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CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: The Blessing of Four Days to Connect

CCAR Convention 2021 is coming. It is difficult to believe that it was just about a year ago that the CCAR staff and the Convention Committee worked furiously to figure out what it might mean to have our beloved yearly Convention online.

Now here we are, a year later preparing for a second online CCAR Convention. Your CCAR Staff and Convention Committee took the lessons from last year’s CCAR Connect 2020, the countless lessons we learned as rabbis who are now primarily functioning online due to Covid-19, and dreamed even bigger so that we talented, tired, and weary rabbis can recharge.

Now it is up to us CCAR members. We need to block off the full days in our work calendars. We deserve it. Accept the blessing of four days to connect with colleagues, to engage in worship as a pray-er not a leader, to learn and laugh. While the schedule is full, with sensitivity to CCAR members throughout the world, you may find yourself with a few hours before or after programming begins. Please, don’t schedule that time with work. Care for yourself. Step away from the screen so that you are ready to engage when the program day begins and ends. CCAR Convention is always a time to remember that in a profession where isolation can reign, we are part of a community of colleagues, and while we might experience loneliness, we are not alone.   

CCAR Convention, like always, will be what you make of it. We will remember and honor the treasured colleagues who’ve died in the past year and we will miss them dearly. We will honor our rabbis celebrating 50 and 51 years in the rabbinate, and we will install a new slate of officers to lead us. I invite you to join me online this year so that we can learn, recharge, and connect anew together.


Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is a doctoral student at the University of Southern California and serves Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, Texas as Visiting Associate Rabbi. 

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.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Convention 2021: Gratitude and Our Kahal

Last week, my Hebrew school students led our congregation’s Kabbalat Shabbat services. “Hebrew School Shabbat,” as it’s affectionately called, provides an annual opportunity for parents, grandparents, and community members to witness our youth recite the prayers they’ve been learning in Hebrew school.

And yet, this year was very different. Each child led from their computer at home, and nearly all of the students led their prayer as a solo voice with the rest of the kahal on mute. While many of us rabbis have become accustomed to leading prayer services online, I didn’t take for granted that my students would readily be prepared to sing and pray so publicly on the screen. And yet, my doubts were quickly assuaged as each rose to the occasion with confidence and ease. Their boldness and pride made this annual congregational gathering sweeter than ever. And my community and I are the better for it.

This year at the CCAR Convention, our kahal will gather each from our own homes or synagogue offices. This year our daily t’filot, kavanot. and meditation leaders will lead us from places across the globe. And in this strange new, or perhaps not-so-new reality, we’ll raise our voices to sing with gratitude, reflect on our lives, breathe deeply, ask for healing, and even perhaps shed a tear. Despite our physical distance, we’ll gather with rabbinic colleagues in prayer and song, as only we can do at our annual convention.

As I am planning for our time together and looking at my calendar, I am also trying to be very practical about it: What will it take for me to feel present at Convention despite the many distractions around me? What practical steps can I take to carve out the time and space for Convention?

While most of us are exhausted from life online, I believe that we, like my students, can embrace this opportunity with joy and gratitude. I look forward to seeing you in March!


Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor serves Beth Israel Congregation in Bath, Maine.

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.

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CCAR Convention Convention

Connection, Disruption, Challenge & Hope: Chief Executive Rabbi Hara Person Addresses the CCAR During the Coronavirus Crisis

Each year at CCAR Convention, it’s customary for the CCAR Chief Executive to address the rabbinic membership. However this year, given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCAR was forced to move our annual Convention online. The address below is adapted from the words that CCAR Chief Executive Hara Person shared with the digital gathering of Reform rabbis who came together online throughout the country in this time of change and need.


One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten in the last eight months is: What has surprised you the most about this job? And what I can definitively say is that when I was applying for this job, no one told me I would have to become an expert in pandemic planning. And cancelling our in-person Convention, yeah, not something I ever thought I’d be doing, and certainly not in year one. I really didn’t want to be the first CCAR Chief Executive to cancel Convention; I did check with our posek, Rabbi Dr. Gary Zola, who assured that indeed I was, so that’s another first for me. But Gary also reminded me that the Pope was cancelling mass, and if it was good enough for the Pope, it is good enough for us.

And I assume you can all relate, since I’m guessing this is the first time you are cancelling services, shutting your buildings, postponing events, and doing or not doing according to all the new health protocols we’re suddenly living with. This is a time for firsts for all of us.

I will take a moment to acknowledge that even before we were all working remotely in virus-land, this has been a year of tremendous transition at the CCAR and in many ways still is. I need to acknowledge my gratitude for our tremendous and dedicated executive team: Betsy Torop, Cindy Enger, and Laurie Pinho, who have been my steadfast partners and friends through an already tumultuous year of new beginnings, new hires, and new ways of working at the CCAR—their willingness to teach me, to have patience with my learning curve, to be honest even when it’s hard, and to have faith in our collective future is what makes the CCAR such a strong and exciting organization to lead. And our talented senior staff, Tamar Anitai, Fani Magnus Monson and now Rafael Chaiken, as well as rabbinic staff Dan Medwin and Sonja Pilz, as well as all the rest of our staff—I am truly blessed to work with such a thoughtful, hardworking, and inspiring team of people. I know you don’t know them all—this was going to be the first Convention for many of them—but I hope you’ll get a chance to meet them over the months and years to come. I am lucky to have them all by my side. And I also have to thank my predecessor, Steve Fox, who is the model emeritus. He has stayed out of the way but has been there for me when needed, and I have needed it, especially in these last few weeks.

But right now, we need to talk about today. We need to talk about connection and disruption. We need to talk about possibility and challenge. Suddenly we are being forced to think and plan and rabbi in completely new ways. It’s exciting and it’s terrifying. As Jews, we know that our biggest moments of creativity and innovation come out of times of disruption. When the Temple and the priesthood were destroyed, we got resourceful and created a portable set of texts and practices that we could carry with us wherever we went. How brilliant—and indeed we’re still carrying those with us today.

What bound us together throughout history was our common tradition and practices, the Hebrew language, and our shared faith in the God of Israel. One of my favorite novels is A. B. Yehoshua’s A Journey to End of the Millennium, which describes a clash of cultures between Jews from the East and Jews in the West. And yet, the reason they clash is because they recognize the connection between them – though their traditions differ, they’re merely different threads that together still make up the same tapestry of Jewish peoplehood. They understand that they’re joined together, parts of a whole, which exacerbates their differences. When most people in the world lived in isolated villages, Jews around the world grasped that they were part of a bigger endeavor. As in the novel, Askenazi Jews in Europe encountered Jewish traders from North Africa who appeared once a year to sell their goods. And in this way Jews in one part of the world were aware of Jews in other communities, and even as they viewed some of their practices with suspicion or even distain, they knew that weren’t alone, together they were parts of something bigger. Think too of our history of responsa: Jews living in one part of the world could send a sh’eilah to the academy in Pumbedita or Sura and get a response back a year or so later. A slow connection, to be sure, but a connection.

As Jews we know how to connect. And as rabbis, all the more so. We know that connection across distance matters. It’s at the core of who we are. Just as our ancestors gained strength knowing that there were other Jews around the world, so too does our connection across physical distance give us strength and nourish our resilience. My father used to always ask me: how are things in rabbi-world. He died before social media became ubiquitous, but he would be amazed to see that there is actually such a thing as rabbi-world. Even in the best of times I have often thought that many rabbis live in two places—in your physical community with the people you serve and of course with your loved ones, and simultaneously in the online world, drawing sustenance from the connection to each other; the sharing of stories and advice and struggles, and just the affirmation that yes, other rabbis are dealing with the same things.

Despite being stuck in my house and apart from you, I’ve felt our connection this past week quite strongly. I was able to share Shabbat with so many of you in a single day from my living room. I started with Australia in the morning, then Israel in the early afternoon, the East Coast of the United States, then the middle of the country, and then the West Coast. And despite the social distancing that we’re practicing, I feel more, not less, connected to all of you, and more connected to our Jewish community as a whole. In the midst of the fear and anxiety is a sense of strength and joy—that from all around the world we’re figuring this thing out, and finding ways to create meaningful and real connections that go beyond our specific communities.

It’s been incredibly inspiring to see how you’re pushing yourselves outside your comfort zones in order to bring comfort to those you serve. The good news is that we no longer live in a world in which physical distances by necessity create emotional, intellectual, or spiritual distances.

My grandmother Gussie was nicknamed Six Month Sadie. Why? Because when her mother, my great-grandmother, Lena, was giving birth to her here in New York, she hadn’t seen her own mother, Golda, back in Europe in several years, and didn’t know that she had died. She named the baby Sadie. But when she learned, some months later, of her mother’s death, she changed my grandmother’s name to Golda, or Gussie. Hence the nickname, Six Month Sadie—a funny story but also emblematic of the distance, both physical and emotional, that was a reality of life for many families at that time.

And here we are, several generations later, where on Friday night, in between synagogue hopping, I went onto Zoom and lit candles with my family—one kid in Boston and one in Berkeley, and my mother and sister in Miami. There is a miraculousness to this technology and the possibilities it holds for us in allowing us to connect in real and meaningful ways while physically separated.

It’s been amazing to see how the new restrictions we’re suddenly living with have not been stumbling blocks—yes, they’re frustrating, and yes, in some cases heartbreaking. And yet, you’re rising to the challenge and showing incredible leadership. We can’t assemble at a shivah house, and so you’re holding online shivahs that bring real comfort and connection. We can’t assemble for a bat mitzvah, so you’re compassionately postponing until it’s safe to do so and finding inventive ways for your students to shine nevertheless. Wan’t have welcoming Shabbat for the tots, so you’re singing into a screen from your couch and uplifting your favorite three year olds. Can’t study Torah around a table on Shabbat morning—no problem, study together from everyone’s dining rooms tables. And on and on.

This is a time for us to be as open as we can be to new possibilities, to go out on a limb, to teeter on the edge of the known and the unknown, to be nimble and flexible and creative. Not everything we’re doing is going to work or be successful. But out of that will come some new ways of working and coming together that are going to transform who and what we are as a Jewish community, and what it is that rabbis do.

And yet, this is also a moment of tremendous fear and uncertainty. We don’t know how long this quarantine will last, and we don’t know what the long term effects will be. Surely there will be hardship for many of us, in the weeks, and over the months and possibly years to come. Some of us will live with the aftermath for a long time to come. Our personal lives and our professional lives will be profoundly impacted in ways we cannot yet imagine. And we at the CCAR will do our best to support you, and help you, and learn our way through this with you.

When the Pinelands in New Jersey experienced a devastating fire, scientists noticed something amazing. The heat of the fire melted the resin in the cones of the pine trees, causing them to burst open and spread their seeds, enabling the forest to regenerate. One of the scientists who studied this phenomenon said: “The system bounces back. Fire has been a part of that area for a long time. There you find species that have adapted to frequent fires; otherwise they get outcompeted by the species that can.”[1]  Throughout our history, that’s who we’ve been as Jews, and especially as rabbis, time after time. We are resilient, we know how to adapt, and we have the capacity to seed new growth.

In the midst of all this change and creativity, innovation and disruption, pain and loss and growth, I want to suggest a few basic principles that may help guide you in the days and weeks to come.

1. We will make mistakes. There are no rule books for the reality we’re suddenly living in. We’re not going to get it all right. But that’s going to be okay. We tore down the infrastructure of a conference that had taken us two years to plan and built an entirely new one in two weeks. Not everything has gone according to plan. But it’s pretty darn great nevertheless. I cannot properly express my gratitude to Laurie Pinho, Dan Medwin, Aliza Orent, and the whole CCAR team, but especially Betsy Torop, all of whom have worked tirelessly, first to get us ready for Baltimore, and then to unwind the convention, and then quickly create this online version. You have no idea how hard they all worked to make this happen. Please thank them yourselves when and if you can, even if you don’t know them. Gratitude does not begin to describe what I feel for them, and fatigue doesn’t begin to describe what they feel.

2. Pace yourself. Change is exhausting. Working from home with your kids, also indefinitely home, is exhausting. Trying to get it right and meet everyone’s needs at a time of fear and worry while managing your own anxiety is exhausting. The uncertainty of this moment is exhausting. So give yourself a break, where and how you can. Ask for help, be strategic, create priorities. You’re going to need to pace yourself to get through this.

3. Be forgiving. We have to be forgiving with ourselves and with each other. Nerves are frayed. Skills are being learned as we race full steam ahead. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be patient. Rest when you need to. And model this for others.

4. Practice gratitude. We must find opportunities for gratitude in the midst of all this. I want to take a moment to thank, in addition to our CCAR staff, our CCAR Board. I knew I was going to love working with Ron Segal, but little did I know the adventures we’d be dealing with together. I could not ask for a kinder, wiser, menschier partner, and wow am I grateful to Ron for always having my back. Lewis Kamrass, our president-elect, has thrown himself into our teamwork with both feet and I am so grateful for Lewis’s level-headed good advice and caring. And to our whole Board, the support you’ve shown me and our staff is just incredible, and so appreciated, especially in the midst of dealing with your own communities.

5. Summon courage. This is a time for courageous leadership. We must summon every bit of our stores of courage and have faith in ourselves as leaders. You can do this, even if you’ve never done this before. Your people need you to be brave. Find the right people to be your thinking partners, get input, listen to feedback, test new ideas, be willing to be wrong, and trust your ability to figure it out. But also, you don’t have to be brave all the time. It’s also okay to be scared, and feel vulnerable – acknowledging that takes real courage.

6. Care for each other. Let us, as a rabbinic community, care for each other. This is not only a time of fear but also of loneliness. Who within our rabbinic community can we reach out to? Who is emotionally vulnerable and needs some extra support? And then there is the actual virus itself. Some of us may get sick. Some of our family members may get sick. Some of us may lose members of our communities to this virus, or even, God forbid, family members. Let us be there for each other, to rabbi to each other, to be sources of support and caring in times of loneliness, fear, or grief.

7. Grab hope. And we must look for hope and grab it wherever we find it. Our history teaches us that hope is always out there, even if we can’t immediately recognize it, and even in the worst of moments. No matter how bleak things look, we cannot, we must not,  give in to despair. Finding hope is hard, but the search for hope is one of the things that can sustain us in dark times.

