Categories
CCAR Convention Immigration Social Justice

Embedding Ourselves in Baltimore: What Rabbis at CCAR Convention 2020 Can Learn From an Immigration Outreach Center Born Out of a Catholic Church

When the planning committee for the upcoming 2020 CCAR Convention met last spring, we asked ourselves, “How could we be in Baltimore and not look to understand the issues that the residents of this city meet each day?”

Like Cincinnati, Orange County, and Atlanta in recent memory, this convening of the Central Conference of American Rabbis will include opportunities to learn from some of the social justice issues endemic to Charm City. When we are together in March, we will explore issues around immigration, the toll of gun violence, climate change, the safety and care of people who are sex workers, and much more. 

One workshop I am excited about will be with Baltimore’s Immigrant Outreach Service Center (IOSC). This 501c3 organization is an immigration center which grew out of a social justice campaign at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Baltimore, through the help of foreign-born parishioner volunteers. IOSC helps immigrants build successful lives, offering a variety of services as wide as the variety of people they serve. There is a lot for us to learn from this organization that we can apply to our work settings: in advance of Passover, we will hear from people who came to the United States running from terrible circumstances towards a better opportunity for themselves and their families. We can also find inspiration from the experience of St. Matthew; the congregation’s demographics shifted with each passing year and so did the variety of programs they used to meet the needs of this changing population. And we will learn from the IOSC Executive Director and Senior Pastor of St. Matthew about how they created an independent non-profit organization that does essential justice work and has served immigrants from 123 countries.

As the CCAR continues to serve rabbis who serve in a multiplicity of settings, the Convention committee is also working to create learning opportunities that serve us. As we navigate the future of Jewish life in this time of change, I know that the social justice offering at CCAR Convention will inspire us all and supply tangible resources and inspiration to fuel the work we will do at home. I will see you in Baltimore. 


Rabbi Eleanor Steinman serves as an associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, Texas. CCAR Convention 2020 will be held in Baltimore, March 22-25, 2020. 

Categories
Convention

Learning and Connecting at CCAR Convention 2019

I stood as I’ve done thousands of times before with my eyes closed concentrating on the words, Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad! Except this time it was different. I was leading my congregation on a recent Friday night and for the first time during this moment of introspection a terrifying thought emerged, “what if? What if a perpetrator at this exact moment decides to enter like at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh because at this moment I am vulnerable, I am not paying attention to my surroundings?” This thought was quickly followed, “what is this world coming to?”

This is a question that I know I am not alone in considering. At the upcoming Convention in Cincinnati, we will take the time to delve deep into the issues of our day like antisemitism, security protocols, Torah learning, professional development, and so much more. It will also be the first time for many of us that we will share the stories and learn best practices from others as we debrief our communities response to the Pittsburgh Massacre. There will be sessions like, “Recovering from Moral Injury: Textual and Ritual Resources for Care,” “Lessons from Parkland and Northern California,” and “The Realities of Hate Online,” where we will be able to learn from experts and take new insights and practices back to our own communities.

In particular, I am looking forward to hearing from Attorney Roberta Kaplan. While known for her work on United States v. Windsor, the case that led to the end of the Defense of Marriage Act, Kaplan has a new case. Sines v. Kessler accuses the organizers of the Charlottesville’s march of conspiring to bring a campaign of violence under a pretext of a peaceful exercise of free speech. As Kaplan says “DOMA ‘was about the equal dignity of gay people…The Charlottesville case is also about equal dignity. It’s just about different groups of people.’”[1] There will surely be information and experiences to glean from Kaplan that will help those of us fortunate to attend to convention to consider and to share with our colleagues, institutions, and communities.

Most importantly, there will be opportunities, as abundant as one wishes to make them, for sharing stories, connecting with others, and hopefully, healing. In today’s world, we need to be together. While just a few days time, the annual Convention is a time to recharge one’s rabbinic batteries. We will take the opportunities, both formal and informal, to listen to one another, to ask the hard questions, share our fears, and make plans to move forward together. I hope that you will join me. Register now.

[1] Chernikoff, Helen. “Madam Precedent.” The Forward Magazine. (July 13, 2018): 26-31.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman serves Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, California.

 

Categories
News

#ThisIsWhatARabbiLooksLike

What does a rabbi look like? Do you envision the rabbi of your childhood when you picture a rabbi? Is it an iteration of Tevye, the lead character from Fiddler on the Roof? At the annual convention for the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) this question was posed in a myriad of ways, especially as the work of the Task Force on Women in the Rabbinate led a program on creating cultural change. 45 years after the ordination of the first female rabbi in North America, too many people struggle to break that old image. One way Reform Rabbis and the CCAR are changing the narrative is the hashtag and amazing photos, #ThisIsWhatARabbiLooksLike (I encourage you to search for this hashtag on your favorite social media platform).

By elevating the voice of the Reform rabbinate in the press, on social media, in the coffee shop, in the classroom, in the hospital room, and in the communal organization, Reform Rabbis are changing the perception of what a rabbi looks like.

A rabbi is tall. A rabbi is short. A rabbi is strong. A rabbi is differently able. A rabbi is a woman. A rabbi is a man. A rabbi is trans. This is what a rabbi looks like. Rabbis reflect the beautiful tapestry of humanity.

As I’ve been thinking and reflecting at the annual convention about these issues my amazing colleague at Temple Beth Hillel sent me the following photo and text.

“Ariela says, ‘this is Rabbi Ellie in the front.’”

As part of young Ariela’s imaginary play, one of her rabbis participates! This too is what a rabbi looks like.

And the next day this arrived:

“Today you are the top doll. She also said you like zebras.”

Thank God, children with the their profound imagination really understand what rabbis look like. May we continue to learn from them.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is the Director of Religious Education at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, CA. This blog was originally posted  at rabbisteinman.com/blog

Categories
congregations Rabbis

Humanitarian Mission to Cuba

“Cuba? Why are you going to Cuba on a humanitarian mission, rabbi?” Congregants and friends asked this question numerous times after Congregation Kol Ami and Temple Beth Hillel announced the plan to visit Cuba in April 2016. The answer was simple, the Jewish community there needs us and we need to hear their stories.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger and I learned about the possibility of doing a Jewish religious mission from other rabbis who led similar trips and we knew that, as the relationship between the United States and Cuba’s relationship is entering a new era, timing was just right. Working with Pierre from World Passage Ltd., we worked out an itinerary that enabled us to meet with the Jewish communities in Havana and Cienfuegos and learn about the country and people of Cuba. Our congregants were excited about this travel opportunity and before we knew it we were on our chartered flight from Miami to Havana.

We entered Cuba poem-1carrying clothes for the tropical climate, a minimum of 10 pounds of physical donations for the four organizations we would visit, cash tzedakah, and enough cash for our trip (United States citizens cannot use credit cards or ATMs so we needed to convert our cash into CUCs). Our enthusiastic group of 22 hit the ground running and began our tour. We went right to the Sephardic Synagogue in Havana, one of three Jewish communities we would visit (we also stopped at a maternity clinic in Trinidad and brought gifts).

Jewish life in Cuba was strong prior to the 1959 revolution. There were approximately 15,000 Jews throughout the island of Ashkenazi and Sephardic descent. Havana was home to 6 or 7 day schools and a private Jewish high school. After the 1959 Revolution, private businesses were confiscated by the government, private schools were closed and if one was to participate in any religious community s/he would not be able to work within the government (this included medical professionals, teachers, etc.). For decades there were not enough Jews at any of the synagogues to make minyanim for the High Holy Days. However, after the fall of the socialist countries, the Castro regime allowed Cubans to practice religion without fear of penalty or retribution. Cuba changed from an atheist country to a secular country.

The Jewish community of Cuba today is approximately 1,500, about 1,100 Jews in Havana and 400 in small communities throughout the country. Like all of the people of Cuba the Jewish community has made life work under difficult circumstances. Our donations consisted of items that the congregations in Havana will use in their pharmacies. The congregations run the facilities and any Cuban who has a prescription can come and receive whatever it is they need, provided the pharmacy has it in stock. We also brought basic necessities like toothpaste, toothbrushes, and men’s and women’s underwear.

While there is much to be proud of within the Cuban Jewish community, they are in trouble. Most of the Jews leave Cuba whenever the opportunity presents itself (today most of the young people plan to make aliyah). 95% of Cubans are intermarried, and at the Patronato Synagogue 20% of the congregants are over 60 years old. Cuba’s Jewish community has a unique history and story of survival and there is much to learn from them.

Of course we did not only meet with the Jewish community of Cuba. We heard an overview of Cuban architecture, and sadly every day three houses collapse in Cuba because of the lack of infrastructure. We saw signs of Jewish life, Jewish stars embedded in stained glass windows, hanging from chandeliers and placed within mosaics. We visited Museo Bellas Artes and saw the immense collection of Cuban art. We heard an acapella concert by a phenomenal group in Cienfuegos and saw a demonstration of authentic Santeria dance and music. We stopped at Jardin Botanica de Cienfuegos, an amazing space filled with hundreds of species of trees. And we stopped at La Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s home, to view the property and the newly painted swimming pool (thanks to President and Mrs. Obama’s recent visit.)

Narratives in Cuba are very important. We learned the story of the October Crisis (what we in America call the Bay of Pigs) and for many in our group it was eye-opening to hear a different perspective. We also carried the narratives of the Cuban Jews living in the United States with us. One of my congregants has fond memories of her family’s home in Havana and the farm where they grew sugar cane. In 1959 she and her family fled Cuba, their home and farms were confiscated by the government and she vowed never to return. The Cuban people are eager to tell their story. If you are able to do so, I encourage you to go and listen. Listen to the music, dance to the rhythms, and take in the wonders of the vast array of visual arts.

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Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is the Director of Religious Education at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, CA. She blogs at rabbisteinman.com/blog

Categories
congregations Israel

Shabbat at Kehillat Halev

There is something magical about Shabbat in Israel. The frenetic pace of the six other days of the week comes to a crawl, it is as though one can feel the angels of Shabbat descending upon this land. As part of the CCAR Israel convention, my colleagues and I separated and were guests of 13 Reform communities throughout the country. From Haifa to Gezer to Nahal Oz, we joined in prayer with congregations affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

I was delighted to attend Kehillat Halev in central Tel Aviv. We walked into the space, a senior day center the congregation rents from the municipality of Tel Aviv, and were welcomed warmly. Israelis from newborn to senior come each week to this congregation and bring in Shabbat with energy, kindness, joy, and amazing music. Rabbi Rotem offered beautiful words of Torah that spoke to my soul, stirring my own prayer, and from the feeling in the room, the prayer of each person.

Children were sitting on the laps of their parents, quietly playing with toys on the floor, or being danced around in the arms of family and friends who are like family.

The community uses a daf T’filah, a handout of the traditional prayers, contemporary reflections, and modern Israeli poetry. Music ranged from Taubman’s Hashkiveinu setting, niggunim, new Israeli songs, and traditional nusach.

The service concluded and I was simultaneously sad and ecstatic. Sad because I don’t know when I will get to celebrate Shabbat with this community again. Ecstatic because this community exists, is thriving, and my soul was filled with the spirit of Shabbat.

I hope you will join me in supporting the communities of the Israeli Reform Movement with our dollars and our Israel trips.

And thank you to Kehillat Halev for a gorgeous Shabbat. I’m sending in my synagogue membership when I get home.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is the Director of Religious Education at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, CA.

Categories
CCAR Convention Ethics Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

A Day For Rejoicing: Human Rights at the CCAR Convention

The Psalmist wrote, “this is the day the Eternal has made, let us rejoice in it” (Ps. 118:24).

Last Monday at the CCAR convention was dedicated to human rights. As part of raising awareness, there was a panel to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the CCAR’s move to accept gay and lesbian rabbis. 25 years is both a long and short time. Rabbi Yoel Kahn opened a program called, “Celebrating change on the 25th anniversary of CCAR’s resolution on homosexuality and the rabbinate” with a history and a sharing of some of his own story while teaching Torah, his Torah. I hope that Rabbi Kahn’s words were completely inspiring, informative, and emotional to everyone gathered there.

Later in the afternoon, Rev. Dr. William Barber II addressed the conference about a myriad of issues, voting rights, health care, mass incarceration, poverty, and the erosion of equal protection under the law. If you do not yet know about the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina, time to do some research.

The day also included a transition in leadership of the conference. The new board was installed and Rabbi Denise L. Eger took on the mantle of the presidency of the conference. Rabbi Eger is a talented rabbi, a passionate preacher, and works tirelessly for human rights for all. To say that I am proud is an understatement. המבין יבין – those who know, know.

This was a day of much rejoicing. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman
www.rabbisteinman.com

Categories
CCAR Convention Gun Control

Gun Violence in America: Moving from Helpless to Hopeful

Today I attended a fascinating session on Gun Violence, titled “Gun Violence in America: Moving from Helpless to Hopeful,” here at the convention led by Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, 5th year HUC-JIR student Adena Kemper Blum, Diane Boese, and Alec Harris. Two local Chicago people working on this gun violence prevention modeled locally. In short, the approach is to go after the purchasing power of the military and law enforcement who purchase 40% of the guns in this country and with that purchasing power, require that the gun manufacturers utilize rapidly improving technology that promotes gun safety.

Does this seem a little bit unclear? Think of the emissions standards my home state of California passed. In essence, because of these regulations all car manufacturers must produce cars that will pass the strictest emissions standards in the state. This organizing effort is trying to do something similar with gun safety technology.

The presenters shared the experiences of traveling to a European gun show (many of the top gun brands are produced by European companies) to speak with the gun enthusiasts about the safety issues. We also heard how Chicago-based organizing efforts have been effective, as Cook County is in the process of making changes.

If you would like to find out more about this effort, please visit Do Not Stand Idly By.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is the Director of Programs and Fund Development at A Wider Bridge, the pro-Israel organization that builds bridges between Israelis, LGBTQ North Americans, and allies.