At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1965, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years. In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of these members of the class of 1965 and their 50 years in the rabbinate.
As with all of my jubilee classmates, life has brought me much undeserved joy: Resa, my life partner who shares with me a nurturing, forgiving, healing, joyous love; children for whom I am still a desired part of their world; grandchildren who regularly turn to me with challenging questions and unsolicited hugs; and a career of meaningful, often satisfying sacred service, rich with human interactions.
As with most us, life has also brought me much undeserved pain: sitting by my young mother’s bedside, helpless before the malignancy that was consuming her brain; confronting a professional failure that challenged my too fragile self-worth; bearing the agonizing burden of deciding whether my sister should be administered sufficient morphine to quiet her pain, morphine that would also stop her heart; trying to internalize what it meant, what it really meant, when for over ten years – every six months — my physicians would tell me that I had only three more months to live.
In the pursuit of meaning in the presence of such a mixed bag of life experiences, I have dedicated my rabbinate to the Jewish People. It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just happened. I came alive to our world in the ’60’s; I embraced the anti-war movement while still in uniform; I entered into the struggle by African Americans for human and civil rights; feminism; choice – yet through all of that I found myself inexorably drawn to my people’s right and obligation to secure its own future. The Six Day War. The Soviet Jewry Movement. The birth and flowering of Reform Zionism. High school kids at Kutz. College kids. Israel. The Aliyah that Resa and I embraced as full partners.
For four decades as a congregational rabbi and now for one decade as a retiree – the meaningful survival and evolution of the Jewish people have been at the center of my day-to-day concerns. Over the years that struggle became a unifying theme around which I could organize my thoughts and actions. Even today, even now, it ignites within me hope and purpose. To put it simply, that struggle keeps me alive. Perhaps it is not the most worthy of causes, but it infuses my being with a shot of metaphorical adrenaline.
Maybe that is why I find myself today still trying to shape our people’s tomorrows. Maybe that is why so many of my classmates have made similar choices in their own ways, in their own lives: refusing to give up on trying to have an impact on the future.
It’s not that I see better or know more than anybody else. I know that I don’t. But I believe based upon what I have seen and learned and experienced that the survival of Israel as a Jewish democratic state is a sine qua non for the survival of North American Jewry, even as the reverse is equally true. And that belief for me is a mandate for meaningful action.
So when I received a call from a close colleague and friend in early January, asking me to help him raise some funds quickly so that he could effectively compete for a position on the Labor slate in the forthcoming Knesset elections, I could not refuse. That election has a real possibility of overturning what I consider to be an intransigent government incapable of launching positive initiatives which might, just might, move us closer to a two state solution. If a new government is formed this Spring linking parties of the political right with the ultra-orthodox parties, many of the recent ground-breaking achievements in easing the stranglehold of the Rabbinate over matters of personal status and life cycle events will be reversed. To shape the future, outspoken advocates for religious pluralism like my friend are needed by the Knesset. There is a job demanding to be done. I tried to help.
Elections for the World Zionist Congress are currently on-going. A victory for ARZA in these elections will pour more than $20 million into the activities of the IMPJ and the Hebrew Union College over the next five years. Israeli Reform Judaism now tracks support from more than 7% of the population. We are growing, evolving, changing. We offer new definitions as to what a synagogue could be; we demonstrate how the manner in which we treat the stranger in our midst helps determine our relationships with an increasingly hostile world. With a western understanding of democracy and with a liberal and embracing vision of Jewish identity both embedded in our Reform DNA – Israel needs us to win and to win big in the Congress elections. Another job yet to be done. By us. We can still help. We are very much alive. We are relevant. We are needed.
I don’t know how many quality months or years that I have left. The door to that mystery is firmly shut. And I am painfully aware of my own personal limitations and weaknesses. But like many of my classmates, I am not yet willing to turn my back on how the future will emerge. Being in a struggle the outcome of which will not be known for many years after I am gone doesn’t diminish the vitality that I feel today because I am still engaged.
So whatever the worthy issues that command each of us: Israel or environmentalism or racism or economic justice or the strengthening of our families or writing that book that really needs to be written — we who are growing old can continue to find what Frank Bruni recently called in The New York Times, “slices of opportunity” awaiting us. So long as our hands can reach, so long as our souls can yearn and our minds can comprehend – so long can we yet have a vital role in shaping what tomorrow will bring. We who were once the future and then were the present are not ready to lay down our burdens. Not yet. Not now. We have too much to do. We are needed. You see, there is life to be lived. And we are still choosing to live it.