In closing I’m going to share a poem by Ada Limón.

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/27/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/27mainnj.html?searchResultPosition=2

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CCAR Convention News spirituality

‘Isolation Need Not Mean Loneliness’: President Ron Segal’s CCAR Connect 2020 Opening Remarks

Each year at CCAR Convention, it’s customary for the CCAR President to address the rabbinic membership. However this year, given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCAR was forced to cancel our annual Convention and move the event online. Below is the address that CCAR President Ron Segal gave to the digital gathering of Reform rabbis who gathered online throughout the country in this time of change and need.


The date on which I delivered my first address as CCAR President was April first. April Fools Day; the parashah was Tazria-Metzora. “Could it get any worse?,” I remember thinking. 

And…here we are.

Considering the present reality of our world and the fact that, this year, I have the great privilege of sharing a few comments in front of a desktop monitor, I realize now how unimaginative I was! 

If ever there was a time when Tazria-Metzora was fitting for the time in which we are living, surely it is this year. With the exception, perhaps, of a handful of U.S. Senators, who could possibly have imagined such a reality: a time when every one of us has essentially been isolated from the camp until such point all have been declared clean. Determining how best to lead our communities while also in isolation is surely not something for which most of us were prepared or trained. This is surely unfamiliar turf for all of us.

These past several months and, no doubt, the months still to come are a staggering reminder about the unpredictability of our world. While recognizing that too many of our colleagues have previously experienced tragic manifestations of life’s caprice, we convene today with the knowledge that all of us—no matter where we live, no matter the nature of our rabbinate, regardless of our age or station in life—each and every one of us is confronting the same unfamiliar, anxiety-ridden, fear-inducing, individually isolating, community-rending pandemic.

I don’t know about you, but I will honestly share that, to be a rabbi at this moment feels overwhelming. Even with the forced cancellation of numerous trips, appointments, meetings, and community functions, and a calendar that at first blush might seem more open than it has in years, it feels like we have never been busier. For in addition to the heightened relational and pastoral needs of those we serve, we are also now buried under an enormous list of decisions to be made on how to transition every aspect of our complex roles and organizations into an online, virtual format. Further, trying to sift through and extract helpful guidance from traditional sources and the constant stream of articles, news programs, op-eds, Facebook posts, and non-stop emails has felt like drinking from a firehose. It’s been…a lot friends, has it not?  

Assuming my conversations and interactions with colleagues are representative, I would daresay that many of us might presently describe our inner life as one of pizur hanefeshpossessing a scattered soul understood by some of our sages to be the consequence of having to simultaneously devote one’s attention to too many things for a sustained period of time, resulting in an inner life that feels scattered, out of balance, and far from the spiritual ideal.  

I think about the 250 or so rabbis and IJS alumni whom I join each weekday for a virtual, half-hour guided meditation in the hopes of merely trying to center myself, and I am further convinced that there are countless scattered souls among us.

However, I also believe that colleagues are eager and need more than ever opportunities to address our own feelings of isolation and to regain a sense of internal balance. Whether through meditation, exercise, reading, or any other means, we surely recognize and understand we will be better equipped to lead during this time of uncertainty and physical separation if we can do so with a calmer soul and more equanimous spirit. I found these very sentiments affirmed in the conclusion of a poem written and posted on RavBlog by our colleague Lance Sussman this past week. “We Shall Prevail: A Poem for Unprecedented Times” ends with these words:

“Now is the time to collect our inner selves
and to be strong alone
until the time comes again
when we can be strong together.

Until then
until that day
Let us resolve that we shall prevail.”

And of course, we will prevail, just as rabbis have done throughout history. Each of us will soon come to a point in time during this pandemic and isolated existence when the number of urgent decisions we have to make will diminish, and the course for our respective communities will have been charted, and…we will actually be able to stop, catch our breath, work on unifying our souls that feel so very scattered, and come to understand and internalize what I know we have been saying repeatedly to those in our communities, that “isolation need not mean loneliness.”  

During this period which none of us has ever known, even as we continue to support those in need, I also believe that ‘to prevail’ means we must not allow this unexpected window of time to pass by unappreciated, without discovering anew the simple miracles of daily life too often obscured from sight. Liberated from the grueling routines that have dictated our lives for however many years, might not this moment awaken in us a spirit of renewed curiosity, hopefully greater humility, and an appreciation that, though physically distant, we are in truth “alone together,” convening both individually and collectively at the same time. 

I genuinely believe we need this heightened awareness to confront as a rabbinic community what is increasingly understood to be a watershed moment in our history, when the character and nature of future Jewish communities as well as where and how Jewish communities convene are being defined literally before our very eyes.

Throughout Jewish history, with every disruption in the world, rabbis have reshaped, redefined, and recreated Jewish life and expression to ensure Judaism’s survival and continued relevance. I know I am not the first to suggest that the time has come for us to do so again. For with each Shabbat service we appropriately and necessarily livestream, every adult learning session and Hebrew class we offer online, all of the b’nei mitzvah students we now tutor solely through Skype or in Google Hangout rooms, every committee meeting, board meeting, and convention which we hold via Zoom, even the instances of pastoral outreach to those whom we can no longer reach in person…with all of these monumental efforts that many have been forced to implement for the first time, we have, albeit unintentionally, also helped to dramatically expand accessibility to Jewish life and to ensure Judaism’s relevance more than ever before.

In his column printed in last week’s Forward, our colleague Jeff Salkin astutely noted ‘The coronavirus is transforming Judaism… This is our Yavneh moment, a time when we have] to rethink Jewish life, expression, and service.” We surely recognize that, when this pandemic eventually passes, neither we as individuals, nor our congregations, or agencies, or Hillels, or communities, will be—or can be—the same again.

Though nothing can replicate the spiritual and emotional significance of physically being together in community, or ever replace the efficacy of actually reaching out to hold the hand of someone in need, still, having employed new modalities to connect with and engage people throughout our communities, including those who had previously determined our congregations’ or organizations’ offerings were either too limited or not in their budget, having discovered new and creative ways to respond to the needs of our diverse community, we need to understand and greet this moment with an open-hearted and open-minded spirit, not with a sense of foreboding. This is a defining moment in the life of the Jewish community and the ways in which we as rabbis and Jewish professionals respond now, and how we must continue to respond in the future, are how we will foster appreciation, nurture greater loyalty, and most significantly, ensure our and Judaism’s continued relevance. 

So here we are, members of our CCAR, alone together, “Zooming” in hopefully from some comfortable place, connecting in a manner we did not originally intend and could never have predicted. Unquestionably, many of us are greatly missing the long-anticipated opportunity to reconnect and learn and pray together with one another in Baltimore. However, this moment provides us with another opportunity, to realize the words of parashat Vayakhel read just this week and bring to this virtual Mishkan that we are building together across the miles the sincere and genuine gifts of our hearts. Among those gifts is surely one of gratitude for the members of our Convention Planning Committee (under the leadership of Chair Alex Shuval-Weiner and Vice-Chair Amanda Greene) who have labored for well over a year to plan our in-person gathering. Certainly, gratitude goes as well to our talented CCAR professional leadership for making the courageous decision to convene online and especially to Betsy Torop and the entire CCAR staff, who planned and executed this online convention in two weeks’ time, while also working from their homes.

This moment is a unique opportunity for the CCAR, for unexpectedly, a new window has opened and provided us a glimpse of where—and how—we as a Conference must surely continue to evolve in order to remain accessible and relevant to all of our CCAR colleagues in the future, to all of our CCAR colleagues.

With Pesach a little more than two weeks away and thoughts of virtual seders already in mind, perhaps new inspiration might emerge this year from the theme of liberation—liberation from the rushed, often stressful routines of our lives and communities (at least until a month ago), and a transition to the next still-to-be-defined period in Jewish life.

Having personally had the great honor of working closely with an incredibly dedicated CCAR board and gifted staff, I have great confidence in the CCAR’s ability to help shape and successfully guide us into this new moment, confidence that is significantly emboldened by the fact we are led by Rabbi Hara Person. I could not have asked for a greater privilege than to serve in this capacity as Hara assumed the responsibilities as our Chief Executive. Brilliant, thoughtful, reflective, and strategic, Hara is precisely the right rabbi and leader to help us navigate the next era in the life of our Conference. With her steady hand and our shared spirit of curiosity, trust, and faith in one another, we will emerge from this unprecedented moment, prepared to define anew and write this next chapter together. May it indeed be so.  

Thank you for the sincere privilege and honor of continuing to serve as president of the CCAR.


Rabbi Ron Segal is President of the CCAR and senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

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CCAR Convention

The Privilege of Teaching Torah

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2020, March 22-25 in Baltimore, Rabbi Kenneth I. Segel shares the most moving aspects of his celebrated career.

The teaching of Torah is a high privilege. I have disciplined myself to study, to learn and grow in order to feel authentic as a rabbi. The pulpit has been the “picture window” of my rabbinate. To touch the minds and hearts of people is a thrilling experience. My challenge has been “to bring the timeless to bear upon the timely.”  

The religious imperative to which I have tried to give voice is the one that says: Create, do not destroy. Respect, do not hurt. Love, do not hate. Grow, do not stagnate.  

I have seen ordinary people live extraordinary lives. They embrace and reflect hope and idealism. They have found a viable balance between the comfort of the familiar and the challenge of the untried.  hey have stretched “neighbor” to encompass all humans. I have witnessed countless examples of personal triumph over tragedy.

I have been richly blessed by the love and scrutiny of my dear wife of 50 years, Sandra. She has made me a better person, a better Jew, and a better rabbi.


Kenneth I. Segel was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1970. He has served historic congregations in the United States and Canada and has built congregations in New Orleans; Fresno, California; and Scottsdale, Arizona. He’s taught at five universities, published three children’s books and two adult books, and has been invited to offer Opening Prayers before the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. He currently lectures on cruise ships throughout the world.

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CCAR Convention

From the South, to the Midwest, to Western Europe and Back: 50 Years of Rabbinic Moments Big and Small

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2020, March 22-25 in Baltimore, Rabbi Irvin Ehrlich recalls his rich personal Jewish history and remarkable career that took him oversees and back.

I grew up in a small South Georgia town. “Shabbat” services were every other Sunday evening, as our congregation of eighteen or so families did not have a full-time rabbi, but would invite the rabbi in a neighboring community to visit. (One of our rabbis was Julius Kravitz, z”l, who later was on the faculty of HUC-JIR in New York, and who led our 1963 summer program in Cincy.)

We were CLASSICAL reform. Caps intentional. Never would a kippah be allowed! Once I was old enough to go to temple, I never missed a service. One of my earliest memories was sitting in the pews, and opening the Union Prayer Book, of blessed memory. I would look at the title page, and was in awe that the publisher was the Central Conference of American Rabbis. I could not imagine a more august group. Never did I think that my life would take a path that would lead me to being a member for 50 years. And never have I considered myself to be “august.”

During my early rabbinic career, I led worship from the Union Prayer Book. Later came the Gates series. And then, just a few months before my retirement in 2008, I introduced Mishkan T’Filah. I am not lamenting these changes, for I see them as clear examples that our Reform Movement is alive and changing. The English of the UPB still moves me, but the words of the scholars of our Movement today also speak my heart.

My rabbinate has always been in small communities; perhaps this is because of my childhood. That means that in the pre-Internet days, I was often quite isolated, but somehow, I was aware of the changes that were happening, and I always understood that my responsibility was to take my flock, no matter how small, and to create an environment where they would be comfortable wherever they went.

After ordination in 1970, I served in Lincoln, Nebraska and Springfield, Ohio before entering the United States Air Force as a chaplain. I was stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany; the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs (twice); the Military Air Lift Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois; Royal Air Force Mildenhall in the United Kingdom; and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. After twenty years of active military service, I retired and became the founding rabbi of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs.

I now have the luxury to sit in the pews and experience worship led by the talented and caring clergy team at Temple Beth El in Madison, Wisconsin. This has afforded me the opportunity to become more personally involved in prayer. I no longer worry about what’s on the next page. One of the most wonderful observations is the level of participation by the congregation. The Jew in the Pew is much more involved; the UPB model of “Congregation” responding to “Leader” is no more. We all chant the V’ahavtah and the prayers of the Amidah. Beth El has a Team Torah consisting of lay members who chant Torah. (I’m the only member of the group who reads Torah; I never learned to chant!)

Like life, like any rabbinical career, there have been ups and downs. I cannot do anything about the unpleasant times, but I can relive and get pleasure from the joys. Such as uniting couples in marriage and watching them grow into families. (The first couple I married in the summer of 1970 will celebrate 50 years this summer!) Vivian and I served tea to Prime Minister Begin when his plane stopped for fuel in England. I’ve led High Holy Day worship in the Rashi Synagogue in Worms, Germany. And I have participated in many little “common” moments that are a part of being a rabbi and involved in the life of congregants. I’ve spent hours in hospitals just being a presence in a time of great stress.

Upon retirement I discovered NAORRR, and found great joy in being with colleagues, some who were longtime (but not “old”) friends, and I’ve made many wonderful new ones who have had similar rabbinical journeys. When I attend the annual NAORRR Convention I always remember that I was blessed to have two study partners of blessed memory at HUC: Howard Folb, z”l, and Jonathan Plaut, z”l. Their early deaths left a void that has affected me greatly. May their memories be for a blessing.


Irvin Ehrlich was ordained at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati in 1970. He is the Founding Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs. He and his wife, Vivian Mitzman, live in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. he has three children, 11 grandchildren, and 1 grandson-in-law.

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CCAR Convention Convention

I’ve Been Blessed With Many Teachers: Reflections On 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2020, March 22-25 in Baltimore, Rabbi Bob Saks reflects on his many teachers and their many lessons.

With gratitude to my many teachers:

From the rabbis of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah and was confirmed, I learned that fighting for social justice is at the heart of Judaism.

From Lubavitch emissaries, I learned that Judaism is more than social justice.

From the Rabbis, I’ve learned that one should say at least one hundred blessings a day, and that we can start the moment we open our eyes in the morning.

From Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Hasidism, I learned that singing and dancing are gates “to the place where God dwells,” and that nothing penetrates as deeply as a good story.

From Rabbi Seymour Siegel at JTS, I learned the relevance of Torah study.

From Sifrei Musar, I learned that ethics and spirituality encompass all of life.

From Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement (thank you, Alan Morinis), I learned that self-knowledge is the first stage to self-improvement, and that it doesn’t come easily.

From American Indian religions, I learned that we live between earth and sky, and that all living things are family.

From older African-Americans, I learned dignity.

From younger African Americans, I learned anger.

From the Book of Job and writer Annie Dillard, I learned that nature is awesome even when it is grotesque and gruesome.

From Martin Buber and Bishop Pike, I learned that too much doctrine and too many rituals lead us away from God.

From Abraham Joshua Heschel, I learned that the best of us can do it all: fight for justice, learn and teach Torah, live a full traditional life, a life with wonder, and find God in dialogue with others;

But I’m no Heschel.

From the unique spiritual culture of Japan, I’ve learned that a vase with a single flower can speak more eloquently than a whole bouquet and that making the ordinary beautiful is its own wisdom.

From the religions of Asia, I’ve learned to rein in my clattering mind so that I might live some of the time in the “here and now.”

From Danny Matt’s extraordinary translation and commentary on the Zohar, I’ve come to think of God as the energy that is the deepest essence of all things, all thoughts, all laws of nature and of the human personality, and that our role should be to channel the Divine, by channeling ourselves in the direction of justice and mercy.

From my friend Rabbi Steven Shaw, z”l, I learned to take risks, to dare to be creative, to match seekers and teachers, and also that, for some, Jerusalem may be in the woods of Maine.

From the Jews of Israel, I’ve learned that my deepest failure is not to live there with them, as this moment in Jewish history demands.

From the daily news, I’ve learned how good and how evil humans can be.

From my congregants at Bet Mishpachah, I learned about authentic community, courage, and perseverance even in the darkest times, and about the creativity, skills, and knowledge of our lay leaders.

From my mother, I learned to be faithful and to do what one knows one must, even when the price is high.

From my sons, I’m still learning what good parenting looks like.

And from my wife of 50 years I’ve learned how sweet it is to be loved and to love another.

I’ve been blessed with many teachers.


Rabbi Bob Saks was ordained by Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1970. He is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in Washington, DC, where he served from 1991 through 2009. He has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance in 2009, Jews United for Justice – Abraham Joshua Heschel Award in 2008, and the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jews – Leadership Award in 2008.

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CCAR Convention Convention Inclusion inclusivity

Jewish Community Outreach & Interconnectedness: Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus Reflects

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2020, March 22-25 in Baltimore, Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus reflects on the importance of community outreach to his rabbinate.

I think community outreach has been one of my most memorable accomplishments in my 50 years in the rabbinate.  With the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union in 1989, I organized the mentoring of some 100 immigrants who settled in Columbia, arranged to have English classes taught at my temple, and welcomed many of the adults and children as members of temple.  B’nai mitzvah and weddings among the newcomers were unique occasions celebrated by the entire Jewish community.

I had organized a Catholic-Jewish dialogue that resulted in numerous interfaith programs alternately held at temple and at Catholic churches. It included members of the Conservative congregation along with ours. This led to the bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina speaking at my temple with over 400 Jews and Catholics attending. That was front page news here. The bishop invited me to be an observer at a diocese synod, which provided a unique insight into Catholic religious policy in the making. 

I also was a member of a steering committee which formed a statewide Partners in Dialogue with Christians of various denominations: Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Native Americans. It sponsored occasions for sharing faith observances and ethnic foods. And with the co-sponsorship of the University of South Carolina Department of Religious Studies, the Dialogue brought to town internationally known religious leaders for an annual event. 

With the leadership of Dr. Selden Smith and South Carolina Holocaust survivors and their children, we formed the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust, designed to honor South Carolina survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants, and the South Carolinians and their descendants who participated in the liberation of concentration camps. This led to the erection of a beautiful monument honoring their memory in downtown Columbia. 

Shortly after arriving in Columbia, I joined The Luncheon Club, a racially diverse group that promotes collegiality and is informative on current issues. It originated in 1962 when African Americans were unable to eat in white establishments. It continues to meet today. I became heavily involved in interracial relations and formed a Black-Jewish Coalition which held dialogues, pulpit exchanges, and a joint Passover Seder held at my temple.

All in all, I feel that I have grown in knowledge and discretion over the years of my rabbinate and have a greater understanding of how interdependent we Jews are with the rest of our population and how important good community relations are.


Sanford T. Marcus is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Tree of Life Congregation in Columbia, South Carolina. He served as the spiritual leader of the synagogue for twenty years prior to his retirement in 2006. Ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1970, he is a recipient of two master’s degrees, and was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree. 

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CCAR Convention congregations Immigration

Remarkable Moments in a 50-Year Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2020, March 22-25 in Baltimore, Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus reflects on the importance of community outreach.

This coming year marks the 50th year of my ordination, the last class during Nelson Glueck’s tenure as president of HUC-JIR. It is also the 60th anniversary of remaining on the Brandeis University waiting list!

I had a first and last job at Temple Beth-El in Providence, Rhode Island.  I succeeded Rabbi Braude whose vaunted reputation was deserved. I was only 31 when elected Senior Rabbi of a 1,200 family congregation. At the time there was no Placement Commission to prevent my succession. When I informed my mother of this happy news, she exclaimed, “Honey, do you think you’re competent?”  She had a point. Happily, it turned out that a caring presence can trump competence. I have been over-honored through the years. I am the only rabbi to be elected to the Rhode Island Hall of Fame. I have been awarded seven honorary degrees. It is satisfying to feel that I have made a difference for good.  

I have many life-saturated memories of my rabbinic career. Two are particularly compelling. Anya Volnyskaya was a youngster in the former Soviet Union who was “twinned” with many American young girls celebrating their B’nai Mitzvah. An empty chair was placed on their bimahs in her honor. This dramatized the plight of Refusniks. Years later, Anya and her family moved to Providence. She yearned to celebrate her own Bat Mitzvah. As this festive occasion approached, she invited the six girls from around the country who once prayed for her to be allowed to leave Russia. They all came. Surrounding Anya as she began reading Torah, they joined in a chorus of the Shehecheyanu prayer. There was not a dry eye in the congregation.  

Dr. Myer Saklad led a health team to the Warsaw Ghetto after it was subsumed by fire. When he arrived, the ground was still warm. Saklad came across a human skull and instinctively cradled it in his arms. He took it home. Years later when he was dying, the doctor came with the human remains wrapped in stiff brown paper tied with string. What should he do? The week following Rosh Hashanah we gently placed it in our temple cemetery next to prayer books that could no longer be used.  I have never participated in a more moving burial.  

I have been blessed by two remarkable women. Julie was instrumental building my career and our family. She was the cherished mother of Rebecca and Elizabeth. She died tragically in her fifties. Rebecca named her son Jonah in her memory. 

Janet Engelhart brought Allison and two more grandsons into my life. Her brother said at our wedding that she is distinguished by her big heart. He was so right. Her gifts of spirit created a loving, unified family.

On the Jubilee occasion of my ordination, I have much for which I am grateful.  Rebecca is a Reform Rabbi.  From generation to generation.  Now, if I could only hear from Brandeis!


Leslie Y. Gutterman is rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth-El in Providence, Rhode Island, and currently serves on the CCAR Taskforce on Retirees and Sucessors.

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CCAR Convention Convention

CCAR Convention 2020: Acting Upon the Jewish Moral Imperative to Confront Climate Change

If you are anything like me, I imagine you strive to reduce your harm on the environment. Perhaps you bring reusable bags to the supermarket or limit your use of single use plastic and paper products. Maybe you compost or drink coffee from a reusable travel mug.  

And yet, if you are anything like me, despite having made some or all of these personal lifestyle changes, you feel that these small tweaks to your daily routines aren’t enough. Large scale systemic changes are what’s needed to positively impact the future of our fragile planet. 

This year at CCAR Convention in Baltimore, I am thrilled that we’ll dive deep into both the small scale actions we can take and the systemic changes we can fight for to truly be spiritual leaders on the devastating issue of climate change. 

On Wednesday morning, Karenna Gore, activist, advocate, and Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary will inspire us as religious leaders with her moral and ethical vision for climate justice. After learning from her, we’ll gather for workshops that give us tools and strategies to take back home and implement locally. Topics will include: clean and accessible water, rising sea levels, and we’ll also learn from experts at Baltimore’s National Aquarium. 

Choni the Circle Maker from Taanit 23 famously states that he plants a tree, not for his own benefit but for the good of generations to come. In doing so, Choni reminds us of the urgency of working today to benefit the future. But have you read the end of this Choni parable? There, we learn that when Choni makes his infamous time travel journey 70 years into the future, upon visiting the Beit Midrash, no one recognizes him, and he is left alone. He cries out in pain from the grief he feels of being left out. This ending to the story gives us an equally important moral about the need for community. Choni reminds us that we cannot act effectively when we are alone. We need each other.

This idea certainly rings true for me as a solo clergy in a small congregation and as a Hillel rabbi on a local campus. At Convention, I draw energy and strength from being with you all and feeling that together we can raise our voices to positively impact our fragile planet, its plants, animals, and human beings.

If you haven’t yet registered for this year’s Convention, please consider joining us. It will be a better Convention with you there.

I look forward to seeing you all in Baltimore!

Rabbi Lisa Vinikoor is the rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation in Bath, Maine and Bowdoin College and a member of the CCAR Convention committee. CCAR Convention 2020 will be held in Baltimore, March 22–25, 2020.