Categories
Economy omer Shavuot Social Justice spirituality

Economic Stability: An Ageless Quest

Last fall, my husband and I ordered a new sukkah decoration straight from Israel. The package arrived with a free magnet, imprinted with the image of a woman holding an umbrella, walking in the rain. The magnet had one word on it. Sasson (“joy”). It took me a moment, and then I realized my cultural gap. Living in New Jersey, joy is not the word I associate with rain. However, in Israel and other arid climates, rain is pure joy, because it is desperately needed. 

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, includes a section on the holidays, a calendar chiefly driven by the agrarian cycle. Theses verses are relevant to modern Jews because, thousands of years later, we still celebrate the holidays, albeit with layers of development around our rituals, but at the core, these holidays are still the same. But to be honest, the descriptions of the biblical holiday sacrifices, meal and fruit offerings, and animal sacrifices, do not resonate when compared to my modern observance of Judaism. 

For example, the parashah describes the counting of the Omer, the annual schlepping of grain offerings for seven weeks. This daily offering of grain bridged the barley harvest of Passover to the wheat harvest of Shavuot. But how do I count the Omer today? Do I schlep a bundle of barely to the Temple, to be offered, in recognition of God as source of all? Not at all! Today, an app on my phone sends me a reminder every night at sundown, and I count the Omer, with words. Done. 

Given the vast differences between now and biblical times, it is easy to forget how scary the harvest cycle would have been for our ancestors. In the winter they waited nervously to see if there would be enough rain to sustain the growth of their crops to feed their family and their animals. Then after the rains of winter, once the crops were planted, it was a waiting game. Would they be able to harvest the crops before something bad happened? The possibilities for failure were endless: too much heat, not enough water, locusts, or some other plague. It was a precarious time.

As the modern plague of COVID-19 unfolds, we are foremost concerned about life and health. However, we also hold our breaths as we watch the world’s economy spin out of control. Therefore, this year, while we count the Omer, we also count our balances in checking accounts and retirement funds. We wait to see if jobs will continue or salaries will be cut. And we deeply understand the fears of our ancestors, who prayed to be sustained by their storerooms. The biblical fears are near to us as ever. Our holidays, with their deep agrarian roots, are ultimately about the basic human need, shared by every generation, to have enough to sustain us, even when times are tough.

This desire for economic stability and sustenance is voiced in the following passage, added in some communities historically, at the conclusion of the daily morning service.

First, the community would read the passage from Exodus 16 about the manna and then add something like this example: 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתַּזְמִין פַּרְנָסָה לְכָל עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפַרְנָסָתִי וּפַרְנָסַת אַנְשֵׁי בֵיתִי בִּכְלָלָם, בְּנַחַת וְלֹא בְּצַעַר, בְּכָבוֹד וְלֹא בְּבִזּוּי, בְּהֶתֵּר וְלֹא בְּאִסּוּר, כְּדֵי שֶׁנּוּכַל לַעֲבוֹד עֲבוֹדָתֶךָ וְלִלְמוֹד תּוֹרָתֶךָ כְּמוֹ שֶׁזַּנְתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ מָן בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּאֶרֶץ צִיָּה וַעֲרָבָה:

May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to provide sustenance for all Your people, the House of Israel, and sustenance for me and all the members of my household, with pleasantness and not with suffering, with honor and not with degradation, through permissible activities and not forbidden activities, so that we will be able to serve You and to learn Your Torah, just as you sustained our ancestors in the wilderness with Manna in a dry and desert land.[1]

Our Torah portion and this liturgical addition are examples of the human desire for economic stability. Our tradition does not suggest we merely pray for sustenance, but rather balance our longing for stability with financial literacy, community resources, educational opportunities, and generosity to others through tzedakah

Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Elders, 3:17 teaches these famous words from Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya: 

אִם אֵין קֶמַח, אֵין תּוֹרָה. אִם אֵין תּוֹרָה, אֵין קֶמַח.

If there is no flour [meaning ability to earn money], there is no Torah. If there is no Torah, there is no flour [ability to earn money]. This is frequently interpreted as: the religious, spiritual, and ethical teachings of Torah must co-dwell with the mundane matters of earning money and sustaining ourselves. One realm should not exist without the other. 

The line in Pirkei Avot just before the flour/Torah teaching adds: 

אִם אֵין בִּינָה, אֵין דַּעַת. אִם אֵין דַּעַת, אֵין בִּינָה.

If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no knowledge.

