Categories
Convention

Fulfillment Beyond Measure: Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor CCAR members ordained 50 years ago or more. Here, Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman reflects on his life and learnings in the rabbinate.

If there is such a phenomenon as a spiritual journey, I cannot think of a better way to do just that than being a congregational rabbi. For not only have I experienced my own spiritual life, but I have tasted the spiritual lives of my members. As I have stood under the chuppah, enabling two people to make holy and sacred the bond of love that will join their two souls, I too was touched by the powerful magic of their romantic love. 

And again, I found myself in their presence as I participated in the naming ceremony for their tiny infant. To see the look in their eyes, to view the countenance of grandparents and at times even great-grandparents, all of whose faces radiated with a kind of ultimate joy, was a special privilege granted to me as a rabbi.

Then, before I knew it, I was standing at the door of our preschool and watching bewildered parents letting go, for the first time perhaps, of their little one as their toddler walked down the hall to his first preschool classroom. Then in the blink of an eye, I was handing each member of the kindergarten consecration class their own little Torah, which they accepted so tenderly, holding their Torah close to their hearts. Then in three blinks of an eye, I was standing next to a thirteen-year-old chanting from the Torah at his bar mitzvah.

Two or three years later, I was with this bar mitzvah boy and his classmates, participating with them in a stunningly, beautiful confirmation service they had created. Two years later, I was privileged to conduct an “off-to-college Shabbat,” praying and hoping that wherever these students went, their Judaism would live in them and that I had somehow instilled in them a desire to live a Jewish life.

The next time I might see one of my confirmands might be when they once again are standing in front of the congregation, but this time instead of reading a confirmation prayer, they are speaking about their late grandfather at his funeral, a grandfather who meant so much to them. The young man tells those gathered for the funeral how much it meant to him to hold his parents’ hands in a circle with me as together with his grandfather we repeated the Sh’ma, the last words his grandfather said before slipping into a coma and dying.

Sitting with families, listening to them speak about loved ones who have just died, about how they lived their lives, how they loved, how they struggled and sometimes failed, then strove again and succeeded, I’ve learned so much about how to live life, not just what I’ve read in books, but from sharing in my congregants’ lives.

The blessing I have received as a rabbi has brought me fulfillment beyond measure, but I am quick to note that whatever spiritual nourishment I have gained from my rabbinate would never have been possible without my life partner, Barbara, who has been by my side now for almost fifty-six years. Nor would it have been possible without the understanding and enlightened leadership of The Temple’s officers and board, as well as the deep support and understanding of our Temple family.

What I have described above, along with almost every imaginable type of counseling situation, became the heart and soul of my rabbinate.

I tried my best to keep not only the words of the prophets alive, but to turn those words into deeds, such as helping create a shelter for homeless couples and a shelter for  homeless newborns and their families. What wisdom did I learn? I learned when people are given a chance to allow the goodness of their hearts to bloom, they will do so. The night before we opened our shelter for homeless newborns and their families, we had an open house for our volunteers. The infant bathtubs were placed up high so mothers would not have to bend over to bathe their babies. On the side of each tub was a little yellow rubber duck that one of our volunteers had placed there. I smiled and I think God did too.

I pray that my rabbinate has been pleasing in God’s eyes….


Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman received his BBA from Emory University and was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1974 he was named senior rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia. In December 1988, he received his PhD in Theological Studies from Emory University.

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

Categories
Convention

Convention 2021: A Chance to Truly Be Present for One Another

I have two pieces of art that have hung on my study wall for many years. They’ve moved with me from place to place, and I often find my eyes wandering to them. Even though they are so familiar to me at this point, they continue to provide me with new inspiration.

The one piece is a black and white painting by Amos Amit with the words Da lifney mi ata omed, Know Before Whom You Stand. Amit is an Israeli artist, born in 1945 and raised in the Galilee.

The second is the famous picture by Norman Rockwell, with the verse “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The backdrop is filled with pictures of an array of faces, representing many different identities from around the globe.

Recently, I’ve been turning to these two teachings as I work with our extraordinary CCAR Convention chair, Rabbi Amanda Greene, the outstanding CCAR staff, and the dedicated members of the Convention committee.

