I have been asked what a post about a beloved Jewish songwriter/singer Debbie Friedman has to do with Quakerism and Universalism. It’s a fair question, and here’s my response.
First, a number of Friends of Jewish background are members of our Quaker meetings and play an important role in the Religious Society of Friends. This is a significant indication that Quakerism (at least the unprogrammed variety) has indeed become Universalist in spirit.
Several years ago, I was asked to take part in a panel on “Jews and Quakerism” that was organized by Willamette Quarter in Oregon. There many Friends of Jewish background shared their stories and we learned how to become more sensitive to the concerns and needs of our Jewish Friends.
There is also a national group of Jewish Quakers who correspond and meet occasionally. David Rush, a member of this group, wrote a QUF pamphlet called “They Too Are Friends.” He was referring to non-theists, but he could just as well have been referring to Friends of Jewish background. http://www.universalistfriends.org/rush.html
Perhaps the most well-known Friend of Jewish background is Claire Gorfinkel. She worked for the AFSC for several decades, attended Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena, and gradually discovered her Jewish spirituality. She eventually joined a synagogue and now divides her time between her Quaker and Jewish community. She wrote a Pendle Hill pamphlet with the memorable title: “I always wanted to be Jewish, and now thanks to the Religious Society of Friends I am.”
Needless to say, not all Jewish Quakers are comfortable with everything Quakers do and say. There has been quite a bit of tension around the issue of Israel/Palestine. Allan Kohrman, a New England Friend of Jewish background, wrote a pamphlet highly critical of Friends’ approach to Israel/Palestine and accused the RSOF of being “anti-Semitic.” http://www.quakerbooks.org/quakers_and_jews.php
Harvey Gilman has also written about the topic of Quakers and Jews from a Universalist perspective. See http://thefriend.org/article/quakers-and-jews/
How Friends relate to Jews and Judaism is a central concern for Universalist Friends since Jews are an integral part of our Quaker family, and Friends are a small, but essential part of the Abrahamic faith tradition. We are linked by many common threads, culturally, religiously and spiritually. We need to become better acquainted and closer friends.