Convention Social Justice

A Turning Point in History: The Temple Bombing

We are excited to welcome over 500 colleagues to The Temple during our upcoming CCAR Convention in Atlanta. This year marks the 150th anniversary of our congregation. As part of the festivities, the Alliance Theater has commissioned a theatrical production of Melissa Faye Greene’s book, The Temple Bombing. We are thrilled to be performing the show, at The Temple, as part of the Convention.

On October 12, 1958, a bundle of dynamite blew through the wall of Atlanta’s oldest synagogue. Following 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision, Rabbi Rothschild had become a public advocate for the progress of Civil Rights. The explosion and national support for The Temple community bolstered Atlanta city leaders’ resolve to investigate and prosecute the crime, paving the way for dramatic social change. This theatricalization celebrates a city that came together in the face of hatred to live the lessons of the civil rights era, lessons that still resonate 58 years after that fateful day.

Jimmy Maize’s The Temple Bombing transports us to a time in American history of unparalleled moral courage. In 1958, several Southern synagogues were bombed, causing many of the south’s 548,650 Jews to wonder whether they would soon become targets of religious bigotry. Maize paints an honest picture, drawing upon real biographies, of what it must have been like when our congregation and our rabbi were threatened.

Primarily, The Temple Bombing offers the world a unique glimpse into the heart and soul of our Rabbi, Jacob M. Rothschild: it is a portrait of moral courage. Rabbi Rothschild was a strong believer in interfaith dialogue, a champion of racial justice and integration, and one of the most respected religious leaders in the South.

As the play draws to a close, one can’t help but ponder a singular truth: Rabbi Rothschild knew then what we know today – that we must all stand up to bigotry and hatred. It is the height of gullibility to hope that the truly democratic forces, if left to work on their own at their normal pace, will correct the inequities so prevalent in our society.

The Temple Bombing is a wake-up call and an invitation to become an integral part of this turning point in history – to fulfill the promise of Rabbi Rothschild. Each of us has within us the God-given spark of creativity –the ability to transcend, to bring order to chaos, beauty to ugliness. Each of us has the power in our lives to give meaning or to withhold it. This task is, in no small part, the last, greatest hope in our humanity.

Rabbi Peter S. Berg serves The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia. 


The Sacred Calling: A Call to Action

“The Sacred Calling is not just an important historical narrative—it is a call to action.”

The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate, newly published by CCAR Press, examines the ways in which the reality of women in the rabbinate has impacted upon all aspects of Jewish life. Rabbi Peter Berg, Senior Rabbi at The Temple in Atlanta, GA, sits down to talk about the progress we’ve made in the last four decades and the distance we still have left to travel.

Q: In a chapter in the book titled “Creating Opportunities for the ‘Other,’” Rabbi Denise Eger states the significance of women’s ordination in the inclusion of the “other” in Judaism. What are the next challenges to be faced?

A: The ordination of women as rabbis opened up the door for the “other” in a way that we never could have fully understood. Today, we look at the community around us, and ask, “What is the next big hurdle before us?” I think it unfolds in the following way: first of all, as Rabbi Eger mentions in the book, gay and lesbian and transgender Jews do not get to enjoy the same equality in the placement process that female rabbis now enjoy. The second is Jews of color. We have so many Jews of color here in Atlanta, and it won’t be long before some decide to go to rabbinic school. They are great teachers and great scholars, and we’ll have to figure out how we, as a Reform Movement, will accept more Jews of color as part of our rabbinate. The third and final area that I think we have to look at is Jews who converted to Judaism earlier in their life, and now are rabbis. We have members of our congregation who are looking at rabbinical school who are converts, and there’s incredible discrimination in the Jewish community towards those who converted and are therefore perceived as not fully authentic.Sacred Calling

Q: What barriers still exist for women rabbis?

A:  There are many challenges that our female colleagues face, and I’ll just enumerate a few of them. The first, I think, is salary discrepancy. It’s far more pronounced in the rabbinate than most people believe. Women clergy earn 76 cents on the dollar, and the reason why that’s so problematic is that the national average pay gap is 83 cents. So women clergy are earning less on the dollar than they would with most other jobs in the United States.

The second would be in paid family leave. We’ve really only just begun the conversations about paid family leave. All of our European counterparts figured out a long time ago that paid family leave benefits not only the mother, but also the congregation when the rabbi comes back to work. I believe we have a long way to go in not just tolerating paid family leave, but encouraging it, and speaking about it with the support that it deserves.

The third area of challenge is in the placement process. We have come a long way over the years, and if you look at the demographics in the country today, so many women rabbis serve in some of the greatest congregations in the country. But there are still some areas of the country where women have a far more difficult time in the placement process than their male counterparts.

A final challenge that I think our female colleagues face is acceptance in the wider Jewish community. We’re fortunate here in Atlanta that our Modern Orthodox colleagues sit at the table with our women rabbis. They call them “rabbi,” and they work with them with great honor. But in many places in the country, this is not the case, and our female colleagues are not afforded the same honor that our male colleagues enjoy. And I think we have a responsibility to try to equal the playing field on that front.

I believe that men and male rabbis can be feminist rabbis as well. It’s a different kind of feminist rabbi, obviously, but we have a responsibility to make sure that our female colleagues enjoy the same benefits and the same options in the placement system that male rabbis have enjoyed for many, many decades.

Q: What purpose do you believe The Sacred Calling to serve? What is the importance of the book?

A: The Sacred Calling is as much a historical perspective as it is a calling to all of us today. I believe it is required reading for all rabbis, for all cantors, for all Jewish educators, and all Jewish professionals. Every single congregational leader has a responsibility to read this important book.

Most people don’t know our history; they don’t understand that it was in the early ‘70s that Sally Priesand first became a rabbi. So the first important reason that we need this book is to help our congregants understand the significance of women becoming rabbis. And the second is to figure out what we can do now to make sure that the challenges that are on the table for women rabbis – pay equity, the placement process, acceptance in the wider community, paid family medical leave – all of these challenges are addressed and understood, and that they truly are one of the social justice issues of our time. This book is the moral calling that will help us understand not just the historical perspective, but also how we can take those challenges that still exist and build a better rabbinate for the future.

Rabbi Peter Berg serves The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia.  

Excerpted from the filming of the official trailer for The Sacred Calling. Watch the official trailer now. 

Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh spirituality

Our Most Meaningful Yizkor Service, Ever

For us at The Temple in Atlanta, Mishkan HaNefesh provided us the perfect opportunity to utilize our current practices alongside the most innovative, thoughtful, and moving prayers and poems in the entire machzor.

While some have chosen to read the Seven Lights of Yizkor (beginning on page 536) metaphorically, we choose to actually light seven candles. This new ritual dramatically added to the power of the service. Seven members of our clergy each led one of the candle lightings. (This can easily be adapted for lay leadership). Each section contained an introductory reading, a musical selection, and then a few moments for personal reflection (see page 554). We actually read the reflection questions in each session out loud and allowed a few moments for silence. Finally, a member of the clergy recited the chatimah and then lit the candle.

We deliberately chose some readings from a wide spectrum – emotional, academic, helpful, challenging, and provocative. Each year, we will refine the chosen readings to reflect the year that has passed and the mood we hope to achieve. Some of the most evocative readings included:

  • This is the Hour of Memory (page 541) to open the service
  • The Echo of Your Promise (page 561) based on Psalm 77
  • May God Remember (a two page spread with the relationships we remember at Yizkor)
  • Forgiveness And The Afterlife (page 581)
  • Father (page 589)
  • One Morning Shortly After My Mother Died (page 592)

We invite you to see the yizkor service outline we used.

Additionally, there are certain customs we have established over the years that blended perfectly with the new liturgy:

  1. Members of our High School Girls’ Yizkor Choir sing two selections each year. After a rabbinic meditation on looking at our memorial booklet to view the names of those who passed away this year, the choir sang the poignant words of Take My Name by Juliet Spitzer.
  2. After the seventh candle, members of our Yizkor Choir recited 18 remembrances (Tapestry of Memories) from congregational eulogies spanning Yom Kippur 5775 to 5776. The selections were carefully chosen by the Rabbis and provided the most emotionally powerful moment of the service.
  3. Immediately after the eulogy selections, the Yizkor Choir sang “For Good” (from Wicked with some of the text changed to accommodate the sacredness of the moment). At the end of the first chorus, the singing stopped, but the piano continued to play softly. The rabbis then read the names of our members who passed away since last Yom Kippur. With the recitation of the last name, the choir resumed the text and concluded the composition.

