From Thursday through Shabbat Perashat Korach, hundreds of members of the Seattle Jewish community were treated to a Shabbaton featuring Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. It’s now Sunday morning, five lectures and hours of informal conversation later, and I finally have an opportunity to process the experience.
Rabbi Lau, whose personal journey from the Holocaust to the Chief Rabbinate is elucidated in his autobiography, “Out of the Depths” embodies the qualities of a true leader of Israel. As I mentioned on Shabbat morning, in his greatness – personal, professional and moral – Rabbi Lau is able to relate to absolutely everybody. This is reflected not only through his warm personal interactions, but in his engaging and inclusive stories that speak to each and every person who attends his talks.
Rabbi Lau’s effectiveness stems from his skills as an orator and his effective, nuanced use of humor. For me, his message derives its authority from his extensive world travels. We heard the story of Latin-American woman on a plane who, after watching him put on Tefilin reveals that she, too, is Jewish. Sadly, she was denied a Jewish education, since her grandmother chose not to reveal her Jewishness to children and grandchildren. Rabbi Lau made a plea for Jewish unity by sharing with us a conversation between an unnamed U.S. politician who explained that cracks in the Israeli political consensus and unity is the key to appreciating US political pressure on Israel. The Rabbi skillfully weaves these encounters into profound Torah lessons; his worldly interactions, instead of weakening his strength of spirit and resolve, give his perspective authenticity and authority.
My sincere hope is that this Shabbaton can serve as a model for future joint initiatives aimed at inspiring and strengthening Jewish life in our community.