I have two pieces of art that have hung on my study wall for many years. They’ve moved with me from place to place, and I often find my eyes wandering to them. Even though they are so familiar to me at this point, they continue to provide me with new inspiration.
The one piece is a black and white painting by Amos Amit with the words Da lifney mi ata omed, Know Before Whom You Stand. Amit is an Israeli artist, born in 1945 and raised in the Galilee.
The second is the famous picture by Norman Rockwell, with the verse “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The backdrop is filled with pictures of an array of faces, representing many different identities from around the globe.
Recently, I’ve been turning to these two teachings as I work with our extraordinary CCAR Convention chair, Rabbi Amanda Greene, the outstanding CCAR staff, and the dedicated members of the Convention committee.
The Talmud’s charge to remember God’s presence wherever we go has been at the center of our thinking about the upcoming convention. If it is a challenge to turn a hotel into a sacred space for T’filah and Talmud Torah, it is all the more so when we aren’t even together in a physical space. How do we ensure that there is kedusha in our online gatherings?
I am well aware that we’ve all been asking this question in our own communities in different ways over the last year, as the pandemic has restricted all of our gatherings. We will rely on the hard learned best practices of so many of you in many ways. One strategy in particular stands out for me. The March CCAR Convention won’t just be a series of webinars or a string of online programs. Rather, we have been looking very carefully at the concept of the “journey” of CCAR Convention 2021. How will we travel through each day and how will we travel through the entirety of the week?
Heschel has a beautiful framing of this teaching: that wherever we go we must cultivate the art of awareness of God. This is what we will do during our Convention.
This will be an impactful week. I look forward to truly being together, spiritually and emotionally. I plan to clear my calendar, set my out of office messages, and find a quiet space to sit undisturbed while I participate.
The second teaching on my wall, the so-called Golden Rule, is also very present in my thinking about convention. Simply put, the stress and strain of the last year has been exaggerated by not being with colleagues, classmates, and friends…those who have a unique understanding of rabbinic life and who have been a cherished presence in my life for 25 years.
Our online Convention will provide opportunities for us to share and connect…not just to catch up in the chat box while a presentation is happening, but to take time for real conversation. While we can’t actually share a meal or a cup of coffee, there will be built in opportunities, including some that use innovative technology, that create the experience of sitting together, chatting in the hall together, and opening up about our lives, our work, and our hopes and dreams. Our Convention will be a chance to truly be present for one another.
In the coming weeks, there will be more and more shared about the speakers, presenters, and program plans. For now, I urge you to give yourselves the gift of connection: register and carve out this time to be together as a Conference and as a family of colleagues.
Rabbi Peter W. Stein is the Senior Rabbi of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY and an adjunct faculty member at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He is the Vice Chair of the CCAR Convention Committee.
CCAR Convention 2021 will take place online March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.