The Talmud’s charge to remember God’s presence wherever we go has been at the center of our thinking about the upcoming convention. If it is a challenge to turn a hotel into a sacred space for T’filah and Talmud Torah, it is all the more so when we aren’t even together in a physical space. How do we ensure that there is kedusha in our online gatherings?

I am well aware that we’ve all been asking this question in our own communities in different ways over the last year, as the pandemic has restricted all of our gatherings. We will rely on the hard learned best practices of so many of you in many ways. One strategy in particular stands out for me. The March CCAR Convention won’t just be a series of webinars or a string of online programs. Rather, we have been looking very carefully at the concept of the “journey” of CCAR Convention 2021. How will we travel through each day and how will we travel through the entirety of the week?

Heschel has a beautiful framing of this teaching: that wherever we go we must cultivate the art of awareness of God. This is what we will do during our Convention.

This will be an impactful week. I look forward to truly being together, spiritually and emotionally. I plan to clear my calendar, set my out of office messages, and find a quiet space to sit undisturbed while I participate.

The second teaching on my wall, the so-called Golden Rule, is also very present in my thinking about convention. Simply put, the stress and strain of the last year has been exaggerated by not being with colleagues, classmates, and friends…those who have a unique understanding of rabbinic life and who have been a cherished presence in my life for 25 years.

Our online Convention will provide opportunities for us to share and connect…not just to catch up in the chat box while a presentation is happening, but to take time for real conversation. While we can’t actually share a meal or a cup of coffee, there will be built in opportunities, including some that use innovative technology, that create the experience of sitting together, chatting in the hall together, and opening up about our lives, our work, and our hopes and dreams. Our Convention will be a chance to truly be present for one another.

In the coming weeks, there will be more and more shared about the speakers, presenters, and program plans. For now, I urge you to give yourselves the gift of connection: register and carve out this time to be together as a Conference and as a family of colleagues.


Rabbi Peter W. Stein is the Senior Rabbi of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY and an adjunct faculty member at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He is the Vice Chair of the CCAR Convention Committee.

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

Categories
Convention News

Convention 2021: Recharge, Rejuvenate, and Reconnect

When CCAR Connect 2020 drew to a close, I was excited to announce our 2021 CCAR Convention in New Orleans. The announcement came with a sense of hope, safety and security, and as much optimism as I could muster in that moment.

Within days, or maybe it was weeks, many of us began to realize that traveling in March of 2021 would likely be off the table. With the support of the CCAR leadership, our Convention committee quickly shifted our planning for an in-person Convention in New Orleans, to creating an online Convention.

It has no doubt been a challenging year for so many of us. A year ago, none of us could have imagined this past year that we have lived through both personally and professionally. CCAR Convention has always provided an opportunity to come together as colleagues to connect, to learn, and to grow. Perhaps this year, more than ever, we need that space to connect, to learn and to grow.

While our 2021 Convention will take place online, the Convention Committee alongside the CCAR staff have worked hard to create a meaningful Convention that will provide many of the same opportunities that we are able to experience when we are in person together.

We know that we need to connect with friends and colleagues in both formal and informal ways: to not only share ideas or study with one another, but to also grab a virtual cup of coffee and laugh and cry over shared stories and experiences.

We know that we need opportunities to rejuvenate our souls through worship and ritual.

We know that we need both time and space to honor, to celebrate and to remember our colleagues.

We know that we have much to learn from major thought leaders who are influencing and shaping both the future of the Jewish community and the larger world.

We know that we have big questions to answer about what the Jewish future holds in our forever-changed world. And we don’t need to answer them alone.

And that is why I am looking forward to CCAR Convention 2021, a series of days where we will be able to gather, albeit virtually, to connect, to learn, and to vision together as a community of sacred colleagues.

Join me, put on your “out of the office” message, take the time and space to recharge, rejuvenate and reconnect between March 14-17 for CCAR Convention 2021. We cannot wait to see you there!

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Rabbi Amanda Greene is the Associate Rabbi, Director of Lifelong Learning at Chicago Sinai Congregation, and Chair of CCAR Convention 2021.

CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

Categories
Healing News shabbat Social Justice

Hope, Healing, and Action

Pirkei Avot teaches: In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person. Meaning, even when other people are acting irresponsibly or unethically, we are still obligated to be guided by our highest selves. Even when others are disregarding basic rules of civility and humanity, we are still obligated to act with integrity and not give in to the basest of human impulses. It reminds us that to be human means striving to be our best.

