A Hannuka Miracle

Rabbi/Cantor Meeka Simerly

Rabbi/Cantor Meeka Simerly

Three Rabbis and a Mayor Walk Into a Bar…

In the spirit of a joyous and heartwarming holiday of lights, the three Rabbis of Wayne decided to create their own, contemporary miracle, which happened not in a bar of course, but outside the Wayne Township Municipal Building.

Last year (Hannuka 2016), Rabbi Michel Gurkov (Chabad), Rabbi Randy Mark (Congregation Shomrei Torah, Conservative), and myself (Temple Beth Tikvah, Reform), met for the first time in Mayor Vergano’s office to plan our town’s community Menorah lighting. Being relatively new in Wayne, I was nervous for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I wasn’t sure how the established orthodox and conservative Rabbis would accept a newbie Reform Rabbi—who also happens to be a woman.

After introductions, the four of us began planning. There were some issues where we did not see eye-to-eye, mainly on matters concerning differences in our worldview and the way we run things in our synagogues. When Mayor Vergano saw that we were not progressing and our debates needed more time, he stood up and said, “I am now going to leave this room. When I get back, please make sure that the three of you find a way for everyone to play together, nicely, in the sandbox.”

So we heeded our Mayor’s request.  We compromised with each other and came up with a plan. Not only that, the real miracle of Hannuka 2016 was that we genuinely HEARD each other—then we wanted to hear more!

Since then, the three of us have been meeting once a month to study together and teach each other about our traditions. For example, I presented the weekly Torah portion from a female perspective, using “A Women’s Commentary” from the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) Press. Rabbi Mark introduced us to “Questions and Answers” from the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA). Rabbi Gurkov brought to the table discussions and arguments quoted in the “Gemara” from Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai.

Together, we have been learning and expanding our horizons, while acknowledging our similarities and appreciating our differences. If that is not a great miracle for Hannuka, I don’t know what is!

How I wish that everyone in our world could find it within themselves to do the same. To sit together at a table to converse, teach, study, and learn from each other. Because I can say from experience, from such an endeavor grows mutual respect.

Perhaps this is a great wish not only for the religious amongst us, but for the secular as well? Here’s to a happy and healthy new secular year of learning, understanding, and respect for everyone.

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