Perhaps, at this time of economic instability, we can read these lines together to understand that economic stability must be built on the best of Jewish values and the best of secular financial knowledge. 

May you and your loved ones know health and financial security, Torah and generosity, and therefore know sasson, (“joy”).

[1] Robert Scheinberg, “Money and Transaction in Jewish Liturgy and Rituals” in Mary Zamore, ed., The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic (New York: CCAR Press, 2019), 335.


Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the editor of and a contributing author to two acclaimed CCAR Press Challenge and Change anthologies, The Sacred Exchange: Creating A Jewish Money Ethic (2019) and The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic (2011). The Sacred Table was designated a finalist by the National Jewish Book Awards. She is also the Executive Director of Women’s Rabbinic Network.

Categories
gender equality

The Reform Pay Equity Initiative: Copy Us, Please

On this Equal Pay Day it is important to note that the gender-based pay gap is a #metoo issue, meaning the societal norms which deny women physical and psychological safety also lead to women being underpaid. The wage gap is the financial dimension of gender harassment. And, unfortunately, no community is immune from misogyny or pay inequity. Not even the Reform Movement with its foundational principles of gender equality and social justice. While our Movement has vocally advocated for equality in the national workplace for decades upon decades, we have not turned that critical eye on ourselves. Now, finally, a Movement-wide partnership to address the wage gap directly is making important progress, while creating a model and resources for all.

In its third year, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative (The beginning of RPEI’s work is documented here.) continues its comprehensive approach to the wage gap within the Reform Movement, striving to influence the employment practices of 900+ congregations and over 1.8 million Reform Jews. This partnership of the seventeen organizations under the Reform Movement umbrella supports the female Jewish professionals of the Movement, while at the same time it provides resources and trainings for our institutions and congregations to ensure unbiased hiring and contract negotiations. In addition, the resources and learning shared by this Initiative are open to everyone, not only one type of Jewish professional and not exclusively the members of the Reform Movement. RPEI is fueled by generous funding from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York and women’s rights activist Audrey Cappell.

Foremost, RPEI has educated the leaders of our organizations concerning the complexities of the pay gap and how it manifests itself in our Movement. In turn, each has openly shared the work of the separate entities, creating synergy in our efforts to narrow the wage gap. We have learned how to better collect and analyze the compensation data of our Jewish professionals; we have also recognized the limitations of data collection.

RPEI has sought ways to maximize transparency, which is a powerful tool against the wage gap. We have encouraged colleagues to share compensation data with each other and to better utilize the salary studies and surveys provided by their professional organizations. But most importantly, the placement commissions of these professional organizations are in the process of requiring or strongly recommending synagogues participating in the placement process list a proposed salary range, instead of leaving the information blank or saying, “commensurate with experience.” The Joint Commission on Rabbinic Placement (URJ and Central Conference of American Rabbis) has already made this mandatory, while the American Conference of Cantors (ACC) educates synagogues on Pay Equity issues, asking them to list a salary range. The ACC has not moved to a mandatory model due to the wide breadth of years of experience individuals bring to cantorial positions.

We have invested in educating professionals and lay leaders, speaking at Reform Movement gatherings: major organizations’ board meetings, social action forums, numerous conferences, and at our Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. RPEI has engaged experts to teach negotiation skills for women and Jewish ethical employment in many of these forums. We have urged our Jewish professionals to be active partners by educating their congregations by using their different expert educational modes: teaching, preaching, writing, singing about the wage gap, especially around Equal Pay Day. Many women have sought help navigating their personal wage gap; Reform congregations have reviewed their compensation structures. In addition, non-Reform Movement organizations, Jewish professional groups, and seminaries have requested input to understand the best practices of documenting and amending pay inequities.

RPEI has created important resources, all outward facing. Filled with information and guidance, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative website is hosted by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) but is accessible to all. There visitors will find topical resource tabs, including on negotiation skills, teaching & preaching, and implicit bias, but more importantly, there are two curated portals, one for employees and another for employers, meaning for both Jewish professionals and lay leaders employment stakeholders. These portals direct the visitor towards the resources customized to their needs.

An important resource create by RPEI and found on its website is The Reform Jewish Quarterly fall 2018 issue. It contains a symposium on Pay Equity with twelve articles exploring the topic. There are study guides, providing instant lessons tailored to adult education, board training, or search/hiring committee training. The CCAR has generously made these articles and study guides open to the public without the usual fee.

In the coming months there will be an in-depth ‘negotiation skills for women’ tool and an implicit bias training for search committees. The website will continue to evolve to provide the best educational materials, interventions, and training materials for employees and employers. The seventeen organizations of RPEI will further educate our Movement and imbed Jewish ethical employment practices into every stage of hiring and employment.

The members of the Reform Pay Equity Initiative invite others, both within the Jewish community and beyond, to make use of our model and resources. Copy us, please.

This blog was originally posted on eJewish Philanthropy.

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the Executive Director of Women’s Rabbinic Network.  She co-leads RPEI with Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of the Women of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Zamore is on the steering committee of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition. Her newest anthology is The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic (CCAR Press: 2019).

Categories
gender equality High Holy Days

A #MeToo/#GamAni Confession for the High Holy Days

As we enter the High Holy Days, we reflect on our individual failings, but our liturgy also instructs us to confess communally, recognizing the role each person has in shaping their community. In that spirit, I offer this addition to our prayers of repentance to allow us to reflect on the plague of misogyny, which continues to shape women’s experience of the world. Gender harassment has many expressions, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, micro-aggression, wage inequity, and the unequal representation of women in leadership positions throughout all corners of our society. While this confession emphasizes sexual harassment, true equality will not come until we address all expressions of gender harassment. Confessing our communal wrongs is only one step in the tikkun, the repair needed, but it is an important first step.

 

A #MeToo/#GamAni Confession

 

 

Al cheit shechatanu

For the sin we have committed before You . . .

by not believing the victims

by being silent while women were bullied, harassed or undermined

by claiming to be ready to listen when we were not

by claiming equality exists for all

by not supporting victims

by not providing sexual harassment prevention training

by accepting the sexist comments made every day

by blaming the victims

by claiming our workplaces, synagogues, and organizations were safe

by contributing to an environment that allowed harassment

by explaining away harassment

by believing the victims but not acting to make change

by worrying about our community’s reputation instead of the victims’ needs

by not reflecting on the past and present behavior within our community

by denying that gender harassment has many faces

by allowing victims to suffer retribution

by not noticing when women simply walked away from our community or institution

by making the reporting of harassment difficult and hard to engage

by promising change and not fulfilling this promise

 

 

Al cheit shechatanu

For the sin we have committed before You, we ask forgiveness.

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore serves as the Executive Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network. Rabbi Zamore is also the the editor of  The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethics, now available from CCAR Press.

 

Categories
Books gender equality

Complete Equality Comes to the Reform Ordination

I recently had the pleasure of sitting with a group of women days before their ordination as Reform rabbis. On that magical cusp between school and new career, they were filled with pride and anticipation. Five years of hard work were coming to an end and the next chapters of their lives were rapidly unfurling. They spoke excitedly of their new positions in congregations and organizations; they showed off pictures of new homes and offices.

As we sat in celebration and reflection, I asked them about the experience of customizing their s’michah documents, the certificate received at the ordination ceremony. For the first time in forty-four years, the women ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) 1) will receive certificates to document their ordination that are completely equal to the ones bestowed on their male classmates and 2) will have the choice of their Hebrew title. While this event will slip by largely unsung, it is historic and significant.

In 1972, the momentous ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman ordained by a seminary, was celebrated throughout the world. As many fêted this significant step forward for Jewish feminism, it was not noted that Rabbi Priesand received a slightly different s’michah document than her male classmates. Archival evidence, as well as the fact that some of her seminary professors refused to sign her certificate, point to the fact that the new language created for her singular s’michah was born out of great discomfort with a woman being ordained rabbi.

The ordination documents of male and female Reform rabbis have an English and Hebrew side. They are not direct translations of each other. On that historic day, Rabbi Priesand was handed an empty tube, as the faculty took so long to debate the content of her certificate’s Hebrew side. Weeks later when she did receive it, the world was too busy watching her be a rabbi to notice that the title written in Hebrew was significantly different than every other Reform rabbi ordained since 1883. In the English version, all graduates are referred to as rabbi, but in Hebrew Rabbi Priesand was named רב ומורה rav u’morah, while her male classmates were ordained מורנו הרב moreinu harav. The former is a nice title aptly describing what rabbis do, but it lacks majesty and history. The title is pareve, bland. The latter is an historic title used since the 14th century. Its possessive plural, our teacher the rabbi, lends the validation of the community; its provenance gives a nod to the continuity of tradition. This is precisely why, I believe, the Cincinnati HUC-JIR faculty of 1972 avoided extending the title to Rabbi Priesand.

Sometimes inequity is perpetuated because discrepancies blend into our communities, becoming convention. Usually, they are not continued out of malice, but of habit. And so, for forty-three years, Reform women rabbis received ordination certificates containing a tacit slight to the equality of women rabbis. From this year forward, the language has been amended to create complete equality. The new s’michah document is something for the Reform movement to applaud. HUC-JIR adds this step forward to the tremendous transformation of their faculty over the last 20 years to include world class scholars who are women. Now with the process of creating fully egalitarian s’michah language, HUC-JIR is also giving women rabbis the choice of Hebrew title. The new rabbis can pick between using רב rav, the traditional Hebrew word for male rabbi, or רַבָּה rabbah, the emerging word for woman rabbi. Invisibly connecting the Diaspora to Israel, the choice given to the North American ordinees is based on the longstanding approach used by HUC-JIR’s Israeli rabbinical program.Sacred Calling

The soon-to-be rabbis described their reasons for picking their titles. Some explained that they wanted to be referred to as רב rav in order to be completely equal to their male counterparts. They felt it functioned in the manner the word actor does in English. Yet, one woman passionately argued for her choice of רַבָּה rabbah, explaining that with the continued opposition to the nascent group of Orthodox women rabbis, she wanted to stand in solidarity with these colleagues who are beginning to use the title רַבָּה rabbah. It was extraordinary witnessing my new colleagues’ passionate exchange. Perhaps, the choice of Hebrew title will be taken for granted in a few years, but for now there is great excitement over the selection.

As we continued to celebrate the up-coming ordination, the conversation shifted to concerns. While recognizing how much has been accomplished in forty-four years, my new colleagues also spoke of great frustrations, including not knowing if they will be paid equally throughout their careers, if they will need to fight for appropriate family leave, and if they will have opportunities for career advancement unfettered by gender bias. A reflection s’michah document remained unequal because a decision steeped in gender bias became habit. I hope we will continue to step back and read the small print carefully in all matters that impact women in order to eradicate injustice in the rabbinate and our greater society.

Rabbi Mary Zamore is the Executive Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, the international organization of Reform women rabbis. She contributed “What’s in a Word? Inequality in the Reform S’michah” to the recently released The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate, CCAR Press.  Rabbi Zamore was recently quoted on this subject in an article by JTA.

 

Categories
interfaith Rabbis

An Open Letter to My Dead Mother-in-Law at Christmas

Dear Bestemor (Grandmother),

We are here in Norway over Christmas.  I am sure you would be surprised since we have not visited at this season for the last 14 years. Before then, we regularly came at Christmas and stayed through New Year’s. I sat at your holiday table next to the Christmas tree in a house fully decked out in the Norwegian Christmas spirit, less garish than the American mode, but still full-on Christmas. In appropriate Norwegian style, we never spoke of why we stopped visiting at this time of year, but my guess is that you knew why. If you had been a Jewish New Yorker like me, we would have surely talked heatedly about this or perhaps even yelled and said regrettable words to one another. And you would have plagued me with unrestrained guilt for withholding the joy any grandmother deserved. But you were Norwegian and so bore your feelings wordlessly.

I thank you for making it easier. I apologize that now only after your death we have reappeared at the darkest time of the year to clean out your home and care for your widower, our beloved Bestefar, Grandfather.

As you knew, I am a Jew, a religious Reform Jew and a rabbi at that. It is not clear to me if you fully understood that last part, so integral to my identity. I met your son, my beloved, in Jerusalem on Rosh HaShanah. He was studying as a visiting doctoral candidate at Hebrew University; I was starting my American rabbinical studies with a first year in Israel. He was deep into his conversion studies; I was heady with my renewed love of Judaism. A perfect match.

Now 24 years later, I preach and teach, confidently speaking of intermarriage, pronouncing that we are ALL intermarried, whether we know it or not. It is true. In every American Jewish extended family there are members who are not Jewish. It would be extraordinarily rare to find a family untouched by the mixing inevitable in our modern world. Ours is no different. We navigate holidays, vacations and lifecycle events with this extra dimension of challenge, blessing and, yes sometimes, tension.

