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by JRC member Melissa Mizel

I’ve been interested in Reconstructionism ever since my twenties, when my Manhattan sister and I used to sneak into the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (Reconstructionism’s first congregation) on High Holidays.  When my husband, Mike, and I moved from northernmost New York State to the Chicago suburbs, we began synagogue-shopping and wound up at a Reconstructionist shul that was new and had only a few dozen families, including a couple that my family had been connected to since my childhood.  It was fun, exciting and time-consuming to be part of a fledgling venture, and it wasn’t long before a new congregant became our amazing education director.  Baking a cake with our toddler son for every Friday-night oneg became a beloved ritual.

But as time passed, the intellectual constraints of the community began to chafe.  There were truths that were unsayable and questions that were impermissible.  Nowhere was this truer than in the realm of Israel and Middle East policy.  Certain sermons sounded as though they’d come word-for-word from the AIPAC handbook.  I learned which High Holiday time slot would be assigned to one of these and made it my business to sign up for childcare duty that conflicted with it.  I recall with a shudder the special gathering that was convened so that we could hear the rabbi’s exhortation for a preemptive strike on Iraq and its (illusory) weapons of mass destruction.  When the education director left, the strongest argument for continuing our association with this community, from which many of our friends had already departed, disappeared, as well.

Meanwhile, the dust was literally about to settle at JRC, where community values had supported the additional investment required to create a LEED-Platinum building.  We joined as soon as the new doors were open.  And there was much more (though not infinite) freedom to speak and to ask questions that were not AIPAC-approved.  A few years ago, a congregant with a PhD in Hebrew literature taught a wonderful course on the subject.  He also conducted a challenging workshop that asked the members, among other things, who was the David and who the Goliath in the Israel-Palestine narrative.

I feel that the horrific Hamas attacks of October 7 have seen JRC at its finest moment.   A beautiful Lamentations service was put together, and the conversations that followed it meant so much to me.  It was the perfect setting to exchange queries about relatives in Israel, to learn what it was like to be a young progressive feeling beset by all sides.  I’ve been to another workshop and heard tales of the strained atmosphere at people’s workplaces, of the reinvigorated need some members have to be at the synagogue and share their thoughts and feelings with people they can trust to hear them.  I’ve been proud to spot fellow JRC members at the mosque-hosted event to mourn the hate-killing of a Chicago child and gratified, too, to find myself in a thoroughly civil disagreement with one of our beloved clergy.

The establishment of the Israel-Palestine Working Group has been a brilliant response to the challenges of this time.  I know virtually all of the members and so admire their thoughtfulness, intelligence and sensitivity, not to mention their selflessness in contributing dozens of hours to the work thus far and the tasks that await them.  From what I understand, the openness, trust and respect that is governing their deliberations is somehow becoming palpable to prospective members who want to bring their whole selves—their passions, their thoughts, their fears—to a Jewish community that will embrace them in full.  I’m happy that they are identifying JRC as just such a place and more than grateful to be a member myself.