Back in 2017, Rabbi Shelley Barnathan met with 100 prospective members individually over coffee to ask some central questions about what they wanted in a new Reconstructionist synagogue in Philadelphia’s western suburbs.
She had just completed rabbinical school after leaving a 32-year career as a language arts teacher. A child of Holocaust survivors, she wanted to realize a childhood dream that wasn’t accessible in her Modern Orthodox community.
Members of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill. — one of the movement’s oldest congregations, and one where the conversation about Israel had long proved polarizing — have shown that such respectful engagement is possible, maybe even necessary.
Over the past two months, the congregation has leaned into Reconstructionist values by emphasizing the community’s voice over the rabbi’s and embracing complexity and nuance. Following a process that lasted for about three weeks, entailing thousands of emails, two board meetings and feedback from more than 200 members, the congregation adopted a statement steeped in Jewish values, that declared “All parties must stop the killing to create the conditions for lasting peace.”