We added a new melody for the High Holidays. The song is “Renew, Rejoice” written by Carrie Newcomer. The songwriter is a quaker whose words connect with the meaning of the High Holidays. She writes: “renew, rejoice, begin to begin again.” Can Torah come from a Quaker? Certainly. So why was it that I wondered if our High Holiday service can adopt the melody from someone of another faith tradition?

The Jewish New Year starts just the way Newcomer’s song advises. On Rosh Hashanah, we renew.  On Simchat Torah, we rejoice; on Shabbat Bereshit, “we begin to begin again.” In Parshat Bereshit, we read that God’s creative energies fashioned a variety of plants and animals. Yet there was only one kind of human. No religious divides, no ethnic identities, and no racial divisions separated one person from the other. Fast forward a few millennia and identities divide us, one from the other. I am male, Jewish, American, white, educated, English-speaking and boomer. What are you?

Jewish identity brings us together as a group but Judaism sometimes perpetuates the divides among peoples.  As an alternative, some Reform and Reconstructing Judaism synagogues have tried to unravel the divisions. For example, prayers were amended to remove reference to Jews as the chosen people. Intellectually, the amendment makes sense. In the beginning, God created people, not Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus, and more. If all are God’s creations, then we might be better off learning from one another in our pursuit of Godliness. Focusing on our differences has not served anyone well in history.

The concept of chosenness has been a double-edged sword for Jews. To be chosen is to connect with God as a favored child. In difficult times, Jews have taken comfort in their elite identity. And yet I am reminded of the story of the Jewish man who gathered a petition and brought it up to Heaven. The petition read: “God, we the chosen people respectfully request that you choose someone else for a while.”

Judaism is special. Our people are treasured. And I favor any mechanism by which we connect with God. Adapting a song by a Quaker songwriter or deleting chosenness from prayers are simple ways to remind ourselves that we are all the designs of one Creator. We can be special but not superior, distinct but not different.

The greater challenge facing Judaism is not curing us of our sense of chosenness. The problem is offering Jews a spiritual life worth choosing. I’m devoting my rabbinate to figuring out how to renew our spiritual life and rejoice in our Judaism. It may require considering what is inspiring in other religious customs and secular creations. Our religion may be millennia old, but it is time for us to find new meaning in Torah, even if the inspiration comes from outside our tradition. so we can begin to begin again.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame