Do we want to truly act as a Movement?
That was the hard question a few rabbis asked each other in a hotel in Chicago in the fall of 2011.
We all had had experiences acting as individuals who were part of a conference, as individuals who came together periodically in hotels all over the country, to share those experiences and learn from each other. But while we couldn’t fully imagine what we meant, we knew that wasn’t it. So we tried the question in different ways– with ourselves, and then with a broadening circle of rabbinic colleagues.
Have you ever wanted to act on an issue but couldn’t because you were alone?
If you could act on an issue together with 400 other rabbis, what would that feel like?
If you could act on an issue together with 400 other rabbis, what would that issue be?
An amazing thing emerged as we began to test drive those questions. We began to sense that we were on to something– a hunger for connectivity, a desire to amplify our voices for justice at the center of the rabbinate, and a need to do so with colleagues in a way that hadn’t been done in decades.
A year and a half of exploration ensued. It wasn’t always smooth or easy. We challenged each other on the viability, on even the advisability of such an effort. We asked the most important thought partners in our Reform Movement what they heard in their questions, and they responded generously with encouragement, excitement, support, and more hard questions that made us get clearer on the vision we had.
What began to emerge was a vision of rabbis engaged in deep conversation, challenging as that might be across North America. We began to hear common themes– the desire to act powerfully as a rabbinate, and a remarkable sense that, as diverse as we are, we all want the same essential things for our world. And we began to see the outlines of the kind of power we could bring to bear on the most critical justice issues of our day.
I believe that we will look back at the Long Beach CCAR Convention as a defining moment in the Reform rabbinate. We will look back on a plenary in which more
than 300 rabbis held their breath (not an easy thing for us rabbis) and cried tears of indignation when we heard the story of a “dreamer.” We will not soon forget the moments when we were called to “Nishmah,” to reflect on our own immigration stories, thinking at first we did not have them, and soon realizing just how deep our own stories actually were. And we will, none of us, forget those thought leaders standing in unity with all of us as we said together, “Na’aseh,” let us act as one.
A year and a half has brought us to this moment, and in so very many ways the journey and the real work and opportunity has just begun. There are so many hard questions that we must still answer. But there is a question we answered in Long Beach, and it is a question and answer that has the potential to define our legacy and change the world. The question we couldn’t answer, 12 of us in a hotel lobby in Chicago was, “Do we want to act as a movement?” The resounding answer in Long Beach was, “yes.”
Let us begin, together.
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Rabbi Joel Mosbacher is rabbi of Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, New Jersey.