What happened on Wednesday in our nation’s Capitol was an example of how low we can go as humans when we let hate and anger rule us, when we give in to demagoguery and hate. And indeed, while Wednesday was a terrible and violent day, what undergirded the drama of that day has been happening for a long time in our country now.

Our tradition teaches us to love the stranger, to care for the oppressed, to give voice to the voiceless. That is not partisan politics, but foundational Jewish teachings that comes from deep within the Torah, our prayer books, our Passover Haggadah.

A central text in the Haggadah teaches:

For the sake of redemption—ours and the world’s—
we pray together hallowed words
that connect us to Jews everywhere,
and to all who are in need:
the stranger and the lost,
the hungry and the unjustly imprisoned.
For our redemption is bound up with theirs,
and with the deliverance of all people.

As Jews we are called upon to understand that our destiny is bound up with the destiny not just of people like ourselves and people who think like us, but with the destiny of everyone around us. That is a message of unity and strength—that none of us can rest when some are suffering, and therefore we must care for one another.

So too as Americans, we are called upon to care for one another. No matter who I voted for or who you voted for, our destinies are bound up together. We can disagree—that is part of the democratic system that makes this country great. We can vote, we can speak our mind, we can argue, we can respectfully hold different opinions, we can peacefully march in protest, and then we can vote again. But what we cannot do is destroy the very system that gives us that precious freedom.

The terror that we saw at the Capitol on Wednesday, and the lackadaisical response on the part of law enforcement, will not define the American future and it does not define us. Rather, it serves to strengthen our resolve to work together to dismantle the forces that would divide us, to better understand and take responsibility for our own biases and prejudices, and to turn toward our neighbors with love. If anything, it shines a light on how much work we still have to do in order to rid our society of the diseases of racism, antisemitism, and white supremacy. And it propels us to get to work rebuilding our hope for a better future. 

Our hope in tomorrow must never fade. When I spoke to my mother on Wednesday she was in tears, not believing what she was seeing in her America. And I suspect that many tears were shed that day. Yes, it was heartbreaking to see our democracy being trampled upon. But I will not let my heart shatter in the face of all this violence and hate, because I need a heart to help guide me out of despair and into hope. A shattered heart cannot withstand the vitriol and divisiveness around us. A shattered heart is a defeated heart, a heart unable to respond with caring and compassion. And that I refuse to give in to. But there is another kind of brokenheartedness, not a shattering but a cracking open, an enlarging, which allows in the light and makes more room for love and empathy, for compassion and hope.

We all have a choice to make, as we’re reminded by the words of Pirkei Avot. Do we let go of our humanity and choose fear and hate, or do we call on the best of our humanity, choosing empathy and its companion, love? Let us then go forward into this Shabbat and into this new year, with hearts cracked open just enough to let in light, to let in hope, to let in love, so that we can be part of the healing of America.


Rabbi Hara Person is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. This message was delivered as part of the Reform Movement’s program “Hope, Healing, and Action” on January 8th, 2021.

Categories
News Social Justice

A Response to the Riots in Our Nation’s Capital

As we watched the scenes of pandemonium unfolding in Washington, DC, we were justifiably horrified by the violence and chaos unleashed by mob violence. The fact that our nation’s capital was desecrated on this day when our elected officials gathered to perform the sacred act of ritually formalizing the results of a presidential election imbues these horrific events with additional gravity. I, along with many of you, am very concerned about how this riot will impact the future of our Republic.

This week, we begin a new book of Torah. We read the first Chapter of Exodus where we find the words: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).  Immediately following this statement, we learn of the dangers involved in governmental transition. The new Pharaoh upends Egyptian society by undoing the policies of his predecessor, enslaving the Israelites, and instituting a brutal campaign of genocide.

While we would hope that the laws, norms, and behaviors that define, defend, and protect a nation from chaos would be upheld for the sake of stability and continuity, ultimately, the character and values of a nation are refracted and projected by its leader. Just as Pharaoh’s cruelty, insecurities and fears resulted in our ancestor’s enslavement, so too, our outgoing president, by his lack of clear and timely condemnation, and tacit encouragement of the rioters, has the potential to gravely injure the foundations of Democracy that created the very buildings that were ransacked by his unruly mob.

Times of transition are often fraught with instability. It is for this reason that our Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances that revolve around the expectation that our leaders will demonstrate restraint, gravitas, and humility when elections are decided. That our current president has refused to acknowledge his loss, promoted false narratives of conspiracy, and has actively encouraged resistance is cause for alarm and condemnation.

Regardless of our political leanings, we must not remain silent when our leaders abdicate their responsibility to lead by example. Silence in the face of violence can never be tolerated. I pray that justice will prevail and the transition to the new administration will be peaceful and bring us the healing that we so desperately need. If you feel called to do so, please reach out to our Senators and Congressional representatives to express your feelings in this matter.

In every service we read the words:  Oseh Shalom Bimromav, He Yaaseh Shalom Aleynu…”  “May the One who makes peace on high, make peace for us as well.”

Let us take this prayer to heart as we move forward into a new beginning.


Rabbi Joe Black is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado. 

Categories
News Poetry

Against Domestic Insurrection

As Reform rabbis, we unequivocally oppose the tragic insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol and on American democracy. We pray for peace in our nation’s capital, for the safety of all, and for an end to the treacherous and divisive demagoguery that threatens our precious democracy and is a rejection of our foundational American values.

Here, Alden Solovy shares a poem reflecting upon this terrible event.

Oh, my people,
What have we become as a nation?
And what will we become,
In the wake of violence and insurrection,
In the face of armed assault against our democracy?
Rioting. Criminality. Attempted coup.
Domestic terror fomented
By the lies, fear, and anger of a president.
Death and destruction in the Capitol.
This doesn’t happen in the United States.
But it did.
And it can again.

Woe to the land that teeters on the brink of fascism.
Woe to the people who stay silent.
Woe to the politicians who cannot stand against this outrage.
Woe to us all as the tide of history turns against our Republic.

Shame on those who have hardened their hearts,
Shut their eyes,
Closed their minds,
And empowered those who
Attempt to banish justice
And free elections from our midst,
Those who bring swords and guns
Against our sovereign land.

Source and Shelter,
Grant safety and security
To the people and democracy of the United States of America.
Protect us from violence, rebellion, intimidation,
And attempts to seize our government.
Save us from domestic terror.
Save us from leaders who cannot say no to attacks
On our legacy and our future.

God of nations and history,
Let truth and justice resound
To the four corners of the earth.
Let the light of freedom
Shine brightly in the halls of power,
As a beacon of hope
For every land and every people.

© 2021 Alden Solovy


Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher wbose writing offers a fresh new Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, and prayer. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New DayThis Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearningsand, most recently, This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayerall published by CCAR Press.

Categories
News Prayer Social Justice

Prayer for a Nation in Crisis

As Reform rabbis, we unequivocally oppose today’s tragic insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol and on American democracy. We pray for peace in our nation’s capital, for the safety of all, and for an end to the treacherous and divisive demagoguery that threatens our precious democracy and is a rejection of our foundational American values.

We’re grateful to Rabbi Barry Block for penning this prayer for a nation in crisis.

Gracious God,
We come before You as supplicants today,
Seeking comfort and hope,
As terror reigns at our nation’s Capitol,
Spreading fears of violence throughout our land.
We beseech You on this terrifying day:
Spread your shelter of peace
Over the United States of America,
Upon all who dwell within its borders.
Embolden every American
To defend democracy,
To uphold our Constitution,
To protect the First Amendment right to assemble in protest,
And to eschew violence and mayhem.
Sustain us in faith
That the “better angels of our nature”[i] will be victorious,
That democracy will triumph,
That peace will prevail.
Bless the Capitol Police,
And all who are entrusted with restoring peace in Washington
And throughout this land.
Grant wisdom to
The President,
The Vice-President,
And to every Senator and Member of Congress.
Be with the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect,
Charged with unifying
This divided country
In the days and weeks ahead.
We Jews have always been
“Prisoners of hope.”[ii]
Restore us to hope today.
Grant us trust,
Even on a terrible day,
That we may look forward to a new day dawning,
Speedily and soon.
Amen.

Rabbi Barry H. Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas. A member of the CCAR Board, he is the editor of  The Mussar Torah Commentary, CCAR Press, 2020.


[i] President Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861.

[ii] Zechariah 9:12.

Categories
Books CCAR Press

Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer

This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer completes Alden Solovy’s trilogy of books with CCAR Press. In the introduction, the author discusses the meaning of his work in a time of pandemic.

Jerusalem, Nisan, 5780/April 2020: I’m sitting at my desk, sheltering in place due to the coronavirus. In fifty years, when the coronavirus is a distant memory, please God—or perhaps by then all disease will have been wiped off the globe—some readers won’t know what I’m talking about. You do. Many of you, perhaps most, are doing the same thing in this precarious and surreal moment: protecting the preciousness of all human life—yours, your family’s, your neighbor’s—by drawing back from the world outside into the world within the walls of your own home.

The walls of my writing studio are covered with Jerusalem stone. My desk is a rickety home-office model, a put-it-together-yourself wood-simulation item purchased before IKEA was a thing. One wall of the study is lined with Jewish books, mostly siddurim, Torah commentaries, and other books of Jewish wisdom. Half of the bottom shelf is Hebrew-language books, a testament to my continued and only partially successful efforts to learn the holy tongue. The window faces east, my view through a tree-lined alley to a busy street that follows the 1949 armistice agreement line. The Old City is to the north. To pray, I swivel my chair ninety degrees to the left. The art on the wall behind me is Jewish, including a framed, hand-crocheted “Shalom” made by my Grandma Ida z”l, and a blessing for the home purchased with my wife, Ami z”l, too long ago to remember. My window ledge is full of family photos. As of this moment, everyone is healthy. Let it stay that way.

Some of you may have been sick or seriously ill with coronavirus. Some of you might be ill even now as I write or will, God forbid, become ill soon. Others may be grieving the death of a friend, a family member, or dear one. Some of you are walking into harm’s way to serve us: doctors, nurses, health-care professionals, police, fire, public safety, sanitation, food-chain workers, and more, all of the people in vital services. Each one of us is being asked—perhaps required—to consider what gives our lives meaning. What we value. Our connections. Our contributions. Our legacy. The past. The future. This very moment. This precious life. The place in which we encounter the Divine.

This is a book of prayers, poetry, and meditations inspired by divine encounters. The first half of the book draws from divine moments in our sacred texts, mostly Torah, but also the Prophets and the Writings. Written using a modern voice and a contemporary imagination, the text invites you to enter into these holy moments as experienced by our ancestors and to reclaim them as our own. The second half of the book focuses on holy moments in our daily lives, divine encounters that occur simply because we are human beings imbued with divinity. Divine encounters that occur because we’ve been given souls.

This book is a testimony to the preciousness of life. In the first half of the volume, you’ll walk with God in the garden, calling out to Adam and Eve. You’ll stand as witness to the moment of Creation, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Jacob’s ladder, and the Golden Calf. You’ll hear the voices of Abraham, our father, and Sarah, our mother. You’ll leave Egypt, dance with Miriam by the sea, build the Tabernacle, and experience prophecy. You’ll encounter the Divine through experiences of our forebearers.

In the second half of the book, you’ll also be asked—perhaps challenged—to experience the Divine in your daily life. You’ll be asked to imagine flying between two horizons, step inside the light, and ride the river of life. You’ll encounter spiritual vandals. You’ll be asked to find the ethics in your eyes, the ethics in your hands, the ethics in your arms, and the ethics in your heart. You’ll experience the Divine in the poetry of living.

This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer is the third book in a trilogy with This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings and This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day. This Grateful Heart focuses on time and seasons, providing prayers and meditations for our days, both the holy and the mundane. This Joyous Soul turns to the siddur, the prayer book, offering alternative readings for our classic liturgy. This Precious Life examines divine encounters in sacred texts and in our daily lives. This Precious Life is intended for personal meditation and communal prayer, as well as religious and spiritual counseling. As a book of meditations, it offers depth and breadth of emotion. As a spiritual guide, it brings intimacy and tenderness, humility and gratitude, supported by a foundation of strength, faith, and hope.

My goal in writing This Precious Life is to open you, the reader, to deeply experiencing moments of divine encounter using the liturgist’s hand and the poet’s eye to illuminate holy connection, to help you uplift your prayers and sing in praise. Along with those lofty ideas, there are practical uses for this volume. Use these offerings in your daily prayers, in writing divrei Torah, and in learning about and discussing the weekly parashah. Clergy and Jewish educators might consider using them as part of adult, teen, and Hebrew school education, as well as in Torah classes, sermons, conversion programs, counseling with congregants, and interfaith dialogue. Most importantly, my hope is that you are inspired to write new prayers in your own voice, based on your experiences of the Divine.

