Categories
CCAR Convention

The Aha Moments: Rabbi Jeffrey Lazar on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

There is almost something preposterous about trying to sum up 50 years in the rabbinate. The relationships and friendships formed are at the core of the past half century. Lives that have touched me and vice versa. 

Experience and the presence of good people have guided me over the years to what I would describe as memorable and gratifying moments.

Like December 19, 1977, when Robbie Werney, a child with Down’s Syndrome, read eight verses from Torah on the occasion of his becoming a bar mitzvah. His mother had helped us establish a special needs program within the religious school. Robbie revealed the spark of God that existed in him and made believers out of those who doubted that something like this could be done.

Or sharing a morning with a group of sixth grade parents on writing an ethical will, what to say to their children as they became the newest links in the chain of our people’s tradition.

Or speaking to a group of teachers on how to ask thoughtful questions to their students, engaging them in the arduous task of thinking through the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Asking Questions.

What each of these memories has in common is the “aha moment,” the personal connection, the belief in others. To help others see possibilities, to achieve something they didn’t think possible, isn’t that what a rabbi, a teacher does? How grateful I am for those.


“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
                            – Leo Buscaglia


On the occasion of 50 years in the rabbinate, I toast my classmates and colleagues with “L’chayim!”


Rabbi Jeffrey Lazar is celebrating fifty years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, 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
Holiday Rituals

Purim When You’re Not in the Purim Mood

This Thursday evening, the Jewish world begins celebrating the raucous holiday of Purim, when silliness prevails over seriousness and levity wins the day. But some years, Purim feels harder than other years, and levity just doesn’t feel accessible on demand. This year, many of us are thinking back mournfully to Purim last March—our very last uninhibited communal gathering before we went into lockdown and life as we knew it changed forever. Since that gathering, Covid-19, has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands in our world, leaving loved ones to grieve in solitude—without hugs and touch, familiar rituals, or company. Lives have been disrupted, insulted by the harsh effects of the Covid-19 economy and its prolonged, painful fallout. This Purim may feel like a hard one to throw yourself into.

And yet Purim’s coming, whatever our mood. It’s always a curious proposition when a Jewish holiday comes along on which a strong emotion is commanded: whether the command is to “rejoice on your festival,” revel on Purim, or be tragically sad on Tishah B’Av. We know what the mood in the room is supposed to be, and that sanctioned mood confronts us, as individuals, with a choice—whether to participate with the community when this is what the community is meant to feel, or whether to just sit this one out. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, our tradition almost always lands on the side of participation. 

This traditional Jewish preference for participation in the prescribed emotion of a special day expresses itself in a host of ways. For instance, when we’re in shivah—the first week of mourning after a death, and Shabbat rolls around, which is meant to be a day of joy and contentment, we are not to display the outward signs of grief that we do the rest of that difficult week. During the first year of mourning for a parent, we are not to join in the dancing and singing at a wedding, lest we appear happy in the face of our loss, but we are still encouraged to attend the wedding ceremony and even take on a role, like serving the meal afterwards. Poskim hold that our suffering may only be increased if we suffer the additional loss of communal participation, especially in an event we were once looking forward to sharing with people that we love.

Jewish people are always shocked when they hear that a festival like Pesach or Sukkot cancels the formal mourning period—the seven days of shivah or the thirty days of shloshim after a death. How can this be? Our grief doesn’t stop, but we stop expressing it? For the sake of participating in a festival whose joy we’re really not in the frame of mind to absorb? My soul used to writhe against the thought of this practice. Until one year, I was at a Jewish convention, the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial, and on the second morning, I lost a beloved uncle unexpectedly; he died after what should have been a routine surgery and recovery. I didn’t know what to do with my grief—should I just go home? Was it wrong to stay? Did my family need me? Would I even get anything out of being at the festival? (And yes, when 5,000 Jews show up for a convention that only meets every two years, travel there, and look forward for months to learning and singing and joining in stirring worship together, yes, that is our contemporary Jewish chag—our pilgrimage festival of holy time together.) I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up all I’d invested to be there, or all that I’d hoped it would fill me with spiritually. The truth in my heart was that I wanted to stay, because this wasn’t just some party—it was, rather, exactly what my soul needed to cope and begin to heal. My purposes for being there hadn’t changed with my uncle’s death. In fact, they’d amplified: I longed more for connection, more for communal opportunities to pray, more for a community to say Kaddish alongside other mourners, and a shoulder to lean on. More, for moments of levity to pull me out of my own head and take me to another place, if only for fleeting moments of relief.

The Biennial—festive though it was—was exactly where I needed to be, and my religion gave me permission to be there. I didn’t ignore my grief. My shivah wasn’t cancelled in that sense. In what was probably one of the first online memorial services, I “gathered” with my broken relatives on my computer screen, while in my hotel room colleagues from rabbinical school and past congregations where I’d interned sang and chanted psalms. My roommate and I planned the ceremony together, which was in itself a healing act and a learning experience, as she faced my raw grief so ably and compassionately. And in the days that followed, I let my mind be carried off to wherever the speakers took me—my rabbinic teachers, the keynote address by President Obama, the musicians that made my heart soar and my eyes sore from crying.

Somehow, the tradition knew that’s where I needed to be despite all, and because of all, that life had thrown at me that week.

So how should we approach the unrelenting expectation of festivity on Purim, if we happen to find ourselves in a struggling state of mind? If you are someone for whom levity feels possible, delight in it fully. Laugh heartily. But if you’re not in such a place, after a difficult year, then maybe Purim offers a different but healing path, and blessings you have yet to discover. Perhaps sitting it out will only increase loss and exacerbate pain, because something will be happening that you’re meant to be a part of. Where there’s a place carved out just for you. 

You don’t have to feel happy every minute in that place. A curious rule on Purim is that we should not send mishlo-ach manot—Purim gifts—to someone in mourning, because we shouldn’t force joy upon them while their dead lie before them—and yet the mourner is not exempt from the Purim mitzvah of sending gifts to others. We’re also taught that while a mourner on Purim needn’t act silly and rejoice, they should still partake of the Purim feast. Our forebears knew how much a communal meal could nourish body and soul.

Our sages found ways that we could grow spiritually, even in the darkest times, by participating in the life of the community even when we’re not in the mood.  Our participation is perhaps a prayer for finding levity again after a hard year—and in those days, for the Jewish people, they were all hard years. The wisdom they gleaned and passed down to us is our guide in times of confusion. May their memory bless our days.


Rabbi Nicole Roberts is Senior Rabbi of North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.

Categories
Holiday News Social Justice

Reflections on Purim in 2021: COVID-19 and Modern-Day Genocide

This year, the lessons of Purim feel truer than ever.

This pandemic will not prevent us from celebrating Purim (socially distanced, of course). But Purim needs to be more than celebrated; it needs to be observed. Exchanging disease prevention masks for Purim masks during online celebrations is not enough. To observe Purim is to protest ethnic cleansing and genocide.

We know—viscerally, painfully—that religious freedom is not a lesson from ancient stories but an ongoing quest even today. While many of us are fighting antisemitism in our home countries, we are also in solidarity with the Rohingya people of Burma, who have been persecuted for decades. A predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in Burma (Myanmar), the persecution escalated to a full-blown genocide in 2017, and in the wake of the military coup just a few weeks ago, their dreams of one day returning to their homeland grows fainter. The military in Burma overthrew the democratically elected government a few weeks ago in a coup—the same military who, for years, has been carrying out the genocide against the Rohingya people and oppressing other ethnic minorities.

Right now in Burma, people from all ethnic backgrounds are joining together in civil disobedience in response to the coup—and their methods look familiar. People are taking to the streets banging pots and pans. The videos of these peaceful, noisy protests are inspiring: ordinary people are making noise. Listening to a m’gillah reading on Purim, we rejoice in shaking our groggers when we hear Haman’s name—making noise to express our solidarity with each other, and to find joy even in the midst of recalling painful stories. People all over Burma are making noise now—maybe not with groggers, but we are connected to them just the same.

With holidays like Purim to bolster us and our people’s recent history to ground us, Jews today know deeply the importance of standing up with and for people who face genocide, who face state-sanctioned persecution because of their religion. The suffering, mass murder, and forced displacement of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya community speaks deeply to us and compels us to act. We know we need to make noise. We need to act.

But we can be grateful to live in a world where action is possible. That’s why the CCAR is now a member of the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network: a network of thirty Jewish organizations from across the U.S. all taking action against the ongoing genocide.

This Purim, we are not only thinking about the Rohingya genocide as we read from the m’gillah once again and shake our groggers. I’m also holding how much the world has changed since last Purim, and what lessons we can learn from Purim in a pandemic.

Holocaust survivor, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel struggled with the problematic nature of Purim. How is it that a people who has suffered so greatly can make a holiday out of a state-sponsored genocide plot and the fighting that followed? Why is it that a people that values learning, wisdom, and fine distinctions created a custom calling on us to get so giddy that we cannot tell the difference between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman”?

What does it say about our love of justice that not only the villain, but his ten sons too are killed once the king changes sides in the conflict? It doesn’t sound all that Jewish, does it? We were blessed to have Wiesel for as long as we did, but it would have been fascinating to read the insights he had to offer on the meaning of Purim during a pandemic. We now inhabit a reality where wearing a mask is not reserved for holidays and parties but a discipline of daily life. Like the Persians of the M’gillah, the American public has been fed misinformation about minorities while as recently as January antisemites and racists had ready access to the inner courts of power when they attacked the U.S. Capitol.

What would Wiesel, who spent Purim of 1945 in Buchenwald, struggling to stay alive for liberation a few weeks later, have to say about Purim 2021? We will never know the answer. What we do know is that Wiesel devoted his life’s work to bearing witness to genocide in the hope that future ones could be prevented. A modern-day prophet, he preached a message about the perils of apathy, complicity, and inaction. He told us to make noise when people are suffering because of their ethnicity, their religion. Like the prophets of old, his message was and remains all too often unheeded, and millions of people have paid the price.

Even in the midst of this joyful holiday, we mourn those lost to genocide. And we mourn those we have lost to the pandemic. We must bear witness to their deaths by making the world a more just and compassionate place. We must analyze the systemic failures that kept us from preventing more deaths and scrutinize the missed opportunities that would have saved more lives. So, too, we must be mindful that COVID-19 has not meant a hiatus from genocide and ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya face an uphill battle, as do the Uyghurs in China, and the Yazidis in Iraq, who remain in peril while powerful nations procrastinate instead of using their power.   

To follow Esther’s example requires us to use our privilege and our access to advocate for others rather than just worrying about ourselves. Thank you to CCAR and the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network for giving American Jews a voice against modern-day genocide, so we can continue Wiesel’s work of bearing witness. Today, call your senator and ask them to move forward legislation that would support the Rohingya people, and all ethnic minorities in Burma. When you shake your groggers at Haman’s name this Purim, picture the Burmese people shaking their groggers against modern-day Hamans, and feel the warmth of continued solidarity even across generations and continents. Wishing you a Purim of happiness, holiness and hope.


Rabbi David Wirtschafter serves Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, Kentucky.

Categories
Social Justice

Black History Is American History

When Black History Month arrives each February, I remember an exchange from a 2009 60 Minutes Morgan Freeman interview with Mike Wallace. In it, three important statements about the condition of racism in the United States emerge. Here is a brief YouTube clip of their exchange. It goes something like this:

:00 Wallace asks, “Black History Month you find…”

:04 “Ridiculous,” answers Freeman bluntly. “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month?”

:16 Wallace is stunned. He’s tongue-tied. He stammers. “I’m Jewish,” he says.

:20 “Okay, which month is Jewish History Month?” asks Freeman.

Wallace: “There isn’t one.”

“Oh, why not? Do you want one?” Freeman asks.

“No, no, I uh…” mumbles Wallace.

:29 “Alright. I don’t either,” affirms Freeman. “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”

Let’s say it again: Black history is American history. That it is relegated to a single and separate month is the first statement about the condition of racism in America. Instead of digging into Freeman’s powerful point that Black history is American history, and to relegate it to a month is to diminish the rich history and countless contributions of African Americans in this country, Wallace swings and misses:

:36 Wallace asks, “How are we going to get rid of racism?”

By turning to a question of racism, Wallace’s seemingly innocuous question unveils an unspoken truth about Black History Month. People think its purpose is to be an antidote to racism. It is not. To see Black History Month as a way of ending racism in our country is to implicitly claim that there would be less racism if folks just saw and understood that Blacks are just as good and worthy as everyone else and have contributed to our country in innumerable ways far beyond Dr. Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson. Black History Month as a remedy to racism is a racist idea in and of itself and is the second statement about the condition of racism in our country. As Dr. Ibram X. Kendi has said numerous times, “The only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people.”

Black history is American history, and it is misguided to believe that Black History Month could serve as a remedy to racism. The clip from the 60 Minutes interview with Morgan Freeman adds one final statement about the condition of racism in our country:

:37 Wallace asks, “How are we going to get rid of racism?”

“Stop talking about it,” Freeman answers. “I’m going to stop calling you a White man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a Black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman.”

Here, Freeman unwittingly evokes a perspective that is no longer right thinking. It never was. Like Freeman’s opinion, I was also raised during a time when colorblindness was seen as a curative to racism. However, that was never true. It is harmful. Children as young as three years old see color differences and, being socialized in a society that is systemically racist, are unconsciously taught to prefer White over Black. The final statement about American racism to be learned from this brief clip between Morgan Freeman and Mike Wallace is this: to fail to see the color of someone’s skin is to erase a core component of their identity. The covert racism hiding in our biases and stereotypes will not be overcome by pretending we don’t see color. It will certainly not contribute to the dismantling of systemic racism in our society.

This February, ask yourself: Why does Black History Month exist? On the whole, does it help construct an anti-racist society? Pay attention: How are the stories and histories of Black Americans told? In the process of honoring their legacies, are there subtle implications that they are being elevated to prove Black worthiness? Finally, we must see color. Colorblindness perpetuates racism because it pretends that we and our institutions are without bias, prejudice, and stereotype.

As a Reform rabbi, b’tzelem Elohim—that we are all created in the image of the Divine and therefore possess equal worth—demands that I speak out when I witness harmful acts of racism. As an aspiring White antiracist, it is my obligation to take action and use my privilege to fight oppression always—not just one month out of the year. Our covenantal relationship with God commands us to never turn away from the struggle and to inspire and guide our children to carry on for the rest of their lives. I implore you to see, honor, and lift up our differences and be a committed ally in the ongoing fight to dismantle racism.


Rabbi David Spinrad serves Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia.

Categories
CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: The Blessing of Four Days to Connect

CCAR Convention 2021 is coming. It is difficult to believe that it was just about a year ago that the CCAR staff and the Convention Committee worked furiously to figure out what it might mean to have our beloved yearly Convention online.

Now here we are, a year later preparing for a second online CCAR Convention. Your CCAR Staff and Convention Committee took the lessons from last year’s CCAR Connect 2020, the countless lessons we learned as rabbis who are now primarily functioning online due to Covid-19, and dreamed even bigger so that we talented, tired, and weary rabbis can recharge.

Now it is up to us CCAR members. We need to block off the full days in our work calendars. We deserve it. Accept the blessing of four days to connect with colleagues, to engage in worship as a pray-er not a leader, to learn and laugh. While the schedule is full, with sensitivity to CCAR members throughout the world, you may find yourself with a few hours before or after programming begins. Please, don’t schedule that time with work. Care for yourself. Step away from the screen so that you are ready to engage when the program day begins and ends. CCAR Convention is always a time to remember that in a profession where isolation can reign, we are part of a community of colleagues, and while we might experience loneliness, we are not alone.   

CCAR Convention, like always, will be what you make of it. We will remember and honor the treasured colleagues who’ve died in the past year and we will miss them dearly. We will honor our rabbis celebrating 50 and 51 years in the rabbinate, and we will install a new slate of officers to lead us. I invite you to join me online this year so that we can learn, recharge, and connect anew together.


Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is a doctoral student at the University of Southern California and serves Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, Texas as Visiting Associate Rabbi. 

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
CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: Gratitude and Our Kahal

Last week, my Hebrew school students led our congregation’s Kabbalat Shabbat services. “Hebrew School Shabbat,” as it’s affectionately called, provides an annual opportunity for parents, grandparents, and community members to witness our youth recite the prayers they’ve been learning in Hebrew school.

And yet, this year was very different. Each child led from their computer at home, and nearly all of the students led their prayer as a solo voice with the rest of the kahal on mute. While many of us rabbis have become accustomed to leading prayer services online, I didn’t take for granted that my students would readily be prepared to sing and pray so publicly on the screen. And yet, my doubts were quickly assuaged as each rose to the occasion with confidence and ease. Their boldness and pride made this annual congregational gathering sweeter than ever. And my community and I are the better for it.

This year at the CCAR Convention, our kahal will gather each from our own homes or synagogue offices. This year our daily t’filot, kavanot. and meditation leaders will lead us from places across the globe. And in this strange new, or perhaps not-so-new reality, we’ll raise our voices to sing with gratitude, reflect on our lives, breathe deeply, ask for healing, and even perhaps shed a tear. Despite our physical distance, we’ll gather with rabbinic colleagues in prayer and song, as only we can do at our annual convention.

As I am planning for our time together and looking at my calendar, I am also trying to be very practical about it: What will it take for me to feel present at Convention despite the many distractions around me? What practical steps can I take to carve out the time and space for Convention?

While most of us are exhausted from life online, I believe that we, like my students, can embrace this opportunity with joy and gratitude. I look forward to seeing you in March!


Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor serves Beth Israel Congregation in Bath, Maine.

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

Hard-Gained Wisdom: Rabbi Ed Treister on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, we share a blog from Rabbi Ed Treister.

They say a person will have seven totally unrelated jobs in their working life. Most of us will have but one—rabbi. We ordainees of 1971 have been rabbis for fifty years. That’s a long run, fifty years. Who knew when we left Temple Ema­nu-El or the Plum Street Temple that the run would be cross-country—literally and figuratively—and not a paved road marathon. But at the fifty-year mark, there is a sense of accomplishment for no other reason than for having crossed the finish line.

I’ve learned a lot in the past fifty years. Most of it the hard way, but then those are the lessons that stay with you. There were other classes I attended—and repeated!—and still others where I never got their message. But here at the fifty-year finish line are some things I’ve gathered. Some of them I took in and benefited from and some, to my chagrin, I ignored. As to those lessons repeated or missed, all I can say is—pay attention!

1. There is a difference between being a rabbi and being in the rabbinate. Rabbi is who you are; the rabbinate is where you work. You’ll always be a rabbi even if you aren’t in the rabbinate. Be always mindful of how you tie your shoes. 

2. Carve out time to study and make it fixed. Shammai said it better than I. There’s only so much in the tank, and while your mileage may vary, at a certain point, you know you’re running on fumes. Not good for you, and not good for your people.

3. What you say and how you say it are the tools of your trade. Avtalyon said to be careful with your words. That has to include preparing your words well: well-thought-out, well-phrased, well-presented. Preparation shows: it shows you care about what you are saying and to whom you are saying it. Lincoln could do it off the back of an envelope; few of us are Lincolns.

4. Spend a lot of time with the kids in religious school and youth group. It is with them that you may have the greatest influence. They’ll remember what you taught them, and it will shape their character to an inestimable degree.

5. The rabbinate offers the rabbi opportunities to touch a lot of people in a variety of venues every single day. I can think of no other field, with the possible exceptions of broadcasting and publishing, that has that kind of reach. Take advantage of those moments.

6. The rabbinate is one of the last places where you can speak before an assembly without fear of interruption or challenge. Maybe a good thing, and then again, maybe not. 

7. The rabbinate offers the possibility for you to focus your energies towards goals that you establish. You can shift your focus as you see the need in you or in your community with relative ease. That’s real flexibility and freedom.

8. The rabbinate is a job with all the storms and stresses of being an employee. Often you’re viewed as a middle manager who is under the direction of other managers. It is an unsustainable position and you will need to define yourself for them by what you say and what you do.

9. The smaller the institution the greater the likelihood of transitions. The larger the institution the greater the likelihood of stability. Sailboats are easier to maneuver (and tip over) than steamships and that goes both for the rabbi and for the institution. Hamaskil yavin.

10. By the time you are ordained you will have at least nine letters after your name. You may even acquire more. Bear in mind that wisdom is not measured by degrees but by demeanor. Ed Friedman said it differently: at all times strive to be a non-anxious presence. 

There’s my ten. There are lots more. The point is being a rabbi is an opportunity to help people live meaningful, Jewishly value-laden lives. But being in the rabbinate also means dealing with highly diverse agendas, some that can be supportive, but others that can be highly destructive. In this long run, that is the rabbi’s career in the rabbinate. I wish you Godspeed.


Rabbi Edward Treister is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, 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

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.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, 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.

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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.