Judaism is dynamic, not black and white. The labels affixed to different denominations — Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, modern Orthodox, etc. — may tell you a bit about the nature of services and ritual at certain synagogues, but they certainly don’t define individual Jewish people. At least that’s my takeaway from Shana Medel’s cover story this week.
The story chronicles the marriage of Rabbi Daniel Burg of Beth Am Synagogue and Rabbi Miriam Burg. Both come from strong Reform backgrounds, but at some point, Reform Judaism didn’t align with the Jewish practices of Daniel, who was ordained by a Conservative-affiliated rabbinic school. Miriam, meanwhile, was ordained as a Reform rabbi, worked for Capital Camps and PJ Library and is now starting her own camp for Jewish families.
While they joke about being an “interfaith” couple, both said their Judaism can’t be put in a box.
Daniel said, “For me, the ‘Judaism’ was also much more important than the label you put in front of it.”
And Miriam said that while she is and thinks like a Reform rabbi, her practice is more aligned with Conservative synagogues. “I haven’t left Reform Judaism … my Jewish identity has become a lot more expansive.”
Being in this “interfaith” marriage has enhanced both Burgs’ Judaism. From bouncing sermon ideas off of each other to Daniel analyzing liturgy used in the siddur of Miriam’s home shul in Michigan, their backgrounds and chosen paths have allowed them the opportunity to always actively think about their Judaism and rabbinates.
If two rabbis can’t be defined by these labels, I don’t think the Jewish Diaspora at large should confine itself to these boxes either.
In recent years, I’ve attended services at Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues, attended events affiliated with Conservative congregations, enjoyed Shabbat dinners at the homes of Orthodox families and taken part in nondenominational Jewish activities. I’ve had a similar experience to Daniel’s in Michigan in that I’ve noticed alterations of the melodies I grew up singing and subtle changes in prayers. What I can say for sure from these various experiences is that they all connected me to Judaism. Things weren’t framed in terms of a continuum of observance, but simply existed as different ways to achieve the same result — a deeper connection.
At a time when there are growing divides in the Jewish community along denominational and political lines and in regard to Israel, the Burgs’ story and their views on denominational labels should remind us that at our core, we’re all Jews connecting to Judaism in the ways that speak to us individually.