerated only
because of friends at Shoresh, has become one of the highlights of every week. I love Shoresh.
So if the debate is not in heaven, where is it? Here of course, right inside this building, every week, at
Klal Yisrael in Action
Shoresh is the first Jewish program of any kind that I have ever seen that truly fosters an interdenominational,
community environment, where Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Jews can all be equally
comfortable and not feel marginalized.
Shoresh exemplifies, better than anything I have ever seen, the value of klal yisrael. Klal yisrael is the idea that
Jews, regardless of denomination or belief, are all members of one people and that we must respect each other
fully even though we may disagree sharply when it comes to our theology and practice.
I’m orthodox, but I grew up in a conservadox household, I went to a “community”—but for all practical purposes
conservative—day school, I belong to both an orthodox and a conservative synagogue, I go to a conservative
camp, and most of my Jewish friends from school are reform. And in none of those environments have I ever seen
the kind of respect for difference that Shoresh offers. Far too many liberal Jews deride traditional Jews as
backwards, sexist, and even medieval, and far too many traditional Jews deride their liberal counterparts as
spineless, theologically incomplete, or even “not actually Jewish.” It’s sad, but it’s true.
So how does Shoresh do such a good job where other Jewish organizations don’t? The answer, I think, is threefold.
The first, and perhaps most obvious component to Shoresh’s success is diversity. Our class, at least, represents
an impressive range of ideologies.
The second component is continuity. A core group of students and teachers has been together for most of these
past 5 years, and I think it’s safe to say that we, plus those who came later, have become for the most part very
comfortable with each other. This lets us really be honest in our discussions.
So diversity and continuity are hugely important, but this recipe still needs one more ingredient, and that ingredient
is high-quality teaching. Our teachers have consistently done an amazing job of leading our discussions,
challenging us to think beyond our preconceived notions, and providing exceptional insight of their own.
When you take a diverse group whose members are comfortable with each other and like each other, and are led
by highly capable individuals, the people in that group are going to respect what their counterparts have to say no
matter how much they may disagree with it. That’s klal yisrael. That’s what makes Shoresh special, and that’s what
I’m most grateful to Shoresh for providing for me and my peers.
Finding Our Place in Judaism
Buber claims that there are two kinds of relationships in the world: The I-It relationship and the I-Thou
relationship. An I-It relationship is one in which a person thinks of another person or object in terms of what
use the affection, he is still regarding the other as an "it," or something to be used.
On the other hand, an I-Thou relationship manifests itself between two people, or an object and a person,
who have no material use for each other. Instead, their personalities speak freely to each other in
Two years ago, I had the outstanding opportunity to play Juliet in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". As
Juliet, I didn't feel like another person, as many would expect. Instead, it was like unearthing another
version of myself, one that had newly discovered this ability to love and grieve despite my lack of real
experience. Looking at this from Buber's perspective, I was able to achieve a pure I-thou relationship in
which the mechanics of performance -- mainly the lines and blocking -- were peripheral to the emotion of
the experience. It was this I-thou relationship that inspired me to hold onto theater for the rest of my life.
The I-thou relationship clarified for me that theater is an art that I could never replace or live without.
The concept of an I-thou relationship is deceptively difficult to grasp in our society, where we constantly try
to get ahead and be productive in some way. As teenagers, between tough school schedules and
enormous amounts of extra-curriculars, we don't often have the pleasure of simply experiencing an I-thou
relationship. That's what makes Shoresh so unique to me.
For the past 5 years, we have had the opportunity to show up to Shoresh on Sunday nights, and simply
learn about Judaism—with no strings attached. Shoresh does not expect anything from us besides our
presence and attention, and we don't expect material rewards. We have had the privilege to learn about
Judaism without judgment or pressure, which, according to Buber, is the ideal circumstance.
The I-thou relationship Shoresh creates between its students and the material, as well as its students and
teachers, is an exceptional bond that has allowed each one of us to realize our own place in Judaism. As
we head off to college, Shoresh has given us the solid basis of knowledge necessary to continue to mold
our Jewish identities simply by asking us to be available and open to learn for three hours each week.
The cliché "less is more" rings true through the Shoresh experience because by stripping away
expectations or uses defined by the I-it relationship, we were able to experience and learn about what was
actually important to us on a personal level.
Excited About Judaism
My time at Shoresh has been amazing, full of wonderful teachers and classmates, all of whom want to teach and
learn. I’ve listened to and fought in passionate debates during which I’ve changed sides multiple times, and
continued those debates just as passionately with Dad on the car ride home.
Most importantly, Shoresh has made me excited about Judaism in a way that I never was before, and in a way that
won’t go away once I leave.
A Good Place To Begin
At my old school, there were some questions that I would never ask because I thought they would sound stupid or
even sacrilegious. Here I could ask almost anything because I didn’t have to worry so much about that. I could just
One of the most important things I’ve learned by coming to Shoresh is that it is normal to have doubt and to
struggle with my faith. Shoresh gave me a good place to begin that struggle.