Categories
member support mental health

Rabbis, Can We Talk?

Life in the ministry is one of contrasts. There can be great joy, a sense of fulfillment and purpose, and also loneliness, frustration, and pain (Hileman, 2008, p. 121).

Clergy families experience stressors that are unique to their situation, including lack of privacy and heightened visibility, extra expectations and higher standards, significant time demands, frequent moves, and intrusiveness and boundary ambiguity (Cooper, 2013, p. 2).

I don’t think that most of us need academic articles to tell us how uniquely challenging it is to be a rabbi and, for many of us, to be part of a rabbi’s family. In ways large and small, those of us employed by organizations and congregations have experienced such “loneliness, frustration, and pain.” And now that we are living in Covid-world, these feelings are multiplied seven-fold.  

All of this, of course, is exacerbated by the ongoing challenges, stresses, and too often injustices experienced by women, people of color, LGBTQIA colleagues, older rabbis, the unemployed, and the underemployed. The rabbinate can be the best of callings and the worst of jobs. We find ourselves having to navigate through the constantly changing landscape of working for/with bosses we are tasked with leading. Reflecting back on his career, one of our most respected and “successful” past-presidents once said, “The rabbinate is the perfect place to have your heart broken.”

Studies have shown (Kress, J.S., et al., 2007), and most of us can attest to the unique meaning and fulfillment that comes from serving communities as rabbis. I have felt so very blessed to be part of people’s lives in their most joyous and most tragic moments, playing a unique healing and transformative role unavailable to persons of other helping professions. And I would imagine that you have felt so blessed as well. For many, this balances out the unique challenges we face and the hurt we endure.

But there are moments in our lives when this is not enough. Many, like myself, have had difficult if not devastating experiences in our organizations and congregations. Many, like Joseph, have risen and transcended; many have not, framing themselves as failures and despairing of ever having a satisfying rabbinate again. And even in the absence of such, so many of us know the pervasive feeling of being alone.

Through surveys and conversations, CCAR has heard you.

I am honored and grateful to have been welcomed into the CCAR staff as a Special Advisor for Member Support and Counseling. I, along with our amazing colleague, Rex Perlmeter, am here for you. I bring to this position my thirty-nine years as a congregational rabbi, my experiences of advising and nurturing other rabbis and cantors, and my ongoing training as a marriage and family therapy intern. I am offering to walk with you–and, if desired, your family–as you cope with the emotional issues with which you are dealing in your professional and/or personal life. And of course, our conversations are totally confidential.

Final words (for now)–a story:

A man walked into a psychiatrist’s office, fell onto the couch and, with deep sadness, blurted out, “Doctor, I hope you can help me. There is no joy in my life. I constantly feel depressed, unworthy, and filled with despair. Nothing, but nothing lifts my spirits.” Said the psychiatrist, “Sir, I have just the remedy for you! Go to the theater tonight where Carlucci the Clown is performing. He brings laughter to every face and joy to every heart. I guarantee you that Carlucci will lift your spirits!” Said the man, “Doc, you don’t understand. I am Carlucci!”

Have you ever felt like Carlucci? I have. So often we have found ourselves fulfilling the needs of others while hiding and suppressing our own. Loneliness bears down as we feel unable to share our vulnerabilities and self-perceived failures with our peers and with others who understand, sometimes even with those closest to us.

And so, in the words of a great Jewish sage, “Can we talk?”


Rabbi Donald B. Rossoff, D.D., R.J.E, is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, New Jersey. He is certified as interim clergy by the national Interim Ministry Network, and he is currently pursuing an MS degree in Marriage and Family Therapy through Capella University.

Cooper, N. (2013). Resilience and clergy families (Order No. 3604924). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1477549275).

Hileman, L. (2008) The unique needs of Protestant clergy families: implications for marriage and family counseling.Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 10(2), 119-144, DOI:  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19349630802081152

Kress, J. S., Cohen, S. M., & Davidson, A. (2007). Perceptions and roles of conservative rabbis: Findings and implications related to identity and education. Journal of Jewish Education, 73(3), 191–207. https://doi-org.library.capella.edu/10.1080/15244110701653967

Categories
member support Rabbis

To the HUC Graduating Class of 2020: Be Lifted Up and Uplift Others

As the Hebrew Union College class of 2020 finishes while under quarantine, Rabbi Karen Fox, Instructor of Practical Rabbinics at HUC-JIR’s Skirball Campus in Los Angeles, shared this advice and words of encouragement for this new class of rabbis, who officially became rabbis on Sunday, May 17, 2020.


With the honor of conveying our trust in you, comes the responsibility to convey a truth to you; to tell you that you are both fully ready to become rabbis—and that you will never be fully ready, and that no single person here is. As you enter the rabbinate in an uncertain, frightened, and frightening world of COVID-19, may we be courageous enough to acknowledge that we do not know all the answers. However, we partner with each other in our search for strength and wisdom.

I have lived through a time of political assassinations; war protests; 9/11; California fires, earthquakes, and floods; the recession of 2008; the attacks on Charlottesville and Pittsburgh—and now I am living with all of you through this global pandemic. My career has allowed me to celebrate countless weddings, baby namings, bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, and camp openings; and to witness many forms of synagogue and community creativity. It was and still is a joy and an honor to be a rabbi. Today, I want to offer you my words; word of encouragement, inspiration, and hope in light of the realities that have already marked your lives.  

In this week’s Torah reading, B’midbar, Moses forms the Israelites into a coherent whole with the words, s’u et rosh kol adat Yisrael—“count every single one of the people of Israel” (Numbers 1:2). The text cries out: Darsheini—“interpret me.” We move beyond the parashah, the “literal meaning of the text” and highlight different ways those words can be interpreted: 

  1. S’u et rosh kol adat Yisrael—”Stand up to be counted, in your own way.” The medieval commentator Rashi explains that we count the people because each single “person gives to the mishkan, ‘the portable sanctuary,’” and each single “person’s contribution matters” (quoted after “Contemporary Reflections,” in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, p. 810.). In the last session of the Senior Seminar on campus, each of you wrote about the ways in which you want to contribute to our contemporary mishkan, the “evolving Jewish community.” One of you shared, “I want to empower people to arrive at their own translation of the traditions; I want to welcome each person back into the holy Jewish community.” And yet another one of you summarized, “I want to move gracefully into the unknown together.” Yes, teach us to reconsider what it means to count, each in our own ways.
  • S’u et rosh literally means: “Extend the head.” What does it mean to extend your head and to assert yourself as a leader in this time? Psychotherapist Rabbi Edwin Friedman wrote, “’The basic concept of leadership requires the leaders’ will to take primary responsibility for their position as “head.” If they work to define their own goals and selves, while staying in touch with the rest of the organism, there is more than a reasonable chance that the body will follow” (Edwin H. Friedman, “Leadership and Self,” in: Generation to Generation, p. 229). In truth, Freidman might have declared, Stick your neck out sometimes! Take clearly defined positions. Invite those who disagree to continue to communicate and engage them with kindness. Assert yourself as a Jewish leader by defining your g’vul, your “boundaries.”
  • S’u et rosh: “Reach out with head and heart.” When life is filled with uncertainty, fear arises. In March, you described your fears: “Our world has become a dangerous place. We are witnessing another rise of antisemitism, climate change, gun violence. How can we guide amidst our own fears?”; “I’m worried that my flaws will raise their ugly head at inopportune moments”; “Do I know enough? Am I ready to fail sometimes?”; “I’m really afraid of being lonely.”

By raising those questions, you have already demonstrated your reflective qualities. Be that reflective facilitator for your community, friends, and family. And when you need strength and courage, do not wait. Reach out and get support from a psychotherapist, a spiritual director, a mentor, a professor. Extend yourself to them and know, chavruta tatzil mimavet“connection saves you from psychological and spiritual demise.” 

  • A final interpretation of s’u et rosh: “Be uplifted and uplift others.” Chasidic interpretations detect a deeper significance in the use of the term s’u, “lift up:” “The real counting of Israel points upward. The text demands: “Lift the head,” not simply “count.” This lifting raised people up to the highest rungs of awe and love, directing their hearts to the Holy One. Lift your eyes to the mountains and receive strength from above” (Yosef Bloh, “Ginzey Yosef,” in Leader Green and Rose Mayse (ed.), Spiritual Teachings from around the Maggid’s Table, Volume II, p. 5). Uplift yourself through the ways that nourish you—and may your spiritual strength uplift others.  

Soon everyone will know what Jews have known for centuries: We need deep teaching, we need each other, we need a minyan, we need a community of shared purpose to carry us through tears and trauma, joys and celebration. We need to connect, to embrace, to be embraced, and to appreciate what human beings give each other: empathy, vulnerability, love, and hope. With open hearts, s’u et rosh—”Be lifted up and uplift others.” Welcome, rabbis. 


Rabbi Karen L. Fox is Instructor of Practical Rabbinics at HUC-JIR’s Skirball Campus in Los Angeles. She is the principal of Rabbi Karen Fox: In Context, a private practice targeted to clergy of all faiths, providing a safe, compassionate and confidential place for clergy to be heard, reflect and strategize.

Categories
chaplains congregations Death member support Prayer Rabbis Rituals

Holding a Digital Shivah Minyan in the Age of COVID-19

For as long as I can remember, I have begun every shivah minyan by saying something like this: “The measure of a community’s strength is not how they gather for celebrations, but how they show up for each other in moments of sadness and pain. It’s easy to show up for something fun and joyous, but when we make our presence felt at the low points, we demonstrate our connection and commitment to each other.” So, what do I say now when it is impossible to be physically present even for our closest relatives and friends? To be honest, I don’t change the script much other to acknowledge that if we could, we would be there. It is essential that we acknowledge the unique nature of the moment we are in. No matter where you live in this world, no matter how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit your community, we are all suffering. We are all separated from those we love, from our regular routines and from the Jewish rituals that structure so much of our professional lives. At the same time, we are grateful for the ability to innovate our rituals to meet the moment we are in, just as Jewish leaders have done for thousands of years.

Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have been a God-send at this moment of social distancing. But they are also cause for stress, confusion, and mishap if not used adeptly. Here are some insights I have gathered from leading shivah minyans on Zoom.

  1. Create a Zoom meeting with a simple password. New security features on Zoom create an automatic numeric password. Change the password to make it easy to remember. When sending the link, either highlight and bold the link and password or edit the invitation to include only the link, the password, and relevant phone numbers. 
     
  2. Make sure the immediate circle of mourners is comfortable with the platform. Determine whether they will be using a computer, a tablet or a phone. Insist that they download the software or the app to their device beforehand. Offer to help them do a test run or suggest that they connect with someone in their circle who has experience with the program. Avoid comments such as, “It is really easy to use,” or “You should have no problem at all.” I have found that less tech savvy people, particularly seniors, find Zoom to be confusing. There are many prompts that don’t feel intuitive for everyone. 
     
  3. Advanced Zoom features to consider: The waiting room function allows you to get on early with the immediate family and make sure they are set. It can also protect against Zoombombers. Mute folks upon entry as well. It’s best to maintain control of people’s mute function in general. Offer to record the service. It is easy to upload and send as a link to the family afterwards. On the other hand, I would encourage people to leave their cameras on, but remind them that they can be seen. It is very comforting to see all those faces together. 
     
  4. How do we lead a technically successful shivah minyan on Zoom? There are several options. The CCAR has graciously given us free access to the flipbook version of Mishkan T’filah for a House of Mourning . If you share the flipbook link, prepare ahead of time to give the digital page number (which is different from the print book pagination). If you plan on using the screen share option, displaying pages as needed, it is ideal to have a second person in charge of that function. Plan ahead to cut and paste the link to the flipbook into the chat feature of Zoom:
    https://www.ccarnet.org/publications/mishkan-tfilah-for-the-house-of-mourning/ 
     
  5. How do we lead a spiritually and emotionally successful minyan service on Zoom? This is the easiest part! People are grateful to be together. People are moved to see each other’s faces. People are incredibly forgiving of any technical awkwardness. In leading the service, I start by explaining all the technicalities listed above. I let people know that they will be muted for most of the service. And then we begin. Keep the service as concise as possible. All Hebrew should be read or sung so people can keep up. All English readings should be communal. (All this is done with the participants muted.) However, when it comes to Kaddish, I have followed the advice of others and unmuted all the participants. It is awkward and clumsy with the time delay. But it is also incredibly moving to hear everyone’s voices. It is a great source of comfort to the mourners as well. 
     
  6. One final note. The most important part of an in-person shivah minyan is the gathering before and after. The sharing of stories and memories is so cathartic. There is an option on Zoom to make someone else  co-host of the meeting. Plan this ahead of time with a member of the immediate family. This will enable the group to stay on after the service and allow you to leave the meeting. People can linger and share stories about the person they have lost for as long as they like. Just remember to finish recording before you get off or it won’t save.

We rabbis are perfectionists by nature, yet this is definitely not a time when we can expect to be perfect. But by leaning into our compassion, our patience, and our creativity we are still able to offer comfort and connection to our people in their time of sorrow and loss.


Rabbi Mara S. Nathan is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, Texas. 

Categories
member support News

Canceling In-Person URJ Reform Summer Camp and Programming: An Act of Collective Love

When news broke that the Union for Reform Judaism made the most difficult, scientifically-based, values-based decision not to hold in-person camp this summer, my heart broke. 

Yes, I was proud that like leaders should, URJ and camp leadership consulted widely with medical, government, and Jewish leaders, weighed the changing data and options, waited until a decision needed to be made, and then planned a compassionate roll-out to honor the soon-to-be broken hearts of the campers, staff, and their parents. This incredibly difficult decision was an act of love.

Yes, I was proud that the ReformJudaism.org website offers age-differentiated advice to help parents talk to their children and that we can use as we provide pastoral care for them too. 

But I love camp. It helped form me. Camp Newman is my home away from home, where I rejuvenate every summer. 

Then, as our HUC-JIR pastoral counseling faculty taught me in rabbinic school, I looked around to figure out who else—camp professionals; URJ leadership; our rabbinic, cantorial, and educator colleagues; Jewish leaders, camp friends; and friends whose children were so looking forward to camp this summer—might be suffering, perhaps silently—and may be in need of pastoral care.

To my rabbinic colleagues and Jewish leaders everywhere, before sharing what I wrote, I ask: Would you join me to reach out and offer rachmanut (loving support) to our camp professionals, our URJ leadership, and of course to our camper and camp staff as they suffer through this heartbreak? 

Here is what I wrote:

Dear Camp Professionals and URJ Professionals

by Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Repeat after me:
I am compassionate.
(I am compassionate.)

I care about them so much.
(I care about them so much.)

So I am saving lives.
(So I am saving lives.)

I am heartbroken.
(I am heartbroken.)

I can share my sadness.
(I can share my sadness.)

So I can hold their sadness too.
(So I can hold their sadness too.)

I am a role model.
(I am a role model.)

And I influence others.
(And I influence others.)

So I am teaching us all responsibility.
(So I am teaching us all responsibility.)

I am being strategic.
(I am being strategic.)

I am planning for the future.
(I am planning for the future.)

So I’m stepping back so we all can move forward.
(So I’m stepping back so we all can move forward.)

Because I am compassionate.
(Yes, I am compassionate.)

And I am heartbroken.
(And I am heartbroken.)

But I am responsible.
(But I am responsible.)

So I am saving lives.
(So I am saving lives.)


•••

Finally, to our Camp Professionals and URJ Leadership:

We too are heartbroken. But we are thankful for everything you considered and did to try to avoid this day.

Forgive us if we act out. We, too, are in pain.

But never forget that we appreciate that you were thinking about us and our safety when you and our camping world made one of the hardest decisions your career and all our lives.

Thank you for doing what you did every summer previously: making hard decisions to keep us all safe. You make us proud. And we love you.


Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes is the spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California. Recently, he wrote about conducting a funeral in the time of COVID-19.

Categories
member support Prayer Rabbis Rituals spirituality

Prayers for a Time of Separation from Loved Ones and A Ritual of Farewell from Afar

In the current reality of social distancing due to COVID-19, it has become clear that we need new rituals. Just like the transition from sacrifice to prayer after the fall of the Temple, we yearn for new practices to cope with this unprecedented time. As rabbis, not doctors, our expertise lies in finding words. We create sacred moments to bring comfort and offer solace to weary and frightened souls and hope you find peace in these prayers.


