Rabbi Louis J. Sachs: A Diverse Community Working Toward a Common Goal
“The three weeks I spent at Hannaton as a rabbinical student were wonderful. Besides the learning, hiking, and other programs, I learned about what Jewish community can be. The kavanah and energy were something I had only really experienced previously in Orthodox institutions. To see a community dedicated deeply to both Egalitarianism as well as traditional Jewish practice helped me to see that one could have the best of both worlds.”
Rabbi Louis J. Sachs, born and raised in Los Angeles, California, received his rabbinical ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. During a year of rabbinincal studies in Israel, Rabbi Sachs was part of a group that spent three weeks at the Hannaton Educational Center. Currently the Associate Rabbi at Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto, Canada, Rabbi Sachs spoke to us about the lasting impact of his time at Hannaton.
What aspects of the program stayed with you that were meaningful to you as a student?
As a student, I was struck by how diverse the community was. So many of the Jewish spaces I had known previously were filled with people that mostly shared the same views and practices. At Hannaton I saw a community that had a wide variety of opinions and practices, yet they were all working toward a common goal. Too often disagreement turns into conflict and weakens a community. At Hannaton, I saw how a community can be strengthened by different opinions when everyone is not trying to get ahead as individuals but rather working towards the common good.
What aspects of your experience and learning at Hannaton are meaningful to you now in your professional career?
It was incredibly moving seeing what a small group of people who were committed could accomplish. So often in Jewish institutions we are worried about the numbers, how can we appeal to the most people, how can we get as many as possible to attend this event. At Hannaton I saw what happens if you work in the other direction, if instead you focus on creating a meaningful “product,” in this case a community, and then let it grow from there.
What did your time at Hannaton add to your overall experience of living and studying in Israel?
The setting allowed me to not only focus on learning texts in the Beit Midrash, or lectures about Israel and Jewish history but to actually meet and chat with Israelis. The faces that I saw at Shabbat services, and then on a morning stroll, became familiar people. Soon a wave or “boker tov” became a conversation and a chance to really hear and learn about the experience of actual Israelis. It was also a chance to see that Masorti Judaism was so much more than simply “Conservative Judaism in Israel,” but faced its own unique challenges and had its own strengths.
I, like many of my peers, grew up hearing that Israelis were either Orthodox or secular, and the secular Israelis would go to Orthodox synagogues by default. It was at Hannaton that I learned that pluralistic Judaism was not just something imported by North Americans who made Aliyah, but a growing movement of Israelis. I was constantly surprised by what I learned about non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel, because despite being engaged in Jewish education and the Conservative movement in North America my whole life, so much of the experience of Masorti Judaism was just left out of the conversation.
At Hannaton, the davening, the views from the hills, the whole experience had a sense of spirituality I can’t really put into words. Besides everything I learned during my time at the kibbutz, there was a feeling I had in the place that I still miss. It is a special place; I don’t know how to say it any better than that.