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Summer Change

By Rabbi Galit Levy-Slater | August 7, 2016

A visitor recent attending my services asked, “You’re very new. What are you, Reform?”

The answer I gave him, “We are Universalist,” gave him pause, so I continued, “We do not believe in ‘labels’.”

My Jewish education has been as diverse as the demographics in which I was raised. I am a native Californian who became a Jew-By-Choice at the age of 33. I grew up in Hollywood, studied voice from the age of 11, sang operas by the age of 15 and spent several years performing Musical Theater, acting, dance, modelling . . . you get the idea.

My early Jewish education was through the Reform Movement, with the objective of becoming a cantor.

During one summer in the mid-1980’s I took an Ulpan at the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University) and eventually the Cantorial Workshop, taught by Cantor William Sharlin z”l through Hebrew Union College.

Most of my cantorial career was with Reform congregations until I was hired by Congregation Sholom of Leisure World in Seal Beach, a Conservative shul, where I remained until this year.

My association with Congregation Sholom was more of a familial one than a “hired gun,” as my husband would say. Over the years, I saw many rabbis come and go; some retired, some semi-retired, some students who only stayed for a year or two before moving on to more lucrative positions.

During those years I moved into Leisure World and viewing all those “commuter rabbis” who had no ties to the community, I made the decision to become a rabbi and serve the entire Leisure World community, those affiliated with my shul as well as those not affiliated.

I found a school, based in New York, that offered a rabbinic program that fit my situation perfectly.

I found Jewish Universalism .

I was familiar with Universalism, but what is Jewish Universalism?

It is not Reform; it is not Orthodox; it is not Conservative; it is not Reconstructionist; it is not New Wave; it is not Humanist; it is not Renewal; it is not Ashkenazic; it is not Sephardic; it is not Am Mizrachi.

It is all of them.

And it is none of them.

Rabbi Steven Blane, Founder of the Union of Jewish Universalist Communities:

Jewish Universalism – comprised of progressively minded Rabbis and their communities wherein all are welcome to belong, participate, and nurture the greater good without any obstacles, requirements or strings- just compassion and love for all of humankind through the lens of Judaism.”

My new congregation, Beit HaLev, House of the Heart, accepts Jewish people, people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious,” interfaith members and we have members who are non-Jewish but who find our worship services meaningful.

Jewish leaders all over the world have been bemoaning the merging and the closing of synagogues due to an overall lack of interest and a feeling of exclusion. In Jewish Universalism we offer progressive combined with traditional liturgy, and the embrace of Am Yisraeil.