T’filat HaDerech – A Prayer for an Uncharted Journey While Being Separated from Loved Ones in Need of Care

מַאי דְּכְתִיב (דברים יג, ה) אַחֲרֵי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם תֵּלֵכוּ וְכִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לְאָדָם לְהַלֵּךְ אַחַר שְׁכִינָה … אֶלָּא לְהַלֵּךְ אַחַר מִדּוֹתָיו שֶׁל הקב”ה: מַה הוּא מַלְבִּישׁ עֲרוּמִים…אַף אַתָּה הַלְבֵּשׁ עֲרוּמִים הקב”ה בִּיקֵּר חוֹלִים … אַף אַתָּה בַּקֵר חוֹלִים הקב”ה נִיחֵם אֲבֵלִים …אַף אַתָּה נַחֵם אֲבֵלִים

What is the meaning of that which is written: “You shall walk after Adonai your God?” Is it possible for people to walk in God’s ways?…Rather, the meaning is that we should imitate God’s attributes: Just as God clothes the naked…so too you should clothe the naked. Just as God visits the sick…so too you should visit the sick. Just as God comforts mourners…so too you should comfort mourners….

–Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah 14a:3–4

But what if we cannot, in the way that we would want to?  

טֶרֶם אֶקְרָא אֵלֶיךָ אַתָּה תַּעֲנֶה … Terem ekra eilecha Atah taaneh, Hear our cry Adonai, that You might answer us even before we cry out to You.  May we know that God hears our cry.

.וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים אֶת נַאֲקָתָם וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּרִיתוֹ אֶת־אַבְרָהָם אֶת־יִצְחָק וְאֶת־יַעֲקֹב
.וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֵּדַע אֱלֹהִים

God heard their moaning, and God remembered the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

–Exodus 2:24–25

.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ יְיְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְאִמּוֹתֵינוּ 

Y’hi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai, Eloheinu v’Elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu.

May it be Your will, Eternal One, our God and God of our ancestors, that You will support our footsteps on this uncharted journey. 

Guide us and our loved ones toward peace and wholeness and help us reach our destination committed to life, joy, and peace, and unbroken by our new reality. 

Help us to know that our loved ones, whether near or far, are with us. Their love for us will sustain us wherever our journey might lead. As circumstances arise that had been previously unimaginable, help us to know that their love for us, and ours for them, is an unbreakable bond. 

May those caring for them in our absence be blessed and held in this holiest of work. Though separated from them, we affirm that we are present with them through You, wherever our journey might lead. Like the Pillar of Cloud dwelling upon the Israelites as they wandered in the desert (Exodus 13:21–22), You are ever-present. We shall not fear.  

May You hear the sound of our prayers, because You are the God who hears prayers and supplications. Blessed are You, Eternal One, who ever hears our prayers.

By Rabbi Sara Rich and Rabbi Ilene Harkavy Haigh, 2020

Seder P’reidah—A Ritual of Farewell from Afar

This ritual is intended for close relatives or friends who cannot be at the bedside of their dying loved one because of distancing measures. It is intended to replicate and facilitate saying goodbye in order to provide a sense of closure and peace for the loved ones. The ritual can be performed with an individual or group in one home or with a small group over the phone or video conferencing. There is an option to light a candle during this ceremony and to extinguish it at the conclusion in grape juice or sweet wine to represent the emotional mixture of grief and happy memories.

1.      Psalms of Comfort

“Because you are devoted to me, I will deliver you; I will keep you safe for you know My name. When you call on Me, I will answer you; I will be with you in distress; I will rescue you and make you honored.”

–based on Psalm 91:14–15

“God will guard your life. The Eternal will guard your going and coming, now and forever.”

–based on Psalm 121:7–8

“O Eternal, God of my deliverance, when I cry out in the night before You, let my prayer reach You; incline Your ear to my cry. I call to You, O Eternal, each day; I stretch out my hands to you.”

–based on Psalm 88:2,10

2.      Sharing Personal Memories

Each person present (in person or remotely) shares a memory or blessing of the loved one. If desired, each person can light a candle at the start of their remarks.

.יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי פִי, וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, יְיְ צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי

Yih’yu l’ratzon imrei fi, v’hegion libi l’fanecha, Adonai tzuri v’goali.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable to you, my Rock and my Redeemer.

–based on Psalm 19:15

3.      ViduiConfession on Behalf of the Loved One 

Adonai, God of our ancestors, all is now in Your hands.
Forgive and release any hurts or wrongdoings 
done consciously or unconsciously.
Lift up all ______’s worries and fears. 
Wash them away.
Let goodness flow over {him/her/them} and surround {him/her/them} now.
Help {him/her/them} as {he/she/they} readies/y for {his/her/their} next passage.
May {his/her/their} worries for us be eased. 
Let {him/her/them} know You will walk alongside, and be present for us, for {his/her/their} soul is entwined with ours. 
As {he/she/they} comes close to You, bathe {him/her/them} in Your light.
Love {him/her/them} 
and carry {him/her/them}.
Shelter {him/her/them} under Your wings.
Into Your hand we trust {his/her/their} soul. 
Gently, lovingly, tend {him/her/them} now.

By Rabbi Vicki Hollander, printed in L’chol Z’man V’eit, © 2015 CCAR Press, Mourning, p. 6

4. The Priestly Blessing

[Masculine:] 

.יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִֹשְמְרֶךָ
.יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
.יִשָֹּא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵֹם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yishm’recha.
Ya-eir Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka.
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem l’cha shalom.

[Feminine:]

.יְבָרְכֵךְ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֵךְ
.יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלַיִךְ וִיחֻוּנֵךְ
.יִשָֹּא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלַיִךְ וְיָשֵֹם לָךְ שָׁלוֹם

Y’var’cheich Adonai v’yishm’reich.
Ya-eir Adonai panav elayich vichuneich.
Yisa Adonai panav elayich v’yasem lach shalom.