Mishkan HaNefesh Cover Picture (Light) 10_14_2014The feedback we received from the congregation was extraordinary. Hundreds of members went back to view the service – again – from the livestream feed on our website. I am grateful to the CCAR for the gift of this machzor as a tool to enhance what is arguably the most important 60 minute liturgical experience of the entire year. This hour was, without question, our most significant Yizkor service, ever!

Rabbi Peter S. Berg is senior rabbi at The Temple, Atlanta GA.

News Prayer Reform Judaism

Welcoming the New Machzor: Ideas for Purchasing and Engagement

MHaNefesh web
At our congregation in Atlanta, we have already made our arrangements to purchase the new MachzorMishkan HaNefesh – even though it won’t be ready until Rosh HaShanah, 2015. Why? First and foremost – this innovative Machzor will be transformative for our congregation.We have piloted drafts of the Machzor, and are excited to have the real thing in our hands for the High Holy Days.

But we are also making the necessary arrangements to welcome the Machzor into our congregation because the savings are simply too good to pass up! For congregations and institutions that make a 25% deposit by April 1, 2014– the double volume (one for Rosh Hashanah and another – a different color – for Yom Kippur) will cost only $25.20/ set. This is a 40% savings from the list price. That gives us all plenty of time to consider the manner in which we will pay for our new Machzorim.

CCAR has worked very hard to keep the cost of the Machzor as low as possible, and as close as possible to that of Mishkan T’filah. The decision to divide the book into two volumes is a direct response to feedback from Mishkan T’filah. With this kind of a large project, so much goes into the development of the material that whether it is bound in one or two volumes factors very little into the cost and is not reflected in the pricing.

Regardless, buying new prayerbooks is surely a challenge for most of our congregations and communities. But there are creative ways to make it possible. As you begin that journey, I offer the following possibilities:

For congregations in which individual members purchase their own prayerbooks:

 • Consider including the price of the Machzor in High Holy Day materials for 2013 or 2014.

 • Include the price of the Machzor on the dues statement for one year, at the beginning of the fiscal year.

 • Purchase the Machzorim, and sell them to members at the list price or higher as a fundraiser (for example, $36 or $50); use the income to purchase more Machzorim or other siddurim, such as Mishkan T’filah for the House of Mourning.

 For Congregations in which the synagogue purchases, stores, and keeps the prayerbooks:

 • Consider moving unrestricted endowment funds into a restricted prayerbook fund.

 • Find a donor to purchase the books, and put a book plate acknowledging that donation, or find 5-10 donors at a smaller level, acknowledging each in a book plate.

 • Allocate funds from the synagogue budget over the next three years.

 • Invite affiliate groups, such as Women of Reform Judaism or Men of Reform Judaism, to help manage or raise funds for the project.

 • Combine forces with a Kol Nidrei appeal (allow a check off for one or multiple Machzorim, which is not a big increase over whatever else someone is able to donate).

 • Hold a gala dinner (honor someone if you prefer), and sell bookplates instead of a tribute book.

 • Sell bookplates over the course of 1-2 years.

 • Allocate funds from annual events, such as Purim Carnival or Chanukah Bazaar to a Machzor fund.

 A final note: I have found that the best way to “sell” the Machzor is to “engage” with the Machzor. To that end, consider the following:

 • Consider piloting one of the High Holy Day services (Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah, Erev Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur Minchah, Yizkor).

 • Incorporate poems, prayers, and readings into divrei Torah, Board Meetings, Shabbat services, bulletin articles, etc. (permission from CCAR requested).

 • Invite a member of the editorial committee to have a Skype conversation with your Board or Ritual committee.

 • Include links to RavBlog ( – CCAR’s blog, featuring Machzor related posts – in your synagogue newsletter. Invite your members to subscribe to the CCAR blog so they can be part of the process.

 • Offer learning opportunities related to the Machzor using materials from Machzor: Challenge and Change, a resource pack of materials on Machzor themes.

For more information on ordering Machzorim, engaging your constituency, or participating in piloting, please send a note to or feel free to email me at

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.

Rabbi Peter Berg is the Senior Rabbi at The Temple, in Atlanta, Georgia, and is the CCAR Membership Liaison to the Machzor Editorial Team.