A year ago, we embarked on a new project in Toronto to model the power of interdenominational conversations and to facilitate a wide spectrum of Jews talking to each other about big ideas. Could four rabbis — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — sit together and discuss substantive issues of modern Jewish life in a public forum?  The result was “Young Rabbis Speak,” a four-part series focusing on Jewish Text and Authority; Jewish Identity in a Hyphenated World; Judaism, Gender and Sexuality; and Israel: The Four Rabbi Solution. 

The conversations have been deep and delicate.  We have demonstrated the capacity to disagree candidly, to care differently about the Jewish future and to do so across abiding friendships.  The dialogue has surfaced fissures along several fronts. My Torah may exclude another. Hers may offend my sensibilities.  From the conversations, though, has emerged the 21st-century meaning of שבעים פנים לתורה, that the Torah has 70 faces.

After each session, there have been breakout groups for the audience to process the panel and continue the conversation in a meaningful way.  We have observed several relationships develop between engaged and thinking Jews of all denominations. 

Having experienced the beauty and power of this kind of experience during our fellowship years, it gives us great satisfaction to scale up and do this for the Jewish communities that we serve in Toronto.  We would not have had the incentive or resources to make this happen without the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alumni Collaboration Grant created in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation.  We are tremendously grateful.

Noah Cheses, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alum (Class 21), is Rabbi at Shaarei Shomayim in Toronto. He received his ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 2011, where he was also a Norman Lamm Fellow in Jewish Thought.  He previously served as an associate rabbi at the Yale University Hillel, where he also was the co-director of JLIC, the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus.  During the summers, he has been Rabbi of the High School Tikvah Summer Seminar on Jewish Theology, Economics and Politics.  Noah has done graduate work in Family Therapy and is completing a graduate degree in Religious Studies and Theology from Yale University.  He can be reached at NCheses@gmail.com.

Adam Cutler, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alum (Class 17), joined the Beth Tzedec rabbinic team in August 2009.  A Toronto native, he is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City, where he worked as a Beit Midrash advisor and synagogue gabbai.  Adam previously served as the Resnick Rabbinic Intern at Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor, New York and as the Legacy Heritage Fund Student Rabbi of Congregation Shaara T'fille in Saratoga Springs, New York.  He currently serves as president of the Rabbinical Assembly — Ontario Region, secretary of the Toronto Board of Rabbis and is in his final year of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Rabbinic Leadership Initiative. Adam can be reached at adamijcutler@gmail.com.

Miriam Margles, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alum (Class 14), is Rabbi at Danforth Jewish Circle in Toronto.  She is an RRC grad and was a Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Leadership Institute in 2008-2009.  She previously served as the Associate Rabbi at Kehillat Lev Shalem, the Woodstock Jewish Congregation.  She is also a co-founder of Encounter, engaging American Jewish leaders in face-to-face encounters with Palestinians.  Integrating Jewish learning, social justice and creative exploration in music, movement and writing, Miriam has facilitated workshops with various populations, including hospital patients, prison inmates, Israeli agunot and adults and young people of all ages. Miriam can be reached at mmargles@gmail.com.