From here, sitting at my desk in Jerusalem, sheltering in place due to the coronavirus, it’s impossible to know what the state of the world—or the state of our worldview—will be when we return to the world or when you hold this book in your hands. What will happen to our trust, social interactions, the economy, our lives? How will we move through the world, day by day? How will the generation of children who sheltered at home be shaped by these precarious times?

This much is clear: This is a precious life. Your life. My life. Our lives. All precious. May we all live with a grateful heart and a joyous soul, sanctifying this precious life.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist and poet. He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, and This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer, all published by CCAR Press.

Categories
Rituals

Celebrating Retirement: A Synagogue/Home Ritual

As rabbis, most of us are able to have a meaningful celebration when we retire, but many of our congregants don’t always have that opportunity. Recognizing that need, I created a ceremony that rabbis can share with members of their community to turn the milestone of their retirement into a sacred Jewish moment. This ritual can be performed with the retiree’s family and friends, whether on Zoom or, when safe and appropriate, in person in a synagogue setting.

Needed: challah, wine, and a candle.

Retiree: This is truly a sacred moment in my life. I have spent my life making a living and now have reached this moment of retirement, the beginning of a new adventure. As we do in all sacred moments, we say together the words of the Shehecheyanu (Hebrew and English).

I can only imagine how excited and overwhelmed with joy my parents (names) (“of blessed memory” or “who are with us this day”) were when I came into this world. (If retiree has children, include: “For I remember how excited (spouse’s name) and I were when we had (names of children).”

My childhood years were filled with joy and happiness. I remember (name some remembrances). There was also sorrow and sadness (name some remembrances). But I made it through those years and was better for it.

And the Lord spoke to Abraham and Sara saying: “Lech l’cha, go forth to a land that I will show you—and be a blessing.”

I did go forth to make my way in life to a world in which I could be a blessing to (name spouse, partners, friends, and/or colleagues).

Indeed, God’s promise of being a blessing was fulfilled! I feel I touched the lives of so many by completing my life’s task up until this moment. Also, I changed the world a little by my involvement in (name volunteer organizations, donations, causes involved with).

Now, once again, I hear God’s command to go forth to a new phase of my life. Just as Abraham and Sara, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, Joshua, and all my ancestors, some who crossed raging seas, did not know their destination when they began, my destiny is a mystery as well. I know not what I will encounter on my way to my personal promised land, but I know I will discover new and interesting aspects about myself and the world.

I know that in this new adventure I will continue to be a blessing to my loved ones when I (name retirement plans).

It has been said that one becomes old when one stops dreaming. So, like Joseph before me, I still dream. I dream of (name aspirations for retirement).

I am grateful that God has blessed me and kept me alive for so many years to reach this new stage of life. I thank God and pray: “May my life continue to be a blessing.”

Family and friends respond: You have been a blessing to us. You have loved us, mentored us, and provided for us. We thank you for your gifts of mind and body. (Each individual can share personal words of thanks.)

As the people Israel are commanded to be an or l’goyim, a light unto the nations, I light this candle as a symbol that I too may continue to be a light unto my family and community: a light of justice and morality, a light of strength and guidance, a light of leadership and continuing to be a role model. (Light candle) 

As I begin this new adventure I say the words of a traveler’s prayer:

May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and the God of our Mothers and Fathers, that You lead me toward the peace I seek. Guide my footsteps in the choices I make, and help me and my family reach our desired destination of a life filled with meaning, gladness, and shalom. May You protect us from the hand of every foe and scheme that would lead us astray from our dreams of a peaceful and meaningful world. May You send blessing in the work of my hands and mind, and grant me grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all with whom I will come in contact during this next period of my life. May You hear the sound of my humble requests as I begin my new adventure. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who hears the voices of humans in prayer. Amen.

All of you have shared with me my accomplishments and achievements, and you have heard my dreams for this encore chapter of my life, now share with me the bounties of life by which I have been blessed.

Share wine and challah with everyone. Recite blessings in Hebrew and English.

Optional concluding songs[1] and reading:

  • Debbie Friedman: “T’filat Haderech,” “L’chi Lach,” “Kaddish D’Rabbanan,” “The Journey Song”
  • Dan Nichols: “Beyond”
  • Cantor Benjie Ellen Schiller: “Blessing,” “Everyone Has a Name,” “Lamdeini,” “May You Live to See Your World Fulfilled”
  • Craig Taubman: “Journey”
  • Steve Schiller: “Livracha”
  • Peter Yarrow: “Sweet Survivor”
  • Cantor Jeff Klepper/ Rabbi Daniel Freelander: “Ushmor”
  • Noah Budin: “Wisdom of the Heart”
  • Sheryl Braunstein: “Y’varech’cha”
  • Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, “To the Uplifting God, Help Me,” from Amen (CCAR Press, 2020, p. 79)


Rabbi Daniel A. Roberts is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanu El in Cleveland. He is the co-author, with Dr. Michael Friedman, of Clergy Retirement: Every Ending a New Beginning for Clergy, Their Family, and the Congregation. He invites readers to contact him at drobe17@aol.com for more ideas on how to implement this ritual in a congregational setting.

[1] Suggested by Rabbi Billy Dreskin and Cantor Ellen Dreskin

Categories
Books Inclusion LGBT

‘Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells’: A Project of Hope

Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells, edited by Rabbi Denise L. Eger, was published by CCAR Press in the spring of 2020. In this post, Rabbi Eger shares how the book came to be.

Some rabbis collect their sermons and publish them. They are pearls of wisdom for the ages.

I may yet do that at some point.

But more urgently, I saw the need to center the voices of the LGBTQ+ community. Throughout my years of service as a rabbi, I had to create ceremonies and prayers for my community when there were no resources. I was ordained in the late 1980s in the midst of the AIDS crisis, at a time when our beloved HUC-JIR still wouldn’t ordain openly LGBTQ+ people as rabbis or cantors. We lived in fear and in the closet. Maybe that is hard to believe now for our many openly LGBTQ+ rabbis and seminarians, but it wasn’t that long ago when we gathered secretly at CCAR Conventions late at night in someone’s room to connect with other queer colleagues.

Over the years, I wrote prayers for Pride Month and National Coming Out Day. I would write invocations and blessings for interfaith gatherings affirming the worth and dignity

of LGBTQ+ people, their families, and people with HIV. I had to invent, create, and imagine an authentic queer Jewish life when there was little liturgy available.

Religion is so often used to shame and hurt LGBTQ+ people. Too much violence and hatred are directed at the LGBTQ+ community in the name of religion. I purposefully write from a different perspective.

I tried to create prayers in a genuine Jewish voice that uplifted, instilling hope and healing. I tried to combat homophobia through prayers and reflections that reinforced the theology that all are created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. I tried to convey what today we call audacious hospitality, writing naming ceremonies for those transitioning gender, wedding ceremonies before we had any templates, and rituals for coming out. I wrote my first ceremony to celebrate someone coming out as gay in 1986! It was centered around an aliyah to the Torah, as a riff on benching Gomel and a Mi Shebeirach for well-being.

But luckily, over these same three-plus decades, LGBTQ+ Jewish life has grown and blossomed. We have seen tectonic shifts in not just welcoming LGBTQ+ and non-binary Jews home, but embracing queer life and queer Jewish voices.

Often when Gay Pride Month would roll around, many of you, my colleagues, would call or email me to ask for materials for Pride Shabbat. I shared whatever I had created that year. Clearly there was a need for a collection of resources to help communities live out our commitment to be welcoming and embracing places of LGBTQ+ folx. Not one for sitting around, after my time in leadership of the Conference, I knew it was the right moment to collect not only some of own writings, but to invite others to share their poetry, prayer, and passion—centering the voices and experiences of our queer Jewish community.

Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells was born out of this effort.

Mishkan Ga’avah represents some of the collected wisdom, voices, and experiences of Jewish LGBTQ+ people. It is a spiritual resource for both the individual and the community. I hope it inspires others to write creative liturgy and prayers using their own voices. And I hope it will offer comfort, solace, inspiration, and hope to LGBTQ+ people everywhere—a beautiful strand of pearls for all of our Jewish community to wear.


Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the editor of Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells: A Celebration of LGBTQ Life and Ritual (CCAR Press, 2020) and a past President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. She is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA.