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. 

CCAR Convention Convention Social Justice

A Hands-On Farming Experience at the Pearlstone Center in Baltimore at CCAR Convention 2020

My name is Rabbi Jessy Dressin, and I am a community rabbi in Baltimore and the Director of Repair the World Baltimore, an organization that aims to make meaningful service a defining part of American Jewish life by mobilizing young Jews to volunteer in local communities to help transform neighborhoods, cities, and lives through service experiences rooted in Jewish values.

I have not been to a CCAR Convention to date but was excited to be asked to join the CCAR Convention 2020 Committee and help curate opportunities that are special to Baltimore for Convention participants. There are so many things about Baltimore and the Baltimore Jewish community to share with colleagues both during and prior to Convention that are special to Charm City.

Many of you may have visited the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center for various conferences over the years. If you have, you have probably appreciated such a vast space of land dedicated to Jewish education, experience, and gathering.  You may have even been lucky enough to enjoy some homegrown produce from the farm at one of your kosher and conscious meals provided to guests during conferences and gatherings.

Whether you have visited Pearlstone before or this might be your first time, I am excited about a unique opportunity for rabbis to participate in as part of the pre-Convention track. Our visit to Pearlstone will include the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and help with some preparations in various ways for the upcoming farming season. Activities may range from prepping beds, starting seeds (planting seeds that can incubate in the greenhouse until they are rooted enough to be planted into the ground), and other fun preliminary activities that are essential for an abundant growing season that begins with the coming of spring. Also, baby goats! Just this last week, two baby goats were born at Pearlstone, which means there will likely be even more by the time we arrive in March.

During our visit we will also have the opportunity to do some learning with Rabbi Psachyah Lichtenstein, a farmer and Director of Education at the Pearlstone Center, who always finds way to engage the mind, body, and spirit in thinking about our Jewish connection to the land. He will engage us in rich learning and open up conversations amongst our group that are sure to inspire. We will also have the opportunity to do some additional learning to take what we experienced at Pearlstone and help us bring it back to our local communities—since we can’t all have a Pearlstone around the corner.

As an HUC-JIR student, I spent two summers living at Pearlstone. Thanks to Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, Pearlstone hosted a summer kollel where folks would work to farm the land in the morning and spend the afternoon in the beit midrash, learning traditional and contemporary Jewish texts that helped us to become better acquainted with Judaism’s deep relationship to the land and our agricultural cycles and rhythm. It was a pluralistic living and learning environment that forged relationships and uncovered texts that carry meaning to this day. 

One need not be a farmer, an environmentalist, or even a regular farmer’s market enthusiast to enjoy this experience. I hope you’ll consider joining us for this exciting pre-Conference gathering. Also, did I mention baby goats?

Convention 2020 will be held in Baltimore, March 22-25, 2020. CCAR members can register here for Convention and for the Pearlstone Center Pre-Convention program, which takes place Sunday, March 22.


How Inviting Is Baltimore? Baltimore CCAR Rabbis Welcome You to Come to Convention 2020 and See For Yourself

Forbes listed Baltimore as one of the “Coolest Cities to Visit.”  Nothing earth shattering has changed since that 2018 notice.  There has been a lot of focus on the outstanding quality of Baltimore’s medical centers and universities; on our noteworthy and sometimes quirky art museums, our start-ups and our rush of millennials.  There is a lot of good to enjoy and experience in Baltimore.

Oh, we assume you have heard about our challenges. Those have gotten a lot airtime of late.  Baltimore shares similar issues with so many American urban centers, regarding challenges in public education, equal access to health care, racial and economic disparities, and more.  Our great city is struggling to get a handle on violence, even as it trends down in so much of our country.  Yup, our current mayor stepped in when his predecessor resigned under a cloud.   And yes, we are on our fifth police commissioner in as many years.

We know this sounds like a strange list when talking about how inviting our city is.  However, Baltimore is inviting precisely because everything in the first paragraph is true and because our city is actively working to face up to the realities in the second paragraph.

An explosion of social change efforts confronts our challenges here.  Consider these home-grown Baltimore initiatives, in their own words:

  • The Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel is an elite two-year leadership fellowship for high school students in Baltimore.  They gain first-hand cross-cultural knowledge and skill.
  • Thread engages underperforming high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom by providing each one with a family of committed volunteers and increased access to community resources.
  • Center for Urban Families connects fathers to their children, creating opportunities for economic and financial security through work, and providing access to other key interventions and supportive services.
  • Baltimore Cease Fire By agreeing to sacred weekends without murder, and by receiving the resources needed to help us avoid violent encounters, we all will eventually agree to honor the sacredness of EVERY day and put an end to murder.

These organizations and so many more are working to address challenges of economic disparity, healthcare access, educational opportunities, police-community relationships, and so much more. Baltimore has these kinds of initiatives, just as your community does as well.

As the month of Av approaches, Lamentations’ initial cry of “Alas, Lonely sits the city” recalls words that Stephen Mitchell places in the mouth of Rabbi Elazar.  “Only words of lament of the destruction of Jerusalem remain. Why shouldn’t they be given to all the other cities as well?” (Congregation, Edited by David Rosenberg, 1987, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc, p.385) As words are spoken about a city with challenges, let us consider the words of that city and the actions of its citizens.  Let Baltimore be defined primarily by Baltimore and its own efforts at improvement and progress, imperfect as they may be.

How inviting is Baltimore? Quite inviting… inviting of visitors, of innovation, and of hope.

Join us for CCAR Convention 2020 in Baltimore, March 22 – 25, 2020. Click here to learn more.

This blog was written by several Baltimore Area CCAR Rabbis.


Writing Our Rabbinic Histories

As a rabbinical student, I spent a lot of time studying and working with Dr. Gary Zola, and so I am never that surprised to find myself unconsciously mimicking him by referring to, “the historic Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR.”

HUCinci was historic well before I stepped onto the campus, but today, as I returned to 3101 Clifton Avenue for the first time since I was ordained in 2014, I realized that I had become a part of my school’s historic identity.

This understanding was cemented for me during the class “roll call” which highlighted more than 60 years of ordination classes that are present at our convention. As each year was called, I watched as rabbinic classes demonstrated their diverse personalities. Some shouted and clapped, others stood calmly and with little fanfare, and still others sprung up from their seats, waving joyfully.

As we made our way back in time, we eventually reached the classes that had been ordained more than 50 years ago. It was very moving to see how the entire conference stood for each of these groups, applauding the colleagues who have served the Jewish people for so many decades.

Hours later, at the Women’s Rabbinic Network dinner, we repeated the roll call. Once again, each class showed their unique style. Some moved across the room to stand together, others high fived enthusiastically, and upon standing, some discovered that their new vantage points allowed them to see classmates that they had not realized were in attendance. And then 1972 was called, Rabbi Sally Priesand stood with a smile and wave, and all of us who came after her rose as well, applauding in gratitude for her leadership and spirit.

While both of these roll calls were joyous and fun, they also prompted moments of introspection. I couldn’t help but think about what my classmates and I would look like when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our ordination. This May will mark 5 years since we stood on the bimah of Plum Street Temple and received our blessings from Rabbi Aaron Panken, of blessed memory. But, even though it has only been half a decade, it feels as if we have all changed and grown so much already. Who will we be in 10, 20, and 60 years? What kind of rabbis will we have become? What history will we have written for ourselves and our communities?

200 years ago, the founder of American Reform Judaism, Isaac Mayer Wise, was born. 144 years ago, the Hebrew Union College was created by Rabbi Wise, and 130 years ago, he established the Central Conference of American Reform Rabbis. 47 years ago Sally Priesand became the first woman ordained by a rabbinical seminary, and 44 years ago, female rabbinical students created the Women’s Rabbinic Network. Five years ago, my classmates and I were ordained, and in that moment, we were written into the history of the CCAR and (for my female classmates and I) the WRN.

It has been wonderful to spend several days praying, talking, and learning with rabbis of so many generations. At moments, it has felt as if I could see both the past and future of our movement reflected in the faces of the hundreds of colleagues who have gathered together for our convention. It has been a gift to have the time to reflect on the history of our movement, but I know that I will leave Cincinnati tomorrow focused more on our future than on our past.

I’m not sure what the next forty-five years will hold for my classmates and I, but I hope that when we stand together in 2064 and listen to someone call out, “the class of 2014,” we will rise with all the joy, pride, and contentment that comes from knowing that the history we’ve been writing has benefitted our college, our conference, our movement, and the Jewish people. It’s a tall order, but we’ve got plenty of time to make it happen.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman serves Temple B’nai Chaim and is the Marketing and Communications Vice President of the Women’s Rabbinic Network.


A Class Reunion Dinner at CCAR Convention

An Italian restaurant.  The pasta, pizza, atmosphere— all these things were lovely.  However, this particular dinner was not really about the food.  The dinner was a modality for bringing together a group of rabbis.  The CCAR Convention is a collection of a number of groupings: different interests, differing causes or issues, friendships created over time spent on committees, on trips, servings faculty at camps.  These various levels and sizes of cohorts add texture and meaning for the rabbis who gathering in our annual rabbinic conference.  I believe that these experiences can matter for those who attend regularly and for those rabbis who only attend occasionally or rarely.  These are among the ingredients that offer learning, experimenting, and visioning for our individual rabbinates and our Conference as a whole.

One such grouping is particularly unique. It is a gathering around the meal that I began describing.  The primary ingredient was and is rabbinic school classmates catching up.  Laughing, sharing stories, supporting one another; these are the spices.  Some of us talk or text often.  Others connect only at the annual CCAR Convention, or even less often.   Each time we gather around the table, we represent only a portion of our class.  However, the others are present as we tell old stories and catch up regarding our class.

Glancing around the restaurant, we realize that there are other classes gathered as well.  They connect over their stories, sadnesses, advice and laughter.  This year is special for our class.  We celebrate 25 years since our 1994 ordinations, across multiple HUC-JIR campuses.  We embrace those members who started with us or ended with us, but didn’t spend the full journey together.  Our rabbinic careers are spent largely apart from one another, but we draw strength in our gathering amidst a larger convention.

Sure, just a dinner.  However, a dinner of friends, who having started our careers together, still can draw strength, support, and mutual respect from each other. So the ingredients at this meal were special and we look forward to future meals together.

Rabbi Andrew Busch serves Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.  

Convention News

Prayer and Pancakes at CCAR Convention

A day that begins at a historic synagogue and concludes with lemon ricotta pancakes is an excellent one, if you ask me. In between these marvelous experiences came wonderful conversations with colleagues – on topics ranging from the CCAR Journal to rabbinic self-care to the Code of Ethics to the Shulchan Aruch to the malleability of halacha – and enriching learning sessions and a moving plenary honoring Steve Fox; but I’d really like to focus on the synagogue, and the pancakes.

One of the reasons I became a rabbi is my love of prayer. But since ordination, I have a hard time with communal prayer. Although I find great meaning and even inspiration praying with my congregation, I also feel on display, watched, and judged – and not (just) by the Holy One. Well-intentioned remarks like, “You have such a beautiful voice,” “Your hair looks so pretty pulled back,” and “I love seeing you pray – you seem so into it,” make me feel self-conscious, and unable to throw myself into worship as wholeheartedly as I once could.

But it’s different at CCAR – and not only because of the majesty of Plum Street Temple, where I was ordained almost 21 years ago, or the incredible talents of our shlichei tzibor. It’s different because I’m among colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. I can sing “Ma Tovu” as passionately as I’d like (with apologies to those sitting nearby, as my voice is not actually all that beautiful), remain standing during the Amidah as long as I want, get teary-eyed during the Mi Sheberach, bounce along to “Lo Yisa Goy” as the Torah is taken from the Ark – and no one comments. No one notices. No one is evaluating me – not my stance in prayer, not my engagement with the liturgy, not even my hair (which was not pulled back but still looked quite pretty, in my opinion). It’s just me, and God, and hundreds of colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. And it’s amazing.

And about those pancakes. I don’t love pancakes as much as I love prayer, but it’s embarrassingly close. And while I do have close friends in my hometown with whom I can eat pancakes, I’m also wary of being watched and evaluated when I’m at a restaurant with new acquaintances. People comment on what I order, how much I eat or don’t eat, ask me why I avoid or indulge in specific dishes – and while I know I shouldn’t care, of course I do. And while I know logically that people’s opinions about my eating habits have exactly no correlation to my ability to serve as their rabbi, I still don’t order pancakes with people unless I know them really, really well.

But it’s different at CCAR. I went out to a meal with some new acquaintances – and I wanted lemon ricotta pancakes, so I ordered them. I didn’t worry about what my fellow diners might think, or if they would look askance at my meal, or if they would check out my figure and decide silently if I should be eating pancakes or not. Instead I enjoyed swapping stories from our Years-in-Israel, playing Jewish Geography, and seeing photos of some truly fabulous hand-sewn Purim costumes. It was just me, and pancakes, and a tableful of colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. And it was amazing.

Of course the CCAR Convention is for rabbis – but in a way, it’s a break from being a rabbi. And that break makes me a better rabbi – more focused, more honest, more joyful, more dedicated, more in touch with my learning and my prayer and my self-care and my calling and my God.

I am really grateful for this day. I am really grateful for Convention. I am really grateful for CCAR.

Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman is the editor-in-chief of the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly.


Finding the 2019 CCAR Board of Trustees

In 1890, in his message to the first convention of the CCAR, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise shared the following:

“Whatever advances the spirit of Judaism in its true character …  it is the right and duty of the united rabbis in conference assembled to do, and do it well., in the name of God and Israel, for the sake of our country and our people, for the triumph of truth, humanity, and righteousness.”

Here we are, almost 130 years later.  This charge continues to inspire us, lifting our souls, grounding our mission, and igniting our values.

Andrea Goldstein and I were honored to co-chair the nominating committee for the next generation of the CCAR Board.  Our committee took very seriously the sacred task of finding those in our Conference who would not only perpetuate the vision inspired by Wise, but also those whose can propel us into the future.

What does that include:

  1. It was important that the board maintain a sense of continuity so that the new board felt they were able to hit the ground running right away (especially with the retirement of Steve Fox)
  2.  Diversity– specifically we were looking to create a more diverse board when it came to gender, LGBTQ colleagues and non-pulpit rabbis.  We were less concerned, this year, with geographic diversity or in looking at the size of the congregations or organizations that our colleagues served.
  3.  Dynamic Initiative– we were looking for colleagues whom we believed would not just fulfill the expectations of being a CCAR board members, but who would go above and beyond in working to improve our conference.
  4.  Finally, we were looking at an intangible quality that we referred to as “rabbis who make us want to be better rabbis” – rabbis who inspire us and continue to remind us of why our jobs are meaningful.

When the Conference unanimously affirmed our new slate, the Lamp that we are eternally lighting grew brighter, and the dream of Rabbi Wise transformed into the prophetic promise of our leadership.  MAZAL TOV to our new leaders, and THANK YOU to all who have served on this past board.

It was so meaningful being a part of this process.  Each and every member of the CCAR is a descendant of incredible vision.  We are also ancestors to those who will transform goodness.

Rabbi Zach Shapiro serves Temple Akiba of Culver City, California.


Dr. Susannah Heschel on Her Father’s Legacy

After a gracious introduction by Rabbi Gary Zola, Dr. Susannah Heschel took the stage at the 130th Convention of the Conference of American Rabbis. She started by telling us how she once wanted to be a rabbi not a professor, but we are so lucky that she choose the path that she did. Even though her father told her not to be an academic. For she is a brilliant teacher or scholar as was her father.

Dr. Heschel spoke about her father’s legacy and the importance of tzedek v’shalom, justice and peace. She spoke powerfully about the walls we build, not only physically but within our hearts. Throughout her talk, Dr. Heschel connected her father’s words to our current lives. His legacy continues through each of us, who have been touched by his life and writings.

Rabbi Heschel lived his life during a period of turmoil in our country. His words are our inspiration as we figure out whether we never again for the Jews is the same as never again for everyone in our world. Her challenge to us, Reform Jewish leaders, was to figure out what is important to us and to work on that issue. For there is too much in our world that is wrong that without direction we will be frozen.

Rabbi Heschel’s legacy is a reminder that we have the power to make a difference in our world, that we cannot stay silent even in light of the divisions within our communities.

Dr. Heschel is a credit to her father’s legacy, but we must remember that she is an important scholar in her own right. She spoke eloquently about the fact that Zionism has always come in multiple strands, and we have a responsibility to dialogue with one another and with those outside of our community. These were powerful words in a room of diverse opinions.

A great thank you to the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives for sponsoring Dr. Heschel’s talk.

Rabbi Simone Schicker serves Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


My Epiphany

Having been raised in a traditionally observant Jewish home and attending Orthodox yeshivot from kindergarten through ordination and later serving as a Conservative rabbi, I found myself over the course of my career on a slippery slope (or in the language of Beit Shammai – “holchin u’pochsin”) in matters of both faith and observance. As I matured and grew in autonomy, I felt even more strongly the need to be consistent in my views and practices as well as open about them to others. I remember preaching on the first morning of Pesach, when still serving a Conservative congregation, that there is no evidence that the Hebrews had been enslaved in Egypt, but that it was essential to learn about self liberation and being redemptive in society from the myth and the ritual observances of the holiday. My raising such doubt about the veracity of the Torah distressed and raised the ire of a number of congregants, regardless of their level of personal observance. I felt it important to be “tocho kevoro,” speaking only as I truly believed.