I could not continue to return for Christmas even though I wrote about my experiences at your holiday table so glowingly (“Kosher Christmas Dinner,” The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic, CCAR Press: 2011). I described the kosher food laid out harmoniously next to the abundant treif, non-kosher food. Yet, I could not continue to visit during my son’s formative years despite your joy to host him. As someone trained to imprint religion on the next generation, I fully understood that the sights, sounds, tastes of a holiday, mixed with folklore of presents brought to the good little barna, children, all within a grandmother’s loving embrace, is the most powerful way to bond with religion.

It is ironic, as we were just about to announce a Christmas trip to Norway this year when you died suddenly in November. Our previous vacation plans fell through and, aware of your and Bestefar’s age, we thought it prudent to add an extra visit to the yearly schedule. The toddler who once marveled over the Christmas decorations in your house is now a teen, developing his own Jewish identity. He is surely beyond the stage of simple imprinting.

Please know that I never wanted to cause you any heartbreak. We stopped visiting in December and instead found other times for the long haul to your family. In addition, a continent away, I put your pictures around my baby’s crib and surrounded him with Norwegian culture. It was only fair to my husband and you, his family, that our child grow up knowing his people on both sides. I think you knew this, as you enjoyed speaking Norwegian with him on the phone and in person. Perhaps, this brought you joy the other 364 days of the year, but I am sure on Christmas it did not. Thank you for not obstructing our choices as parents; thank you for accepting difficult compromises with grace.

With much love,

Your American Jewish daughter-in-law

Mary Zamore is Executive Director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network and was editor of “The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic.”  She is also currently the interim director of Mentoring for the CCAR.

Categories
Rabbis Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Social Justice Torah

True Strength at America’s Journey for Justice

I know what strength is. Reflecting on marching in the NAACP’s America’s Journey for Justice, I witnessed true strength. Now back home in New Jersey returning from LaGrange, Georgia, my husband and I had joined the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ delegation of over 150 rabbis who are also representing the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center. We are taking turns supporting this 40-day march to Washington, DC. I sit here nursing sore muscles, while marveling that we actually walked 15 miles, all in one day, in August, in the South. And we also carried a 20-pound Torah, recalling the iconic photograph taken in Arlington National Cemetery of Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, President of then-Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the Union for Reform Judaism, as he held a Torah scroll and marched next to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Yes, I feel strong for the physical feat, as I feel strong for engaging in action after I have felt so powerless watching tragic injustice after tragic injustice. I felt strong when I walked by Confederate flags, a pro-Confederate flag billboard, a Confederate monument, and scowling faces uttering rude comments. Yet, I felt proud that the majority of spectators, representing all races, were supportive or nicely inquisitive. They honked, waved, and leaned out of cars to ask about our unexpected parade, protected by the local police and state troopers. I smiled as mothers brought out their young African-American sons to see us walk by. Our leaders shouted that we were walking for them, so that they could get an education, stay out of jail, and have hope for justice.1mary

However, the true strength I witnessed was in the elders who led our march and carried the American flag. These men, beaten and brutalized so many decades ago, had marched with Dr. King during the original Freedom Marches. At their age and health condition, they deserve to sit or try some gentle exercise classes. Yet, they are dedicated to walking much of 18-22 miles a day for 40 days! Every night they will wrap blistered feet, sleep on uncomfortable cots and rise at 5 a.m. to walk with dignity. They are finding the physical strength to match their passion for justice. I also saw strength in a group of five women who joined the march, representing their local NAACP chapter. These five African-American grandmas showed up looking like they were ready to visit the shopping mall. Some did not even have sneakers or proper walking shoes. Instead, they wore their summer jewelry and sandals! They walked and sang uplifting church hymns in beautiful harmony. When our leaders announced that the last stretch would be walked at a pace double our normal stride, just as the heat index hit its peak at 120, these ladies dug in for the last miles with determination. Additionally, I witnessed strength in the young people, the next generation of NAACP professionals and volunteers, who have dedicated themselves to fighting injustice. Finally, I marveled at the strength of the woman, an African American community activist and organizer, who showed me the well-known photograph of herself at age 18 in 1996 throwing herself on a stranger suspected of being a white supremacist as an angry mob sought to attack him. She continues to have the strength to smile every day as she dedicates her life to bettering our nation.

During the walk, our shift of rabbis sang “Ozi v’zimrat yah, vay’hi li liy’shua. God is my strength and might; God will be my salvation. (Exodus 15:2)” I know I am blessed to have witnessed God’s strength working through so many amazing people. May the marchers continue to be endowed with strength to see the justice journey home.

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the editor of and a contributing author to The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethics.

This blog was originally posted on Huffington Post Religion.