[Plural:]

.יְבָרֶכְכֶן/ם יְהוָה וְיִֹשְמָרְכֶן/ם
.יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֲלֵיכֶן/ם וִיחֻנְכֶן/ם
.יִשָֹּא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֲלֵיכֶן/ם וְיָשֵֹם לָכֶן/ם שָׁלוֹם

Y’varech’chen/m Adonai v’yishmarchen/m.
Ya-eir Adonai panav aleichen/m vichun’chen/m.
Yisa Adonai panav aleichen/m v’yasem l’chen/m shalom.

Adonai blesses you and watches over you.
Adonai’s Presence shines upon you andsheds grace all around you.
Adonai garbs you in light and bestows peace upon you.

–Numbers 6:24–26 

5. Calling upon God

!שְׁמַע ,יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְיְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְיְ אֶחָד

Sh’ma, Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad! 

Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One!

.בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va-ed.

Blessed is God’s name whose glorious dominion is forever and ever.

. יְיְ הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים

Adonai hu HaElohim. 

Adonai is God. 

6.      Final Verses

In God’s hand I entrust my spirit, when I sleep and when I am awake. As long as my soul is with my body, the Eternal is with me, I shall not fear.

Lech/L’chi/L’chu l’Shalom.

Go in peace.

(The flames are extinguished.)

By Rabbi Sara Rich and Rabbi Ilene Haigh, 2020


Rabbi Sara Rich, NY’11, is the Executive Director of Hillel of Buffalo.
Rabbi Ilene Haigh, NY’12, is the rabbi at the Woodstock Area Jewish Community/ Congregation Shir Shalom, in Woodstock, Vermont.

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Healing member support mental health Torah

Confronting Our Fears through Tazria and M’tzora

This week’s Torah portion, Tazria and M’tzora is difficult. It also has a reputation for inspiring fear and dread of any bar or bat mitzvah student who receives it for their Shabbat service. Tazria and M’tzora speak of bodily functions, illness, and quarantine. It talks about:

  • Childbirth
  • Disease
  • Contact with bodily fluids
  • Afflictions of the skin

It also speaks of how, when a person contracts a condition like this, they need to go through a series of ritual cleansings, inspections, and separation before they are allowed back into the community.

The disease, Tzaraat (which I’ll talk more about below) is not only a human disease—it can affect the walls of people’s homes as well—thereby giving it another dimension that expands its reach from that of a human disease to a more global condition.

It’s tempting to try and draw parallels from the fact that these two Torah portions speak of disease and quarantine while our community, state, nation and, indeed, the entire world is coping with the coronavirus—but, rather than succumbing to this temptation, I want to talk instead about why these chapters are included in our sacred text in the first place. What lessons can we learn—not only from the content of our parashah, but the context in which the discussion takes place? You see, I don’t think that all of these laws about tzaraat—which we translate as leprosy, but clearly is something else—are included in the narrative to teach us about cleanliness, diagnosis or medical care. Rather, I think, they are about our fears.

Tzaraat, in our text, is a disease that clearly has a powerful impact on the Ancient Israelite community. It is not only experienced physically, but spiritually. The fact that houses can be infected, as well as humans, should give us a clue that more is going on beneath the surface than is readily apparent.

This time of quarantine, illness, and loss has taken its toll on all of us. The facts that we cannot be physically close to one another; that our economy is suffering; that our national political discourse has become so toxic, are taking a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. We do not know how long this will continue. We worry about our health and those of our loved ones—some of whom are dealing with the virus, others who are vulnerable, and others who are on the front lines providing medical care, research, support, and other crucial services that allow us to function. We worry about how we will emerge from our isolation and what our world will look like once we do.

In Tazaria and M’tzora, our ancestors had to deal with the unknown. They were afraid of something over which they had no control. The rituals of isolation, immersion, and re-entry were designed to provide a safe framework for the people to feel that they were not endangered by this unseen enemy.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how psychologists and other mental health professionals are keenly aware of the fact that everyone is affected (infected?) by COVID-19, regardless of whether or not they contract the virus. The radical overturning of our daily lives that we are experiencing is enough to shift our emotional equilibrium. This can manifest itself in many different forms—from depression to compulsive behaviors, to denial, revolt, and even other physical ailments.

Perhaps one of our key tasks at this time is to try to understand and anticipate our fear of the unknown and our reactions to it. As such, I want to propose the following seven questions for us to explore as we continue on our journey:

  1. Research has shown that staying physically active during quarantine is an essential part of staying healthy. Am I engaging in enough physical activity?
  2. For those who are in quarantine with others: Am I aware of the needs of others in my home? Am I doing all that I can to understand what they are going through as well me? Am I tolerant of my own missteps as well as those with whom I am living?
  3. Am I doing all that I can to be productive during this time? Are there tasks that need to be completed? Do I have outlets for creativity and meaningful outlets other than television, the internet, and other passive activities?
  4. Am I looking for ways to help others? Are there ways that I can volunteer my time or expertise as well as my financial resources?
  5. Am I willing to receive help from others?
  6. Psychologists teach us that it is important that we not dwell too long on the length of time that we have been—or will be—socially distant. We need to remind ourselves that this is a temporary situation that will be resolved someday. We also need to be “in the moment” as much as we can.
  7. There will be times when our fears will get the best of us. No one can be strong all the time. Have I been able to forgive myself for those moments when I don’t feel productive or give into the despair of the moment?

Again, these are only a few questions designed to help us process our fears of the unknown. Like our ancestors wandering in the wilderness, there is much that we do not know. At the same time, however, we also have the blessing of being part of a sacred community that cares for one another.


Rabbi Joe Black is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado. 


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Know That You Are Loved

I can’t remember the last time I sat in my backyard in mid-April, on a towel on the ground eating lunch in the sunshine. It’s possible that I never have. It would take a pandemic and social distancing to create the opening for lunch al fresco at the Lyon house. The neighborhood around me was oddly quiet, too. As I looked into the sky, I saw a blue jay way up high on a telephone line. It sat there for a long time without any fear of a rumbling truck down below or any disturbance around it. It had a long twig in its beak. I thought it would fly off to finish its nest building, but it didn’t. Silly bird, I thought, there’s so much to do and you’re taking a break on the telephone line. 

Then I felt oddly embarrassed. I began to learn something about myself as I continued to stare at the bird. The quiet of the day, without back-to-back meetings and urgent matters, enabled me to perch on my lawn for an extended time, too. I truly wanted the bird to fly away so I could get back to thoughts about my work, but it didn’t leave. The longer it stayed, the longer I had to think about eating more slowly than before, soaking up more sun than I would have, and digesting more than my lunch, but also some new expectations. 

We’re all creatures in nature, but surely there’s a difference. What is it? In Mishnah Pirkei Avot (3:14) we learn that Rabbi Akiva used to say, “Beloved of God is man (sic) for he was created in the image of God; but greater still was the love [shown him] in that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of God, as it is said, For in the image of God made He man (Genesis 9:6).” Rabbi Samuel Karff taught about this verse, “It is one thing to be loved; it is another thing to know that you are loved.” The difference is our awareness of our Creator, and, in that awareness, our discovery of irrefutable and unconditional love. 

During these days of COVID-19, and all that it has come to mean, we can all find comfort in what God’s love can mean to us, what love between us can help us know, and what self-love can enable us to be. 

Eventually, the bird on the telephone line flew off to build its nest and to be, well, a bird. I picked up my plates and towel from the ground and finished my day with deeper appreciation of my Creator’s love, greater thanks for those who are sharing this pandemic period with me at home, and increasing awareness of self-care as a necessary part of moving on from here, one day. I wish for you the same and much more. 


Rabbi David Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, Texas.

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Healing Holiday member support mental health News Passover Pesach Prayer Rabbis spirituality

The World as It Is: Passover 5780

The World as It Is: [1]: Coronavirus has forced me, like many people, to change my exercise routines. Instead of a half hour on the elliptical, I’m taking hour-long walks in the neighborhood. Sad as I was to give up the gym, I’m finding great pleasure in the walks. I have always loved springtime, and there’s the most magnificent quartet of large hydrangea trees, all fully in bloom, along my route. Often, I find myself struggling to reconcile the visible natural world, so pointedly alive this time of year, with the invisible natural world, so toxic to our lives now.

The very best moment of any of these daily walks came last week. My walk takes me past several congregants’ homes, but I hadn’t run into any until the day that my path crossed with a congregant, around my age, and his aging father, who has rather advanced dementia. He’s moving slowly, using a walker. Nevertheless, father and son were walking to the end of the street to have a look at the magnificent tulips in bloom at the corner.

In this most difficult moment in America, and in the personal life of their family, father and son together created a beautiful moment. 

Judaism offers blessings for everything. One that may be unfamiliar is the blessing for seeing something particularly stunning in nature, be that a uniquely handsome person or a magnificent landscape. The words of that blessing, though, don’t express that purpose as obviously as they might: Baruch Atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, shekacha lo b’olamo, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, for this is how it is in the world.”

While the blessing is intended to recognize beauty, its words suggest acceptance. We praise God for making the world as it is—with the bitter and the sweet, the devastating pandemic and the unwelcome opportunity for personal growth, the debilitating illness and the drive to continue appreciating life, the loss of life-sustaining employment and the personal reinvention that may emerge. The horrors of dementia and the beauty of the tulips.

Passover asks us to do exactly that.

Matzah is known to most of us as “the bread of freedom.” Yes, it’s true: Torah tells us that our ancestors had no time to let the bread rise as they were escaping Egyptian bondage [2]. Paradoxically, though, matzah is also “the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt [3]. After all, slaves aren’t given time for the luxury of giving their bread the time to rise.

When I ask people, “What does the matzah represent,” the answer is almost always the same: I hear the story about leaving Egypt in haste. I almost never hear the quotation we read each year at Seder, “the poor bread.” Perhaps that’s because we wish to accentuate the positive. I wonder, though, if it’s a reluctance to accept the world as it is, warts and all.

The Seder ritual is full of such symbols. We eat the bitter herb together with the sweet charoset, reminding us that one must taste the bitterness of bondage before finding sweetness in liberation. We behold a roasted egg, symbol of the Jerusalem Temple, burned to the ground with a fire so hot that even its stones walls exploded. The Temple in ruins is Judaism’s symbol for the reality that we live in an imperfect, unredeemed world. The world as it is, as God created it, is filled with poverty and injustice—even slavery, with human beings trafficked like commodities for free labor or worse, for unwilling prostitution. And God knows, this unredeemed world today includes a devastating pandemic and the hardships of mass unemployment that accompany it.

Our Seder also invites us to open the door to Elijah—that is, to the prospect of redemption, of a better world to come. A custom that many of us have adopted is not to fill Elijah’s cup in advance, but to ask every participant at the Seder to fill that cup, symbolizing our collective responsibility to bring redemption. This year, we’ll have to do that in much smaller groups or even virtually, but the symbolism remains powerful. We can make the world better, even in this difficult time.

We are livestreaming worship services from the homes of clergy and volunteers. Yes, we miss being together—and even the inspiration of bringing our Sanctuary into our homes, which we have enjoyed in the last few weeks. More importantly, though, we will better protect ourselves from the virus and model the most important step that everybody can take to stay well: Stay home.

Some of us can volunteer in ways that lighten the burden for others. I’m grateful to be part of an effort by the congregation I serve, our city, and the Clinton Foundation, to feed families in need during this crisis.

I do not know why this world is as it is, with all its beauty and splendor, with all its cruelty and devastation. I do know that we must all do our part to enhance the service and caring, to soften the meanness and suffering. And even during these most difficult days and weeks that will stretch into months and perhaps even years, let us praise God for creating the world as it is.

Amen.


[1] I am grateful to Alan Goodis, whose song, Shekacha lo ba-olamo, inspired this reflection.
[2] Exodus 12:39
[3] The Passover Haggadah


Rabbi Barry H. Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas. A member of the CCAR Board, he is the editor of  The Mussar Torah Commentary, CCAR Press, 2020.

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Healing member support mental health Rabbis spirituality

The Good Enough Rabbi (Redux)

Who among us hasn’t seen the so-called chain letter entitled, “The Perfect Rabbi” (modeled on “The Perfect Pastor,” author unknown)? You know, the one that says “the perfect rabbi preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor …” etc., and then tells you to bundle up your rabbi and send him (yes, him) to the top synagogue on the list. It’s hard not to wince while smiling at this description of our laypeople’s fantasies about us. We wince a second time when we recognize how we ourselves fall victim to believing this fantasy. 

Some years ago, frustrated by the way both laypeople and rabbi had internalized this image of perfection, I wrote a parody of the parody and called it “The Good Enough Rabbi” (inspired by the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s concept of the “good enough” mother). A parody, yes, but one with underlying seriousness: What would it mean for us rabbis if we gave up the aspiration to be perfect and instead accepted the good-enough? Would we be less successful or less loved? Would we feel more inadequate, less in control, more disappointing, or more hopeless?

While you might argue that now is not the time to raise this issue once again, I would suggest that the present crisis offers the perfect (okay, good-enough) opportunity for this conversation. The coronavirus crisis highlights the basic conflicts with which we already struggle. If we normally work a little too hard, we are working even harder now. If we usually worry about how long the temple will stay afloat, we are even more concerned now. If we normally have difficulty maintaining self-care practices, whatever little we might have done before falls apart at a time like this. If protecting a day off always requires some effort, that effort feels herculean in this moment. 

It’s true that we live in desperate times. We’ve been called upon to shift our entire rabbinic life onto Zoom. We’ve been challenged to offer pastoral care remotely, a seeming contradiction in terms. We stand alone by the graveside. We scramble to create an appropriate backdrop to our teaching and services, all the while watching the disappearance of our carefully guarded boundaries between home and work. And how again do you enhance your appearance on Zoom when your gray roots are showing and you haven’t been able to get your eyebrows waxed?

The ramping up has taken every bit of our energy and then some. Many of us are exhausted. And yet we also feel strangely gratified. We’ve been surprised at how intimate a remote funeral can feel. We’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people logging on to Shabbat services. We’ve found support from each other on our CCAR and WRN Facebook pages like never before. We’ve been stretched thin, but at the same time, we feel needed and productive. 

“This is a good moment to turn that sense of self-judgment into self-inquiry. What do you yourself need in this moment? Whatever you usually do for self-care, the solution now is to do more of it.”

We rabbis love to fix things, so this productivity can be like a drug for us. The more we experience its rewards, the more we crave it.  So we feel tempted to say yes to everything. We think about what else we can offer, how much more programming we can create, how many more phone calls we can make. At the same time, we bemoan the loss of the usual time off. We complain about how many hours we spend on Zoom. We are either sad to be alone or crazed by having children underfoot. We are in such constant motion that we have lost touch with what we might be feeling and how we are really doing. We need to sit still in order to grieve all that has been lost, both the personal and the communal. And frankly, we need to accept that we just can’t fix this.

It would be lovely to offer the perfect prescription for self-care at this point, but a self-care practice just isn’t a “one size fits all.” You first have to know yourself before you can craft what constitutes self-care for you. We have all been told we should meditate, exercise, do yoga, avoid junk food, and be in therapy (guilty as charged). It’s hard to argue with any of that. But what makes one person feel restored isn’t always the same for another. Prayer might work for you, but it might not for me. Knitting might bring solace to one, while reading does it for another. Cleaning your house and rolling out your refrigerator to vacuum the coils can be surprisingly satisfying (okay, I confess). Breaking up with Facebook is the way for some, while connecting with friends on Facebook comforts others. And what would happen if we gave ourselves permission to do nothing at all. I think of the wise words of that bear-of-very-little-brain: “Sometimes I sits and thinks,” said Winnie the Pooh, “And sometimes I just sits.” What if we, the people who gave the world the Sabbath, actually allowed ourselves a Sabbath rest?

Self-care doesn’t require conformity. If anything, it asks of us greater tolerance of the variety of ways in which we live our rabbinates. We can get a little preachy, those of us who are trained to preach. And we rabbis are a sensitive lot. We bristle at others’ telling us what we should be doing. Most of us don’t need help criticizing ourselves. We already see what someone else is doing and imagine he/she/they is the “Perfect Rabbi” against whom we don’t measure up. How often do we read our own perceived failures in other peoples’ successes? This is a good moment to turn that sense of self-judgment into self-inquiry. What do you yourself need in this moment? Whatever you usually do for self-care, the solution now is to do more of it. Rest more. Clean more. Talk more. Knit more. Binge-watch more. And if what you normally do isn’t working for you, try something else. Take advantage of the CCAR coaches who are offering pro bono sessions. Find a chevruta. Try self-compassion. And most of all, let yourself feel whatever it is that you yourself need to feel. 