I was becoming a religious naturalist and found inspiration in Spinoza’s pantheism, his rejection of dualism yet being God intoxicated (one could still feel and recite that “the whole world is full of God’s glory”). I found Kant’s concept of the God Idea the most direct and clear of the formulations of monistic thinking and was excited to learn that the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 emphasizes the God Idea.

Hermann Cohen taught that to be religious is to strive to correlate one’s personal character with the traits descriptive of the God Idea. This really spoke to me, to my emphasis on taamei hamitzvot, the usually personal transformational rationale for the commandments, and reminded me of the rabbinic teaching that “kemo shehu rachum vechanun af atta hevai rachum vechanun.”  Just as God is merciful and compassionate you too must be merciful and compassionate.” Imitatio Dei, the effort to identify ourselves with the midot, the positive attributes of our anthropopathic God image as described in the Torah, does not require belief in a supernatural being.

My dissertation addresses how our upbringing is related to our worldview and specifically to our image of God as wrathful or compassionate, whether we experience midat hadin or midat harachamim in our operational theology, what we really feel regardless of the dogmas we articulate. If we are to correlate ourselves with the sublime attributes of the God Idea, it is important that we foster an Idealism enabled by our experiencing life from a secure base. This can be accomplished in adulthood, regardless of the challenging early life experiences of many, through loving relationships, psychotherapy and being part of a caring community of spirituality seekers.

Multi-vocalism, which is emphasized in Reform liturgy, enables people to have differing views about God, while using the same theistic language, which is supported by Maimonides’ approach. The pluralistic emphasis in Reform Judaism enabled me to find a home in which I could be a religious naturalist and observe only that which was spiritually meaningful to me.

In our progressive approach at The New Reform Congregation Kadima, where I serve, our Shabbat morning observance involves the study of Mussar with an emphasis on character development and personal transformation. This, of course focused on self transcendence and altruism, reinforces the congregation’s commitment to social justice work, which is so core to our identity as Jews and as part of Reform Judaism’s emphasis on Prophetic Judaism.

I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment to have progressed in my spiritual journey and in my rabbinic career to have the freedom to think and to function in a manner in which I can be true to myself. The archetypal story of yetziat mitzroyim really speaks to me as an allegory about freeing myself from external authority toward a growing autonomy on my journey toward the promised land. I am grateful to the Reform Movement which has provided me the context in which to be free in thought and in deed while pursuing a deep love for Judaism and its inspirational and transformational power.

Rabbi David I. Oler is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention.


Anticipating Cincinnati 2019

Several of my fellow Convention Committee members have offered reflections in this space about the upcoming convention. I join them in looking forward to the opportunity for professional development and personal growth.

The CCAR convention was held in Jerusalem during my HUC-JIR Year in Israel. There are two things that I vividly remember from that gathering. First, we had the opportunity to participate in the programs with many of the major speakers, including Prime Minister Rabin. Second, I was amazed and uplifted by seeing so many of my rabbis in one place at one time, and to see the love and enthusiasm they offered to one another.

Our conventions are special because they allow us to be together, in person and away from the demands of our daily lives. Yes, there may be a temptation to brag or to only share in superficial ways, but I believe that our conventions provide us with an important chance to open up to one another. The power of coming to Cincinnati this spring lies in the chance to find support in facing our stresses. I have learned over the years that while I can certainly talk about my successes when I see colleagues at Convention, it is much more gratifying and beneficial when I open up and share about my struggles. The time we have together at convention is a unique opportunity to be with people with extraordinary talents, great wisdom, and a definite understanding of what we face in living and working as rabbis.

Yes, there will be several impressive keynote speakers at CCAR 2019. There will undoubtedly be lots of chances to celebrate together. However, what I look forward to most is the chance to bring the fullness of my life and my rabbinate to share with our colleagues, and to find the support, inspiration, and comfort that allows me to recharge and return home renewed in confronting the demands that lie ahead.

Rabbi Peter W. Stein serves Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY.  Click here to register now for CCAR Convention 2019.