Eighth-grade students at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (GHA) recently welcomed three local rabbis to the school to speak about diversity. As part of the school’s memorial for Yitzhak Rabin, the tragically slain Prime Minister of Israel, GHA Head of School Rabbi Lee Buckman invited spiritual leaders representing each major denomination to explain their differing interpretations of Judaism.

Rabbi Joshua Heller took part in program at GHA recently, along with rabbis Adam Starr and Fred Greene. PHOTO / Leah Levy

Rabbi Fred Greene of Temple Beth Tikvah, Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah and Rabbi Adam Starr of the Young Israel of Toco Hills met with the 8th graders to discuss their ideas on the famous Talmudic passage: “It [the Torah] is not [determined] in heaven.”

The trio – representing Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox schools of thought, respectively – explained their distinct interpretations of the Talmudic teaching, but stressed that each denomination has far more commonalities than differences. The 8th-grade students found the presentation very engaging and asked thoughtful questions of the rabbis.

Teacher Debbie Bornstein was impressed by the proceedings.

“Rabbi Greene, Rabbi Heller and Rabbi Starr were amazing models for the children of how to ‘agree to disagree’ and of different factions getting along respectfully,” she said.

The students expressed some surprise, but felt thoroughly enriched.

“It wasn’t exactly what I expected, because I thought there would be a huge argument, but they never disagreed,” said Dan Jutan.

“It wasn’t a war,” added fellow student Matthew Sklar.

“It was cool,” Jutan continued, “because we got to learn about different denominations from people who really know.”

GHA Head of School Rabbi Lee Buckman felt that tolerance of diversity was an appropriate message to send on the anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s death.

“We observed the yahrzeit with a special assembly that stressed the importance of listening, of tolerance and of respect for people who differ in approaches to religion, as well as in every other way,” explained Rabbi Buckman. “But what Rabbi Green, Rabbi Heller and Rabbi Starr did was bring all these ideas to life in a very real-world way.

“They are wonderful role models for our students on what friendship and respect look like, even when philosophies are not exactly the same.”

Judy Kaminsky, assistant to the Head of School, concurred.

“The rabbis made it clear that while there are philosophical differences in their practice of Judaism, they are very willing to listen to other views and interact with other rabbis,” she said. “And that’s what GHA is all about.”

BY LEAH LEVY / AJT Contributor

Editor’s note: Leah Levy is a paraprofessional at GHA and the author of “The Waiting Wall,” a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2010.