Letter sparks debate about paper’s role in promoting unity


, or unity, in his letter, but the suggestion was that other considerations — most notably, the personal desire to have one’s child steeped only in one particular set of Jewish tradition and values — trumped the need to encourage achdut in this particular context.

The letters in response were generally very respectful in tone, and explained in some detail the concerns the writers had with the initial author. But I received some perturbed calls and comments (including one anonymous letter, which by our policy we will not publish –attribution is required) about the decision to run the original letter. Were we not, by our choice, also abandoning the concept of achdut in our own actions? Were we leading the community down a wayward and disunifying path by electing to publish a letter that could result in animated and possibly hostile debate?

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So I began to think intently about what promoting achdut means for the Jewish Light.

My meanderings in this context led me to what might strike some as a rather peculiar conclusion, namely, that by allowing for varying perspectives on issues affecting our community, we are in fact promoting achdut in a very significant way.

Say what? Isn’t that a cop-out, simply a variation of the adage about newspapers serving as a marketplace for ideas, no matter the source or, within bounds of decency, the content? How can you serve that master principle while working to achieve the seemingly inconsistent spiritual need for Jewish unity?

My sense is this: That not only can both goals be achieved, but they must be achieved, for the Jewish Light to provide a vibrant, meaningful newspaper for the St. Louis Jewish community.

achdut — which derives from achad, or “one” — does not in my view mean that everyone must agree on every substantive issue relating to Judaism. What achdut means to me is that we over time discuss and strive to identify those common denominators that define us as Jews. And a huge part of who we are as Jews, in my opinion, is our ability and, indeed, our obligation to share our views, no matter how disparate, on a wide variety of issues social, cultural and political.

With dialogue comes understanding, with understanding comes empathy and compassion, and with empathy and compassion come personal growth and more constructive relationships.

It’s my goal as publisher of the Jewish Light to provide the platform for such dialogue. It isn’t always fun, it’s rarely easy, and it sometimes is downright scary for the potential of appearing disrespectful of members of our community.

But that is never our intent, even when we publish letters or other pieces that many find as anathema. Our intent is to engage the community in discussion about issues of import to the Jewish community. Sometimes the opening salvo is a majority view, sometimes not. With letters we don’t choose who writes them or what they say. Even when we do choose the writers, as with opinion pieces, we’ll certainly recognize and respect viewpoints that may differ from the mainstream and also from our editorial perspective.

The dialogue that ensued from the publication of that initial letter was, to me, a healthy (albeit somewhat uncomfortable) one. The responses allowed readers to better understand how the original author’s views are generally perceived in the community. That exercise in open expression reflects one of the essential elements of an independent Jewish newspaper.

And by following that path of broad-based thought and analysis, to my mind, we further a principal tenet of Judaism:

achdut .

Larry Levin is Publisher/CEO of the St. Louis Jewish Light.