We don’t know yet where and when this will end, but it will. And in that future time of recuperation and assessment, our role will be even more important. That is reason enough for us to work at self-preservation in the present so we will have energy left for tomorrow. We need to remind ourselves that working harder isn’t necessarily working better. We need to remember that being resilient may be our greatest talent of all. Our people have survived calamities and disasters by virtue of our adaptability and creativity.  Save your energy. In a time where perfection isn’t the gold standard, give yourself permission to be good enough.

* With gratitude to a wonderful Supervision Group for their suggestions and inspiring support of me and each other.


Rabbi Ellen Lewis is a certified and licensed modern psychoanalyst in private practice in Bernardsville, New Jersey, and in New York City. She was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and received her analytical training in New York at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies and has served on the faculty of the Academy of Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis. She is also certified as a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.

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Coronavirus and the Clergy-Penitent Privilege: Guidance for Rabbis

Jean-Marc Favreau and Michael Gan of Peer, Gan & Gisler, LLP share guidance around confidentiality between rabbis and community members. While this guidance is intended to raise awareness about issues related to maintaining confidentiality between rabbis and those they minister to, it is not intended as legal advice, nor should it substitute for your own due diligence in researching these issues and options or obtaining legal advice that could address your specific circumstances. If you have further questions, feel free to contact the CCAR or Jean-Marc Favreau or Michael Gan at Peer, Gan, & Gisler LLP.




Given the current COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on how we all are communicating and doing our jobs, many rabbis are utilizing different forms of technology to communicate with their congregants as well as to conduct and broadcast services, sermons, and other events. These unique circumstances offer a good opportunity to review and offer some guidance on some of the fundamental principles surrounding the Clergy-Penitent Privilege and how it is impacted when communications do not take place in person.

Privileged Communications Generally

  • Generally, communications between a member of the clergy and an individual who comes to them for counseling, spiritual guidance, or other reasons that would reasonably be considered private are privileged under state laws and court evidentiary rules. In the simplest terms, with very limited exceptions, a rabbi cannot be forced to disclose such communications.
  • It is essential to understand the particular confidentiality laws of your state, as there could be some differences in defining who holds the privilege, who is entitled to its protections, what types of communications are confidential, and what types of communications must be reported to authorities.
  • Beyond legal rights and obligations regarding confidentiality, rabbis also have an ethical responsibility to keep the types of communications described above private and secure.
  • Implicit in these legal privileges and ethical obligations is the requirement that the rabbi take reasonable steps to prevent the disclosure of such communications. Leaving a notebook containing personal information about a congregant out in a public space where it could be read by others is as much an ethical violation as letting private information about a congregant slip out during a conversation with another individual.

The Effect of Technology on the Privilege

  • Significantly, the privilege (and your ethical obligations) attach equally to in-person meetings as they do to communications that take place over the phone, videoconferencing (e.g. Skype, Zoom, Facetime), or via other communication platforms.
  • The important distinction between in-person and phone/video communications lies in how and whether the communications are kept secure. Whenever technology is introduced, the rabbi should exercise some due diligence to ensure that the software/tools used have security features (e.g. passwords, encryption technology like VPN, etc.). The same goes for the servers and internet connections used.
  • Should a rabbi fail to use due diligence to afford some security to their communications with individuals who come to them for counseling, spiritual guidance, or the like, they could be subject to some civil legal liability should that information be exposed.

Suggested Guidelines

  • When using technology to meet with congregants/others you may want to ask yourself:
  • Are we going to be discussing issues that are likely to be privileged?

A discussion about a congregant’s marital problems is a lot different and may require more security measures than a discussion about what props are needed for the Purim shpiel. 

  • What technologies are out there that would allow me to communicate best with individuals? (See below)
  • Does the individual feel comfortable with the technology?

Individuals may feel more or less comfortable with a video option versus just talking over the phone.

  • What are the security features and privacy provisions of the technology you are using?

You should familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of the technology you are using to find out, among other things:

                        What type of security is utilized, if any?

                        Is the information recorded on a server somewhere?

                        Who owns the information that is broadcast and/or stored?

Have I used a strong password to protect my account and network? Did my congregant take the same steps?

  • Alert the individual that conversing over these technologies may not offer the concrete privacy protections that an in-person meeting would have, but that you will do your best to keep the information privileged and safe.
  • Remind the individual to be in a private setting so that their side of the conversation will not be overheard (which would run the risk of undermining the privilege).
  • Install a Virtual Privacy Network (“VPN”) on any devices you use to communicate with congregants over the internet. Many VPN services exist at little or no cost, and this article will help you find a good one.
  • Ensure your videoconferencing or other communication service has basic security protections, including “end to end encryption”. Even most free services have this, but their paid plans may afford extra security (any additional costs should be covered by your congregation). For example:
  • Services such as Zoom offer plans beyond the free version that provide extra protections. This includes a HIPPA-compliant plan that health care providers use with patients. This might be overkill, but it would provide the greatest protections.
    • Services such as GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx have built in “end-to-end encryption” and customizable security tools
  • Many other services also tout secure communications including popular options such as Skype, Google Hangout and FaceTime.
  • Whatever software you use, be sure you read the documentation on the website and check whether the encryption or other features are the default or have to be enabled.
  • Make sure you keep your software/technology up to date, as these companies often issue security patches.

Most of us agree that nothing can replace face-to-face communication when ministering to individuals, but in light of the current social-distancing recommendations, alternate technologies can serve as a good – temporary – substitute. As long as you fully inform yourself about the security features of the software and networks you are using and about how to enable those features, you are doing your due diligence to protect yourself and those you serve.