CCAR Convention

Health and Healing, Wholeness and Holiness

In the Torah portion this week, the priests of ancient Israel find that their religious responsibilities include a role as a public health official.  With ritual and commandment, they help individuals confront a particular disease.  Physical health is an important component of spiritual well-being, and the priest has an important role to play in both.  Their goal is to help bring into the world health and healing, wholeness and holiness.

I am not a priest of ancient Israel.  I am not a doctor or a medical researcher.  I can’t cure cancer or heal an ailing child.  But I can raise awareness of pediatric cancer and raise money for research into its cures.  And I will shave my head tonight, along with so many of my rabbinic colleagues, in order to do so.  We stand together in the proud tradition of those seek the spiritual and physical well-being of others.  And our goals are the same as our priestly forbearers:  to bring into the world health and healing, wholeness and holiness.

CCAR Convention Rabbis

Why I am shaving my head – to bring holiness into my life and our world

I have made lots of jokes about growing my hair out (as best as I could) for this fundraiser for St Baldricks Foundation in honor of a little boy who died this year… A boy whom I have never met. I am only acquaintances with his parents – fellow Reform rabbis. As I see women and men start to shave their heads in solidarity with this family and these children who are fighting their cancers, I am truly in awe.

I am in awe not only for the almost two dozen women who are participating in this “36 Shave for the Brave,” not only because there are 100 rabbis signed up for this, not only because they have raised over $528,000… But because there is an energy around people making a difference and doing something that is holy.

These shavees are walking around with hair longer than they ever would have tolerated before: unkept, hard-to-manage, not so appealing… to emphasize their experience in the shave. I am reminded of the Nazir in the Torah who takes on an oath and separates her/himself, takes on additional burdens, in order to designate her/his life to serving God in a unique way. It wasn’t necessary for these people to choose to do this. But they did it anyway. At the end of their service, they shave their hair that was previously consecrated to God. While they were in this temporary status as a Nazir, they could not shave their heads. Here at the annual conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing Reform Rabbis in North America, I see a whole host of people consecrating their beloved hair to God, preparing to shave it off in order to fight childhood cancer, to honor the spiritual courage of a family who experienced a loss few of us can understand, to remember a little boy who was a superhero to many, and to bring some holiness to our lives when the chaos embedded in Creation strikes.

May Superman Sam’s memory be an enduring blessing to his family and to all of us. May we reach this goal of $540,000. May people be inspired to do their part – through shaving their heads, making acts of tzedakah, and bringing comfort to a family still in pain. And may we bring holiness into our lives and our world by making a difference and showing God we care.

You can support my shave, read about the back story, or view the live stream on Tuesday night.

Thank you for supporting my modest fundraising efforts and for enabling me to do this holy act.

Rabbi Frederick Greene serves Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, GA. This was originally posted on his blog, Ayekah – Where Are You?

CCAR Convention Rabbis Technology

Twitter for Rabbis: A Crash Course

Today starts the 125th Annual CCAR Convention.

Hopefully, that means that #ccar14 and #whatrabbisdo are about to become Trending Topics on Twitter.

If that above sentence made perfect sense to you, and you responded with a resounded cheer of “yes!” then you probably don’t need to read the rest of this blog post.

If that above sentence made your eyes glaze over with the # symbols and the word Twitter…read on.

How to become a quick-study at Twitter:

1. Go to and set up an account. Choose a user name that isn’t too long, isn’t too complicated, and in some way helps to explain who you are. My username is imabima. (Get it?)

On Twitter, users are referred to by the user name, prefaced by the @ symbol. So my username is @imabima. The idea of “tagging” someone in a post actually originated in Twitter but expanded to Facebook.

2. Find at least 10-20 people to “follow.” This isn’t a huge commitment. It’s not like being “friends” on Facebook. It implies no special relationship. You follow other people in order to have something to read and respond to as you use Twitter. Twitter is ideal when there are people having actual conversations back and forth rather than just putting ideas out into the world.

I suggest you start with these rabbis who tend to tweet at the CCAR Conventions (this list is by no means comprehensive):


The CCAR has a list you can follow for #CCAR14. Just click “subscribe” and you’ll see tweets from everyone on the list.

(There are so many others who tweet….this is just a sample, based on the front page of those tweeting at the CCAR right as I type this post. Also, there are lots of other non-Reform rabbis and other interesting things and people to follow on Twitter. That’s a different post for a different day.)

A single Twitter post is known as a tweet. The verb used to explain what you’re doing when you post on Twitter is tweeting.

3. There are two main kinds of posts in Twitter: your own original tweets and other people’s posts that you re-post, known as re-tweeting. “Re-Tweets” are usually prefaced by the letters RT. Most “good” Twitter users will do a nice balance or combination of their own tweets accompanied by RTs of other people’s stuff.

4. Hashtags: This gets people a little wiggy. It’s really less complicated than it sounds. Hashtags are a way to follow along a certain stream of conversation in Twitter, which can be a vast ocean of stuff. So in order to best follow what’s happening at the CCAR, users will post their tweets with the extra phrase#ccar14. This allows people to follow just this particular stream of information surrounding the CCAR Convention and differentiates our conversation from last year’s convention. You can get by on Twitter with ONLY this hashtag for the convention. You don’t need any other ones. As you get a little more advanced in your tweeting….you can learn more about these things.

5. In real life: Add your twitter username (known as your “handle”) to your name tag at the convention. Talk to other people about how they’re using Twitter. Don’t be afraid to follow people and to see that others are following you.

Twitter is worth exploring. There’s a lot to be learned and gleaned from the vastness of its information stream. It does seem a bit overwhelming and daunting when you merely look at how many tweets there are per day, per hour, all over the world. For specific uses and purposes, it can be a really useful and educational tool.

I look forward to reading all the #ccar14 tweets!

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer serves as associate rabbi at Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL. This post originally appeared on her blog: Ima on (and off) the Bima.

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Arriving at #CCAR14 – The CCAR Convention

The CCAR Convention – it’s a gathering of over 550 rabbis in one place.  An awesome experience every year with opportunities to study, teach, pray with, and connect with colleagues.  And it all takes place starting in just a few hours.

convention-home-imageSome of us have already arrived and being from the west coast, are wide awake at 1:53 am. Morning will come soon enough and meetings will begin, (I’m honored to serve on the CCAR National Board) and learning will commence. Not to mention, much coffee  will be consumed because we will not be sleeping. Too many people to catch up with as most of us talk throughout the year but this is the one time we get to see one another face to face. And who wants to sleep when someone pulls out a guitar in the lobby and all we want to do is sing all night!

So let the 125th CCAR National Convention begin.  There will be great programs, amazing conversations, and thoughtful challenges to help us be better rabbis. (And I’m feeling good that all this is true, I am on the committee who helped plan it).

Follow us on Twitter – #CCAR14, read my blog and many others and check out what happens when 700 Reform rabbis get together in one place! Yeah, this is going to be awesome!

Rabbi Heidi Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana, CA. This post originally appeared on her blog, 

You can follow everyone tweeting about #CCAR14 by following our #CCAR14 Twitter list.

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Celebrating the Class of 1964: “An Alternative Universe ”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years.  In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of the members of the class of 1964.

I wish I could claim some idealistic, high-minded reason that I entered HUC-JIR in Cincinnati.  I fear it was a combination of adolescent rebellion and idol worship.  I grew up in a scientific family and dutiful enrolled for a university course in chemical engineering; but I found the work devoid of emotional content.  I was excited about my electives in psychology, ethics, and economics.  As my undergraduate years drew to a close, I cast about for my next step in life.  I realized that the people I most admired were Reform rabbis: my childhood rabbi, Morris Lieberman, and the young rabbis I met through NFTY: Herb Bronstein, Hy Perlmutter, and Dick Sternberger.

It turned out that HUC-JIR was a good fit for me.  I loved learning the biblical texts and, even more, midrashim.  In retrospect, I now understand that the thought-world of Jewish religion provided me an alternative to the crassness and materialism in American life that distressed and repelled me.  The idealism of the pre-exilic prophets inspired me.  What satisfaction I took from arriving at Martin Luther King’s 1963 convocation in Washington and encountering a UAHC banner proclaiming: “Tzedek, Tzedek teer-dof.”  

Over the decades, the Bible and the Midrash have been my lodestones.  Jewish study and texts turned out to be my refuge, a source of solace and strength. 

Life has been exceptionally good to me.  I loved my contact with the Jews in the small bi-weekly congregations I served.  I felt good about my four years as an Army chaplain, mostly in Frankfurt, West Germany.  Roland Gittelsohn at Temple Israel of Boston was an outstanding mentor.  My thirty years in the pulpit of Temple Sinai of Brookline were profoundly gratifying.  Thanks to the cordiality of my successor, Andy Vogel, I still feel very much at home in that Sanctuary and at Temple programs.  In retirement, I also spent seven significant winters serving the members of Temple Beth Shalom of San Juan.  It could not have turned out so well without the love and support of my wife, Beth.  Her humor, insight, and people-sense have been invaluable.  She and the rabbinate have provided me with a deeply satisfying life.

CCAR Convention Rabbis

Celebrating the Class of 1964: “I am a Veteran”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years.  In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of the members of the class of 1964.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Fifty years ago, I followed the advice of Yogi Berra. I chose to begin my career as an army Chaplain. Having done basic training in the summer before my senior year at HUC-JIR, I went directly to my duty station, Vicenza, Italy. As the first Jewish Chaplain to serve there since World War II, I not only served our three army posts but made monthly trips to an air force base in Aviano. I also made two trips to our naval base in Naples. My three years produced so many wonderful memories. I had the opportunity to represent the Jewish people at the dedication of a bell, melted down from cannons from World War I. I helped to raise funds to rebuild the synagogue in Florence when it was devastated by a flood. I was successful in bringing bagels into the commissaries.

Following my active duty, I returned to the United States and accepted a position with a congregation in Broomall, Pennsylvania. One day, I was invited for dinner with one of my congregants. During dinner, my host mentioned that he was a member of a general hospital reserve unit and that there was another general hospital looking for a Jewish Chaplain. So once again I put on my uniform and joined the 361st General Hospital. I would spend the next seventeen years as its Chaplain; beginning as a Captain and rising to the rank of Colonel. During my time with them, the unit became an evacuation hospital, very similar to MASH. Like MASH, we became very close; so close that one of our nurses, a Catholic, invited me to officiate at her wedding to a Quaker. During the wedding I mentioned that I was asked to do the wedding because we were friends; not realizing the double meaning to the Quakers.

I finally left my friends at the 361st Evacuation Hospital to join a civil affairs unit. The commander was concerned about having a Jewish Chaplain because in the event of war, our assignment would be Saudi Arabia. I assured him that it did not matter whether we wore the tablets or the cross, we would all be lumped together. Unlike any other unit in the military, a Chaplain is more than a Chaplain; I was the religious cultural officer to advise the commander about indigenous religions on the battlefield. It required me to acquire knowledge of the religions and mores of the people in our area of responsibility in the event of war.

It was this knowledge that led to my next assignment as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) at the Army Chaplain School. An IMA is a reservist who trains with an active duty unit. My first assignment was to review the curriculum on world religions. As I was about to make a couple of recommendations, I was asked to do it as a staff study. My staff study was adopted by the Chaplain Corps. As a result, our Chaplains were better prepared to meet the challenges of our military engagements in the Middle East. My role changed when I became the first drilling IMA in the Chaplain Corps, which meant that in addition to my two weeks, I reported to the school once a month. In that capacity, I changed the way the IMAs were used. Instead of the school having to decide what to do with them when they arrived, we looked at the courses being offered throughout the coming year and determined the number of IMAs needed for each course. We then informed each one of when he would be coming and what he would be teaching.

Finally, I retired from the army but still longed to work with veterans and so I became a Chaplain at the Northport VA Medical Center and rose to the position of lead Chaplain. My proudest accomplishment at the medical center came about when a Vietnam Veteran approached me about planting a tree for a deceased Vietnam Veteran. I said “why just a tree? Why not a garden to honor all of our Vietnam Veterans? Little did I know what I had begun. There emerged a beautiful garden with a brick walkway, flags, an eternal light and a huge rock with a poem written by a Monsignor who had served as a sergeant in Vietnam. There is a bench dedicated to each of the military services. Our director was so impressed with the garden that he invited Dignity Memorial to bring the Vietnam Wall to our campus. Naturally we needed to build a stage and a patio for the programs around the wall’s visit to our campus. We now hold outdoor concerts there throughout the summer for our Veteran patients and for the local community. The Vietnam Veterans of America, who spearheaded this project, were not done. A Wall of Wars, with monuments to each of the twelve wars in which our Veterans served, will be completed this spring.

I also have taken an active role in both the community and on a national level for Chaplaincy. Among my achievements are the introduction of the recognition of specialization for Chaplains, editing a Book of Rituals, introducing spiritual grand rounds and helping to launch Spirit of Chaplaincy, a semi-annual newsletter to serve as the voice of Chaplaincy. I currently am the chair of the continuing education committee of the Chaplain Field Leadership Council and chair of the editorial board of Spirit of Chaplaincy. I have been honored by receiving the Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary’s Award for excellence in Chaplaincy. I also was nominated by the National Chaplain Center and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Military Chaplain Association (MCA). After receiving the award, I was invited to be a member of the MCA board of trustees. Upon the completion of my initial term on the board, I was elected to serve as its secretary. National Association of VA Chaplains has designated me to head all of the panels to consider those seeking certification in hospice and palliative care.

I am proud to be a Veteran and work with Veterans. As a tribute to them, I wrote a poem, “I Am A Veteran,” which hangs in our medical center and has been put in the Congressional Record.


I am a Veteran

I shivered that cold winter in Valley Forge
And rejoiced at the glorious surrender at Yorktown.
I wept as the flames engulfed Washington
And said “Never again.”
I wore blue and I bled red.
I wore gray and I bled red.
The blood I spilled was to reunite a nation
Of the people, by the people and for the people.
I am a veteran.

I was at Little Big Horn and I prayed;
I was at Wounded Knee and I prayed.
I prayed that one-day the old Americans
And the new Americans would be one people.
I was there to charge up the hill at San Juan;
Knowing that my country was emerging beyond its borders.
I was prepared to make the world safe for democracy.
Young and idealistic, I came to France
To turn back the hordes in this war to end all wars.
I am a veteran.

It was with disbelief that I became
A part of the day that will live in infamy.
Once more I said goodbye to those I loved to protect my country.
Across the vast desert I met the enemy.
I met him on island after island.
I kept my promise to return.
I met him on the beaches of Normandy.
I repelled him from the gates of Bastogne.
I freed thousands from the shadow of death.
I am a veteran.

A small nation cried out for help
And I came because others had been there for me.
A nation was saved.
Ask not what your country can do for you.
Ask what you can do for your country.
Inspired by these words, I responded with courage and bravery
In a war that was hot and a war that was cold.
I am a veteran.

From Ground Zero to the Pentagon to the fields of Pennsylvania,
I saw the carnage and heard the cries. At that moment,
I pledged my life, my property and my sacred honor
Until there will be peace and freedom on earth
For everyone, everywhere.
I am a veteran.

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Shave for the Brave: A “Magical” Moment

I was thinking so much about Sammy this past Purim.  He was a kid who loved all things fun and magical and creative.  One of the things I learned early on with Sammy is that you have to have a gimmick with him in order to get “in” to his world.  He loved jokes and so we were able to connect a little bit over humor.  He loved Angry Birds, and so I was thankful when I learned I could get him to sit on my lap if I handed him my phone with Angry Birds already open and ready for him to play with.  He  also LOVED magic.

I’ve known Sammy since the day he arrived.  His parents are some of my best friends and I was there a few days after he was born.  I remember it like it was yesterday – I walked into their home and crept up slowly to the sleeping newborn, just to get a peek of him.  Suddenly, like magic (or my loud footsteps) he awoke and shined those bright eyes on me. It was a great moment.  And there were many great moments to follow.  Until, the not-so-great moments came.

Sammy Magic 2After Sammy’s cancer relapsed in 2013, I went to go visit him, in May, at the hospital.  Determined to bring a little something that I thought would brighten Sammy’s day, I came into the room with my bag full of tricks.  Literally!  I brought Sammy some magic tricks with lights and balls and bags.  But, the thing he loved the most, that day, was the Magic Hat I brought him from FAO Schwartz.  He could even pull a stuffed bunny out of the hat!!! It all brought a smile to Sammy’s face that I will never forget. It looked like my work as “Auntie Liz” was done!

Sadly, it was not.  I was there a few days after Sammy was born and I was there the day after Sammy died, in December.  I sat and cried with my friends and family and their family who are like my own family. I helped David, Sammy’s brother, buy clothes for the funeral.   I helped carry Sammy’s body, through the cold and snow, at the cemetery to help bury Sammy and say goodbye to his physical presence.  It was the greatest honor I could have, as his Auntie Liz, to be there for him, even when he was no longer there.

We are still here for Sammy, and we are here for many, many other families that are struggling with the pain associated with pediatric cancer.  While Sammy was sick, there were so many people from around the world that were touched by the Sommer’s story and their blog.  Everyone wanted to help, but really didn’t know what to do.  Well, now there is something that is being done.  Phyllis Sommer and Rebecca Einstein Schorr decided that they could convince 36 Rabbis to shave their heads and raise funds for pediatric cancer research, in honor of Sammy’s memory.  The “shave” is being run through the St. Baldrick’s foundation and is taking place on April 1st at the CCAR convention in Chicago, IL – Sammy’s hometown.  The intention was to raise $180,000 from 36 rabbis.  But so many people signed on that we have almost 100 people who have raised more than $420,000 for this event.  It’s almost like, magic….

And that moment, at the Shave on April 1st will truly be magical.  We will watch as Sammy’s parents, Michael and Phyllis, shave their heads.  We will watch as other Rabbis, men and women, shave their heads in honor of Sammy’s memory and in honor of so many other kids out there who struggle every day.  We will watch, in these next few weeks, as our numbers of dollars raised continue to rise and rise and rise.  I am so proud of what my colleagues have done and I am so proud to help be an event organizer for this special and magical moment.  But, most of all, I am proud that I got to know and love Sammy, that I got to be his Auntie Liz, and that he has inspired so many people to continue to work their own magic, in the world.

Sammy and Liz

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood serves The Reform Temple of Forest Hills, NY.

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Celebrating the Class of 1964: “Blessed to See the Jewish Community Thrive”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years.  In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of the members of the class of 1964.

I was born in Cincinnati at Good Samaritan Hospital right next door to HUC. My parents always said that they wanted to enroll me in the college then and there. I grew up in Los Angeles, went to UCLA, and with others from the classes of ‘63 and 64′ were blessed to have been the first to attend the LA school on Appian Way in the Hollywood Hills. So many stories to recount about those heady days, but in a different venue.

It’s about 2200 miles between LA and Cinti and I spent my entire career in Denver, which is exactly in between. My first three years were as an assistant at Temple Emanuel, a 1000 family congregation then in a city of about 20,000 Jews. By 1967 the city had morphed from western cow town to metropolis, from half a million to a million souls and then some. As Rikki and I were contemplating our next move, three young families proposed that we stay and start another congregation in the southern part of the city where new housing projects were getting underway. It was a most fortuitous decision. By our first Rosh Hashanah service we were 78 families with 125 children in the religious school.

We rented space in a lovely Congregationalist Church and held school and services there for our first nine years. (The cross on the wall? Well, think of it as a “T” for Temple.) The relationship between the two congregations was exceptional. Rev. Stu Haskins and I are still close friends. The congregants became a sort of learning, teaching, mutual adoration society. We built the sukkah each year in their courtyard and hundreds of their members came to learn and “shake.” We preached at each others services at special times, especially during national days of mourning or celebration. We raised money for Israel. We began a joint Thanksgiving service that continues to this day, the longest such interfaith service in US history between just two congregations. While Rikki and I have led over 25 congregational trips to Israel through the years, one of the most memorable was when Stu and I took 40 people from the two congregations, and for 17 days shared in accounts from both traditions as we journeyed from site to site.

In 1972, Audrey Friedman Marcus, then educational director of Temple Micah, asked if I’d like to co-author a series of 30 pamphlets entitled “Our Synagogue.” We wrote them in three sessions together and they were published by Winston Press and ultimately distributed by Behrman House. Both of us had a passion for Jewish education and were appalled at the paucity of relevant, dynamic, beautifully designed, kid friendly and teacher oriented materials then available. So we started our own publishing company. At first we called it Alternatives in Religious Education, which was the title of a monthly teaching magazine that Audrey produced for a limited market. We later changed the name to A.R.E. Publishing. Within a year, we were writing mini-courses (a novel product at the time) on Jewish Marriage, Divorce, Circumcision, Aging, Calendar, Jews in the Soviet Union, and more. We designed a game about Soviet Jewry and a learning experience about the Holocaust.  We sent out flyers  and to our astonishment orders came in. Rikki turned our basement into a warehouse and packed and shipped and took orders and billed. When the materials overwhelmed our garage and basement, we bought a warehouse and then a larger one. Teacher materials followed – a major multi-book Hebrew program (Z’man Likro) and handbooks galore – The Jewish Teachers Handbook, Principals Handbook, Teaching Torah, Holidays, Mitzvot, Haftarah, and more, each a gem of Jewish research and practical teaching applications. By the time we sold the company after 30 years, we had spawned many other boutique publishing ventures such as Karben Copies and Torah Aura, while in the process becoming one of the largest Jewish publishers in the English speaking world.

Meanwhile, Temple Sinai was growing. With 300 families, we bought land and built a lovely facility in our target area. A year later cracks began to appear, major costly attempts to fix the building failed, lawsuits ensued, but we had to keep the building standing to win a court case. Six years later, on the courthouse steps, we recovered every cent we had put into the building and land and bought a magnificent Denver public school building that had been abandoned due to mandated cross city busing for integration. New Year’s day 1984, as we moved into the new facility (with two foot thick walls and no cracks, we called it Fort Sinai), our eldest daughter Robin was dying. At 19, she spent her last months of strength teaching art in our preschool, and passed away quietly at home surrounded by loving family and many friends. Kaddish for the building and the child.

Life has its pauses; resiliency carries us onward. We soon added a beautiful new sanctuary (now bearing our family name), social hall, offices, youth lounge, and chapel to the terrific school facility. In its new space, Sinai flourished, growing to 1150 families. Assistant Rabbis and soloists were a great source of inspiration to members as well as to me. I loved to watch them grow into their talents, to see them learn to walk and then to run off to lead their own congregations. Some 20 kids coming through Sinai’s school have become rabbis, cantors, or Jewish educators. I think I’m most proud of that. I am also pleased to have been able to resurrect the joint conversion program, in which 20 rabbis of all denominations (not yet the Orthodox) teach and serve on the Bet Din. I have been the Av Bet Din for decades.

I retired in 2005 after leading the Temple for some four decades. It’s in very good hands still, building again and flourishing as I know it will. I still teach a Torah Study class there every Shabbat morning with my dear friend Rabbi Steve Kaye as we have done for the past 28 years. We do one verse a week. We just finished Numbers 15:1. We’re hoping to live long enough to get through Deuteronomy.

Writing has always been a source of pleasure for me and so I was pleased to have been able to publish two books since 2005 – Forty Years of Wondering: The High Holy Day Sermons and my first novel Holy Fire. They say the second novel is the hardest. “They” is right.

Our children Ron and Dina are married to wonderful spouses and have each presented us with two grandchildren, whom we adore. Denver has been very sweet to us in every way and Rikki and I feel most blessed to have watched the city and the Jewish community grow and thrive.

Baruch tiyeh, may it continue to do so.

CCAR Convention Rabbis Social Justice

Why I am Shaving My Head: Shave for the Brave

Beginning on April 1st our community will have a bald rabbi, at least for a little while, as I will be participating with about 60 of my colleagues in a fundraiser to raise awareness of and funds to combat childhood cancers. We are participating as a rabbinic community in a St. Baldrick’s event which will take place at our annual CCAR rabbinic convention. While it is a public event, it feels deeply personal. Every day when I awake I give thanks that I and my family are healthy and well. I give thanks with the humility that comes from knowing that our good fortune is not shared by every family in our community. I suppose that there is inside of most rabbis a recognition that while we are able to walk with families in their pain there is little we can do to prevent it.

I am allowing my head to be shaved because there is so little else I can do. I am not a big fan of personal public spectacle except on Purim. The idea of sitting on a stage while my head is shaved makes my stomach turn. For Jews head shaving is biblically symbolic of outrageous grief and it is historically connected to the utter horror so many in our community suffered through during the Shoah. I know that for the St. Baldrick’s foundation head shaving symbolizes solidarity and connection with those who lose their hair to cancer treatments. It is different for me and I suspect for many of the rabbis I am participating with in this campaign.

I am allowing my head to be shaved out of frustration, and helplessness, and grief, and pain from seeing too many children suffer and some die from cancer. Frankly and honestly I am allowing my head to be shaved as a small gesture to raise awareness and money for research to combat childhood cancers. The fact that I cannot save these children or spare their families from fathomless pain does not allow me to do nothing. So, I am shaving my head to raise a little bit of money to help fund cancer research so that as a society we may one day reach a point where families like  Michael and Phyllis Sommer’s no longer have to mourn the premature death of a child and so that families like Lee Kantz and Rebekah Cowing’s are able to find a speedy cure for their nephew Ben.

So, do not worry when you see me without hair. I am fine. I am shaving my head because many other families are not. If you would like to donate please do so here.

Rabbi Max Weiss serves Oak Park Temple in Oak Park, IL
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Celebrating the Class of 1964: “Being in the Right Place at the Right Time”

At the upcoming CCAR Convention, we will honor the class of 1964, those who have been CCAR members and served our movement for 50 years.  In the weeks leading up to convention, we will share and celebrate the rabbinic visions and wisdom of the members of the class of 1964.

I had a paternal grandmother who truly believed that much of life was “b’shert,” the result of fate. In my 50 years as a rabbi, I feel as though, I was often in the right place at the right time.

After ordination, I became an assistant rabbi in the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. My senior was Rabbi Maurice Davis z”l.  I learned so much from him. Both of us possessed a passion for working with teenagers. We had both been advisors to the Ohio Valley Federation of Temple Youth.  We were both deeply committed to Inter Religious Dialogue and Civil Rights. We opposed American military intervention in Vietnam.

Two and a half years into my assistantship, Maury invited me to his house for lunch. This was not unusual, because this was not an infrequent occurrence. You see, all of the sermons delivered from the bimah of IHC were recorded and he and I would evaluate my sermons.  But this day was different.  A few weeks earlier, I had been asked by the then UAHC to become the Southeast Regional Director with headquarters in Miami.  I wanted to remain in the Midwest, having been born and bred in Chicago. At that time, I believed only senior citizens lived in South Florida.  My grandparents moved there in 1935. Maury Davis’ message to me was simply: ”You’ve made a big mistake. They’re going to offer you the position again. Take it.”  Little did I know then, that within three months, he was going to become the rabbi of the White Plains Jewish Community Center. He had been one of the main reasons I wanted to be in Indianapolis – to learn from him.

And so, 48 years ago, my wife Penny and I and two of our three children, the third being born in Miami, moved to South Florida. We have never regretted the decision to journey to our “subtropical paradise.” In my new position, I travelled to and spoke to, at that time, 56 different congregations in five Southern states and Freeport, Grand Bahama Island.  I served as advisor to the Southeast Federation of Temple Youth and I was responsible for the creation of new congregations.

In 1970, after four years of travelling for the Union, I wanted to get back to being a Congregational rabbi.  A new temple forming in Hollywood, Florida  with approximately 35 families asked me to be their rabbi.  I was offered a one-year contract; the rest was up to Penny and me to make it work. It was a gamble. Should I take it? I asked CCAR placement. They said,” It’s up to you.” Was this “b’shert” or a mistake about to happen?  Well, that one year contract lasted for 37 years until I chose to retire as Temple Solel’s Founding Rabbi Emeritus.

Out of our large Temple family, we produced two rabbis, one a member of the CCAR and the other a Reconstructionist rabbi. We have produced an invested Cantor. We have produced two writers of Broadway shows – one who had three shows playing on Broadway at the same time and the other a Tony Award winning writer of “Avenue Q.” We have produced various congregational leaders throughout North America.  We have produced leaders in science, medicine, the arts, the commercial world, mayors, city commissioners, state senators and representatives and a member of the Congressional House of Representatives. We created the Interfaith Council of Broward County, Florida, the Broward Outreach Center for the homeless and hungry, and continue to serve in leadership positions in an African American Community in Hollywood.

Even though I’ve retired, I really haven’t! I keep busy with lifecycle ceremonies for so called “old timers” and 30 and 40 year olds who grew up in the Temple. I now conduct their wedding ceremonies and name their children and occasionally speak at the bar/bat mitzvah of their children.  I teach World Religions on two college campus’s and serve on numerous boards of directors. I lead services for Jewish holidays on various cruise ships. I just “can’t say no ” and I wouldn’t want it any other way!  My Orthodox colleague in the community sent me a delightful note congratulating me on my 50th year as a rabbi, in which he wrote: “Even a Hebrew slave is freed after 50 years!!!”

If these past 50 years were slavery, I’ll take it.

Do you think all of this was “b’shert?”