Fifty Year Reflections

In many ways, the Reform movement is quite different today than it was when I was ordained. The Union Prayer Book was used in our synagogues universally most of the service was conducted in English. The introduction of Gates of Prayer, Gates of Repentance, and most recently, Mishkan T’fillah and Mishkan HaNefesh brought with it a more traditional feel while adding optional readings that fill the worship with meaning. Gender inclusive language makes all feel a part of the worship.

As students at HUC-JIR, we could not wear a Tallit when conducting services and students who desired kosher food needed the permission of the president to live off campus. My first contract in Akron specified that I could not wear a kippah on the bimah. Now kippot and talliot are made available to the congregation and the Tallit has replaced the robe that was standard attire for rabbis in the pulpit.

Our movement is no longer “classical reform.” More and more, our congregants and our younger colleagues pushed our movement to embrace traditions that had been discarded. We embraced Zionism and Israel became part of our rabbinic training and central in our congregations. I, too, embrace these changes. What’s lacking is the notion that the synagogue is central to Jewish life. Today there is much that competes and Friday night is no longer “Temple night.” We talk of spirituality without including the synagogue experience as an essential component of our relationship with God. I now hear people tell me that they are spiritual, but not religious. We can be both and I hope the worship service will once again rise up as part of our search for God in our lives.

In 1969, there were no women yet ordained by the College-Institute. There had not yet been ordained an openly LGTBQ rabbi. Women rabbis have become part of the norm, as have LGBTQ rabbis. The inclusion of both in our rabbinic leadership has changed us for the better.

In the early 1990’s, those of us with LGBT children and our colleagues who identified as gay or lesbian (mostly in the closet) were not permitted to post a meeting in a colleague’s room. Today most of our members are comfortable with officiating at same sex weddings. Our movement has become more welcoming of a diverse population making many more comfortable in our synagogues. I was happy to be a part of that change. I recall the controversy that arose when I officiated at the first same sex Jewish wedding in Ohio.   We have led the way and for that we should be proud.

Every generation makes its contribution to the growth of Reform Judaism. I look back on my career with a sense of satisfaction. It is good to know that I have made a difference in the lives of many people. It is good to know that, both in my congregation and as national president of PFLAG, I have made LGBTQ people feel safe, helped their families embrace them, and helped make them feel a part of Jewish religious life.  It is good to know that I have been able to teach both Jews and non-Jews the lessons that come from our Jewish tradition and its literature. It is good to continue to be a part of the general community and continue to present to Christian and Muslim groups. It is good now to be a member of my congregation. I now learn from my rabbi, and for that I am grateful.

Rabbi David M Horowitz is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention.