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CCAR Convention General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

See You in Chicago!: From the First CCAR Convention Registrant

I must admit it’s more than a little embarrassing to receive an e-mail from a classmate (and Jerusalem roommate!) telling me I was the first colleague to register for our upcoming CCAR Convention in Chicago. It’s one thing to be an enthusiastic member of our Conference (which I am), but it’s another matter entirely to be the loudest guy cheering at the pep rally.

But I’m glad Joui Hessel reached out to let me know I was the very first registrant, because it’s given me a chance to reflect on why I rushed to make sure that I would be a part of yet another meaningful, productive, and refreshing CCAR convention.  And I can boil all that down to two things: learning with colleagues, and doing with colleagues.

The learning at Convention is always top-notch.  Be it the speakers (Michael Chabon last year was a highlight for me) or the smaller sessions, there’s always something new to think about, a new perspective provided, and thoughtful friends (unfortunately scattered across North America) with whom to discuss.  And then there is the incredibly important informal education: catching up with colleagues in the hallways, restaurants and [let’s admit it] bars, to see what’s happening in their lives, and to talk about common challenges we face.  There’s no better course of professional development than conversing with CCAR_LB-0660colleagues of all ages to help orient me before I return back home.

Learning is good, but doing is more important.  (That’s in Pirkei Avot, I’m pretty sure, but this isn’t a scholarly article.) And the “doing” that we rabbis get to work on together changed profoundly for me last year in Long Beach.  There we launched the first campaign of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, which has led to a massive year of continued effort and focus on helping Comprehensive Immigration Reform pass through Congress.  The Convention not only allows our strategy team to meet face-to-face (in place of bi-weekly conference calls), but it more importantly allowed all of us to connect to colleagues who soon became comrades-in-arms in this crusade.  It was incredibly energizing to see a room full of rabbis engaged in an issue; it’s more encouraging, many months later, to see how many of those rabbis have found meaningful ways to remain connected to and involved in the work since Long Beach.

254I find that time away from home and hearth and study allows me time to get better perspective on my life and career.  For thirteen straight years, I find no better partners in finding that perspective than my friends who share CCAR Convention with me.  Because these times are so precious to me, I’m proud I was the first to register.

And I hope you’re the next one to do so!  See you in Chicago!

  Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is rabbi of 
Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk, New York.  

Categories
CCAR Convention Ethics Immigration News

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis: Immigration Reform

Zacil addressing Rabbis at CCAR Convention.
Zacil addressing Rabbis at CCAR Convention.

When Zacil finished speaking, I could see they eyes of four hundred fellow rabbis welled up with tears. This undocumented immigrant courageously described living in her shadowland of America, a parallel country to the land of opportunity discovered by my great-grandparents, a land ruled by the principle that–regardless of high school graduation or a university degree–the highest aspiration of person without papers was living in perpetual fear while toiling tirelessly as landscaper or maid.  When Rabbi David Saperstein rose to speak following her standing ovation, he simply stated, “There are eleven million Zacil’s living today in America.”  And so immediately, beginning with over 250 rabbis sending a simple text message to become part of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, our Central Conference committed ourselves to work for comprehensive, humane and common sense Immigration Reform.

I helped form Rabbis Organizing Rabbis to move the work of tzedek back to the center of my rabbinate, to the center of the Reform Rabbinate.  I knew I wanted to work closely with colleagues on sustained campaigns to bring greater justice to our world; I sensed so many colleagues shared a commitment to tikkun olam that we were just waiting for the moment to act together and reclaim our Reform Movement’s mantle as leaders in repairing our world.  But by the time I wiped the tears from my eyes at hearing Zacil’s story, by the conclusion of a convention which 300 colleagues joined Rabbis Organizing Rabbis,  I was simply grateful that a dedicated and wide-ranging community was ready to get busy in the work that Torah calls us to do: to see to the welfare, the dignity, the humanity of the stranger, the oppressed.

In a workshop, my colleague and friend, Rabbi Larry Bach shared with us a teaching from Deuteronomy 6:

And it shall be, when Adonai your God brings you into the land which sworn to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you great and goodly cities, which you did not build; and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill; and wells dug, which you did not dig; vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant; when you shall have eaten and be full, then be wary lest you forget Adonai, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

Larry challenged our complacency, we comfortable citizens of these United States who are not wary Deuteronomy’s warning and frequently forget we are but a generation or two removed from the immigrant experience.  I was forced to think back through the many family stories I have forgotten to try and recall how my ancestors made it to America’s shores.  I remembered the story of my great-grandfather, who [and I appreciate the cosmic irony here] ran away from Russia rather than go to the seminary his parents wanted him to attend.  I had always heard how, in sneaking out of Eastern Europe, he was forced at a certain point to hide from Cossacks in the straw and hay of a mattress lining.  He saved his own life when not making a sound as the Cossack’s bayonets pierced his stomach, causing blood to pool in his shirt and amid the straw.  He carried that scar the rest of his life, across the Atlantic Ocean, and through Ellis Island to America.

I really don’t know if my grandfather was an illegal immigrant or not.  I don’t know how or if he got his papers squared away legally.  But I have realized, thanks to Larry Bach and Deuteronomy, that my great-grandfather must have skirted or violated innumerable laws and ordinances in escaping the oppression of Russia and making his way to safer shores.  I have come to see that I had forgotten: I am the heir of illegal immigrants, real human beings who fled real horror to discover in America a better way of life for their children, and their children’s children.  Quite literally, for me.

So I commit myself, along with countless colleagues, to work for comprehensive and humane Immigration Reform.  Not just because it is the right thing to do; not simply because it will be the first campaign of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis.  I am doing this for my great-grandfather, for my family, and for me.  I will no longer forget who I am, and what my identity compels me to do.  I am the stranger, and knowing what it feels like to be oppressed, I must work on behalf of strangers, aliens, those in the shadows, everywhere.

 

Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is rabbi of 
Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk, New York.  

 

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CCAR Convention General CCAR News Rabbis

Organizing: The 21st Century Rabbinate

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been attending CCAR conventions for a Bar Mitzvah of years, since ordination in 2000.

I attended a session called “Praying With Our Feet:  Reclaiming the Rabbinic Mantle as Agents of Change in the World,” at which my classmate and colleague Rabbi Seth Limmer spoke.  Seth, the Chair of the CCAR’s Justice and Peace Committee, talked about the efficacy of collaboration and the principles of Organizing in amplifying the power of the rabbinic voice in confronting the issues of importance in today’s society.

Rabbi Seth Limmer
Rabbi Seth Limmer

“Our first campaign as Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is… comprehensive, humane, common sense Immigration Reform,” Seth pronounced to much applause.  As I see Seth up there, and think back over our thirteen years in the rabbinate, I am drawn to a single question.

To wit: What are the big shifts in the Reform rabbinate since 2000?  It’s as fitting a time as any to ask the question — not only because of the conveniently Jewish 13-year milestone which naturally recommends a moment of contemplation of the past years of evolution and even revolution; it is also appropriate that I would pause here after 13 years to consider the shifts in rabbinical leadership since the obvious secular boundary-marker of the year 2000 itself, the last year of the 20th century and the gateway to the 21st.

I would isolate the theme that we gathered in Long Beach to consider:  the use of Community Organizing principles in our spiritual leadership.  13 years ago, no one in the Reform Movement was speaking this language — the language of Organizing, the language of using relational meetings to build broad-based consensus and develop strategies for action, thus leveraging congregations’ power, mobilizing people of conscience, and thereby giving us a shared model for our Social Justice work. Nowadays however the language of Organizing is our lingua franca. In Westchester, we have used Organizing to develop a growing coalition of churches, synagogues, and other institutions outside the faith community to work for the greater good of our county and to confront Social Justice challenges including mandated access to kindergarten throughout New York state, a boon to beleaguered school districts that must sometimes consider cutting kindergarten under budgetary pressures; we are also using Organizing principles to mobilize action around gun violence prevention.

I’m eager to read comments on this subject: how has Organizing shifted your rabbinate? Your congregation? Your community? And what are the other big shifts since 2000?

Rabbi Jonathan Blake
 is the Senior Rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in 
Scarsdale, New York.

 

Categories
CCAR Convention General CCAR News Rabbis

Silence and Conversation

intentional.094307At the closing of a session at the recent CCAR Convention, Rabbi Elaine Zecher led us in a session of intentional silence and meditation, as a way for each of us to begin to process our learning so far, as well as consider how and in what we might root ourselves as we move forward after the convention’s close.

I found the exercise powerful.  I want to express personal gratitude to and for Elaine and her skillful transformation of an enormous, chair-filled, artificially-lit/ cooled hotel ballroom into a warm, inclusive space where real, intentional, mindful thought could happen.  She is an exquisite and inspirational role model.

The silence enabled my own intentional and grounded thought around the conference’s provocative topics. Throughout this exciting conference, ideas have been coursing through my brain, seemingly on overdrive: independence, interdependence, competition, collaboration, our rapidly flattening and interconnecting world from the most micro and macro views, declaration versus conversation, leading and listening,  the marketplace of ideas in which everyone regardless of title has a share, the charge to inform and transform, and the list goes on and on.  But yesterday I was able to siphon all of it down to what seems to be the key issue at play in these shifts we are here to address.

Implicit in all the conversations, large and small, is understanding that navigating the shifts, or to throw out the scarier word, “surviving” the shifts will require both broad and specific platform changes for us as individuals and our communities, if we have not begun this work already.  These changes offer us great opportunity to think of our world, our roles, our people, and our places differently, more fluidly, more collaboratively.  And whether we find that exciting, terrifying, or both, the resonating question for all of us remains: who will pay for it?  I don’t mean that in an idiomatic sense, as in who will suffer the consequences, although there are those who do see it that way.  But rather, most literally, who will fund these changes and shifts?

I believe great ideas, innovations and/or approaches will get funded (from our own constituents, foundations, etc). But, and here is the real elephant in the room, they won’t fund all of us.  The real question is not who will fund these changes, but rather who will fund us, pay our salary, enable us to support our family, pay our bills, etc?  And that is indeed a terrifying question.  Because as much as it is about our institution’s risk taking and survival, on a more fundamental level, is there any real way to extricate that from talking about our own?

Ironically, a refusal to adapt, evolve, risk to surf the shifting waves significantly ups the odds against us.   Ironically, the success that we all seek seems only possible with a willingness to shift our  “survive” model  (how we’ve always done it) to a “thrive” model.  And that necessitates risk. Or does it?  Because the truth is, a certain freedom comes in the realization that many of our established, risk-averse systems and assumptions don’t work well anymore.  The real risk comes in hoping these “old” ways will somehow work well again; the real opportunity comes in seeking out new models of connection, leading, learning, and being.  And this isn’t just about the internet and social media.  To assert that Facebook and Twitter will somehow save us all is to truly to miss the larger point.  There is so much that we can learn, offer, converse about, and grow with when we open ourselves to the possibility that our world and work and selves might learn and grow from what others outside of our traditional go-to sources have to offer.  We cannot let our fears of what bad things might happen when we loosen our tight grip of control paralyze us in the face of the great opportunities that await.  Nor can we let this cause us to forget the power that our deep wisdom tradition has to offer, that we can offer, to the constituents both within and without our walls, no less to the world.

If you weren’t at the closing program yesterday, here are the questions Elaine offered each of us the opportunity to consider:

1) What of what we’ve heard or learned has caused you to worry?

2) What has inspired you?

3) What are the emerging questions that come up for you?

4) What personal commitments will you make around these ideas moving forward?

One of the key lessons of this conference is the importance of creating collaborative, intentional conversations that enable listening, sharing, and learning so we can thrive in the shifting or shifted world. I am up for the conversation, and if you are too, maybe we can talk.  I am not a big power leader in the CCAR or URJ, but I am a rabbi, like you, who thinks, worries, gets excited about and makes action commitments too.

Rabbi Wendi Geffen has served as one of North Shore Congregation Israel’s rabbis since 2002. She can be found on twitter @wendigeffen and blogs at www.rabbigeffen.blogspot.com

Categories
CCAR Convention News Rabbis

Leading the Shift: The CCAR Convention Opening Program

Rabbi Steve Fox, Zev Yaroslavsky, Tiffany Shlain,  Dr. David Feinberg, and Rabbi Asher Knight.
Rabbi Steve Fox, Zev Yaroslavsky, Tiffany Shlain, Dr. David Feinberg, and Rabbi Asher Knight.

The stated objective of this year’s CCAR Convention is, in part, “…to engage colleagues in deep conversation on the issues about which they are passionate.”  Tonight’s opening program was designed to initiate this series of conversations by offering short talks presented by thought leaders in other fields: medicine, politics, and multimedia art.  Each of these exceptional figures – Dr. David Feinberg, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain – offered perspectives on how to “lead the shift” by drawing on their own personal experiences of challenge and success.

I loved Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s comments about the messy work of political coalition-building, and was energized by Shlain’s ideas about the overlapping “participatory revolutions” that we see around us today in the world of culture and technology.  More than anything, however, I was moved by the comments of Dr. Feinberg, who is the President of the UCLA Health System and CEO for the UCLA Hospital System.

Feinberg talked about the way he succeeded in transforming the UCLA hospitals after he took the helm – humbly pointing out that he had no formal training and suggesting that he had had no appreciable experience to recommend him for the post.  He spoke about how he brought about a system-wide shift in consciousness by insisting that members of the hospital staff become radically patient-centered at all levels, from hospital parking attendants to neurosurgeons in the operating theater.

The reorientation that Feinberg brought about was massively sprawling in its scope, but he suggested that it could be boiled down to focusing hospital employees’ attention on improving one single statistic: the number of patients who responded positively to a simple question: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”

Feinberg’s idea is not a new one; in fact, it was documented and explored at length by Fred Reichheld several years ago in his book The Ultimate Question (Harvard Business School Press, 2006).  Reichheld argued that the way customers answered this question would be the most revealing metric that predicted a company’s long-term growth and profitability.  But Feinberg has been uniquely successful because he recognized that this mode of assessing a business’s success and effectiveness can be translated effortlessly to the healthcare field as well.

I’d like to suggest that the same thing is true for the not-for-profit realm, and specifically for the landscape of Jewish communal institutions.

I wonder what Jewish life would be like if our communal leaders – clergy, lay staff, and volunteers alike – spent their time being obsessively focused on improving their constituents’ answers to that question.  What would our communities feel like if we were single-mindedly devoted to exceeding members’ wildest expectations of us and our institutions?  What could the future become if every Jewish professional set out to turn every interaction as an opportunity to turn constituents into evangelists, to transform them into walking billboards for our organizations, celebrating the wonderful services we provide and the inspiring missions we embody?

I have participated in numerous conversations with colleagues who lament declining membership numbers, shrinking dues revenue, and an overall diminution of k’vod ha-rav, the respect traditionally accorded rabbis as spiritual guides and communal leaders.  The beauty of Feinberg’s approach  is that it recognizes that prospective patients are influenced most powerfully and effectively by the testimony of their friends and peers – not necessarily by the expertise of doctors or hospital staff.  The same would be true if we succeed at carrying this approach into the world of Jewish communal work; unaffiliated, unengaged, and uninterested Jews in our communities are much more likely to be convinced to walk through our doors if they receive impassioned recommendation from a friend whose judgment they trust.

Feinberg’s strategy proved revolutionary, which is particularly exciting given the simplicity of the approach.  Its success and its simplicity both recommend it to us rabbis, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from employing it.  When I leave Long Beach and return home to my own organization, I will look forward to doing my part to “lead the shift” by concentrating on improving the way my constituents answer this simple and potent question, and I hope that my colleagues across the country will do the same.

 

Rabbi Oren Hayon is the Greenstein Family Executive Director at the University of Washington Hillel.

Categories
CCAR Convention CCAR on the Road

CCAR Conventions, Then and Now

CCAR Convention, 2012
CCAR Convention, 2012

I wonder how many CCAR conventions I have been to over the years.  I remember the first.  It was in Pittsburgh and I had just been ordained. As I walked up to the L-Z registration line, I was scared and excited until a lovely volunteer pulled me aside.  “The registration line for the wives is over there,” she said kindly while pointing across the room.   This memory surfaced recently when I  told a friend I was going to the CCAR conference and she asked if I enjoy it.  I do now, I said.

Those early conventions are pretty much lost in the haze of the years, but I remember moments like that.  Since there weren’t many female rabbis, we all ended up being cycled and recycled through the various committees.  In those years, there would only ever be one woman on any given committee. I remember once being on the Nominating Committee and suggesting two female names.  We already have a woman, I was told.

All that seems like ancient history now although it was a mere 30+ years ago.  For all that we wonder at times whether anything has changed, it turns out that much has changed, at least when it comes to the CCAR. We now come together with intention, defined by what we do as rabbis, not by our gender or sexual orientation.   We take for granted that two of the five rabbinic members of our senior CCAR  staff are women.  Our immediate past president is a woman.  Women have chaired our convention planning.  The WRN is an ex-officio member of the CCAR board. The brochure for this next conference calls the CCAR  “the organization for every Reform rabbi, retired, community-based, congregational, part-time, portfolio and full-time.”

The year I was directed to the wives’ registration line at that Pittsburgh Conference, the overwhelming membership of the Conference held congregational positions.  My friends in Hillel simply didn’t bother coming since there was nothing there for them in the program (as well as a feeling of being invisible in contrast to the pulpit rabbis).  The part-time rabbinate existed only for retired rabbis who still wanted to keep a hand in pulpit life.  The rabbinate was a much narrower place.

And, in a not-so-well-kept secret,  it turns out that not all male colleagues enjoyed CCAR conventions.  Many of my friends joked about the “how big is yours” syndrome.  They complained that the very convention that should allow us to relax and be ourselves often turned out to be a bastion of judgment and competition.  They also wanted to talk about their personal doubts, their professional conflicts, and the challenges of balancing the rabbinate with family.  They, too, yearned for a different, more truly collegial experience.

For many years after I left the full-time congregational rabbinate, I stopped coming to CCAR conventions.  All kinds of considerations came into play. I served a part-time congregation without the financial resources to send me to conferences.  I would have had to cancel patients in my private practice, which had both economic and psychological consequences.  Since I was self-employed and funded my own vacations, I needed to be selective about how much time I spent away.  If the choice came down to going to the CCAR convention versus going to visit my children, my children won.

Rabbi Ellen Lewis at 2012 CCAR Convention with Rabbis Michael Weinberg, Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, and Rabbi Steve Fox.
Rabbi Ellen Lewis at 2012 CCAR Convention with Rabbis Michael Weinberg, Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, and Rabbi Steve Fox.

While all of the above reasons seemed valid at the time, I also confess that I wasn’t as drawn to going to the convention as I am now.  For many years, the CCAR didn’t feel like the organization for every Reform rabbi, or at least not the organization for this Reform rabbi. The happy confluence of women’s entering the rabbinate and society’s undergoing parallel shifts has sparked many positive changes in the rabbinate and in our conference. We all know that there are changes yet to come, as acknowledged by the title of this conference (Rabbis Leading the Shift: Jewish Possibility in a Rapidly Changing World).   I am happy about returning to these conferences.  I am excited about seeing old and new friends.  And yes, I plan to enjoy it.

 

Rabbi Ellen Lewis (www.rabbiellenlewis.com) has a particular interest in the integration of religious and psychoanalytical concepts and has worked at developing models of clinical supervision for rabbis, cantors, and other religious professionals.  In her private practice, she works with rabbis and cantors in therapy and supervision.  After her ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1980, she served congregations in Dallas, Texas, and Summit, New Jersey, where she was named Rabbi Honorata.  Since 1994, she has been the Rabbi of the Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey in Washington, NJ (www.jcnwj.org).  

Rabbi Lewis is also a certified and licensed modern psychoanalyst in private practice in Bernardsville, New Jersey and in New York City. She received her analytical training in New York at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (www.cmps.edu) and at present serves on the faculty of the Academy of Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis (www.acapnj.org).  She is a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (www.aapc.org). She can be reached via email at rabbiellenlewis@rabbiellenlewis.com or in her NJ office 908 766 7586.