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Economy Rabbis

CCRJ Working Conditions Study 2020: Developing a Structure for Comparing Canadian and United States Rabbinical Employment Conditions

In early 2020, the Reform Rabbis of Canada (RROC), Canadian Council for Reform Judaism (CCRJ), the URJ, and the CCAR commissioned David Baskin to look at the question of how we compare United States and Canadian rabbinic salaries. Baskin is a lawyer and wealth management professional in Toronto with deep ties to our Canadian Reform Jewish community. We are grateful that he threw himself deeply and enthusiastically into this challenging puzzle.

For years, rabbis and congregations have confronted the issue that while both Canada and the United States refer to their respective currencies as “dollars,” the purchasing power of those dollars differs greatly because of their relative value to each other and the structural differences in the social and economic systems of both countries.

This document lays out the areas that should be considered when comparing compensation packages in the U.S. and Canada.

As Baskin points out, “A very common error is taking a U.S. package of, for example, $150,000 USD and saying, well, that’s equal to $200,000 Canadian dollars, so those are comparable salaries. This ignores a lot of nuance and complexity.”

A slightly better approach is to compare after-tax packages, which will vary from state to state and province to province. This is easy to do with online resources. Even better, if more complex, is to look at after-tax and after-healthcare costs. The RPB and the CCAR do not have comprehensive data on U.S. health care benefits, and this can be a major component of the cross-border comparison.

Finally, it is a mistake to ignore “soft” factors such as purchasing power, employment standards, parental leave, human rights protections, and child-related expenses. 

This document is a first-of-its-kind and a long-overdue attempt to help both rabbis and congregations make better use of the CCAR Rabbinic Compensation study data and comparisons as it relates Canadian congregations and their rabbis. (The CCAR is currently at work on the next iteration of the compensation study.)

A huge thank you to David Baskin for his diligent work on this project, and to Pekka Sinervo, Sandy Pelly, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Rabbi Ron Segal, Rabbi Hara Person, and Rabbi Cindy Enger for their help and support for this project.


Rabbi Dan Moskovitz serves Temple Sholom in Vancouver, BC and also serves as the Chair of Reform Rabbis of Canada.
Please visit our website to view the full CCRJ Working Conditions Study 2020.

Categories
Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Mourning the 100,000 Americans Who Have Died of COVID-19

Together with Americans of all faiths, we mourn the 100,000+ people who have died of Covid-19. We share in the grief and sorrow of this unimaginable and still-growing milestone, as well as all the losses to Covid-19 around the world. We join with our Reform Movement partners and faith communities of all denominations around the country in calling on our communities to include a moment of remembrance in our upcoming worship services. The full statement about the weekend of prayer can be read here, along with a call for a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance  on Monday, June 1st, at noon local time to pause and remember all those who have died.

We offer these beautiful words, written by Alden Solovy, for your use at Shabbat services, interfaith gatherings, or a special Yizkor service.

One-by-One: A Prayer as the COVID Death Toll Mounts

By Alden Solovy

God of consolation,
Surely you count in heaven,
Just as we count here on earth,
In shock and in sorrow,
The souls sent back to You,
One-by-one,
The dead from the COVID pandemic,
As the ones become tens,
The tens become hundreds,
The hundreds become thousands,
The thousands become ten-thousands
And then hundred-thousands,
Each soul, a heartbreak,
Each soul, a life denied.

God of wisdom,
Surely in the halls of divine justice
You are assembling the courts,
Calling witnesses to testify,
To proclaim
The compassion of some
And the callousness of others
As we’ve struggled to cope.
The souls taken too soon,
Whose funerals were lonely,
Who didn’t need to die,
Who died alone,
Will tell their stories
When You judge
Our triumphs
And our failures
In these hours of need.

God of healing,
Put an end to this pandemic,
And all illness and disease.
Bless those who stand in service to humanity.
Bless those who grieve.
Bless the dead,
So that their souls are bound up in the bond of life eternal.
And grant those still afflicted
With disease or trauma
A completed and lasting healing,
One-by-one,
Until suffering ceases,
And we can stop counting the dead,
In heaven
And on earth.


© 2020 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. Reproduced with permission.

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 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.

Categories
Rabbis Responsa Rituals

New Responsum: B’rit Milah During the COVID-19 Pandemic (5780.3)

The CCAR is pleased to present this responsum on b’rit milah during the COVID-19 pandemic, the newest addition to our historic collection of questions and answers about Jewish living. Find the CCAR’s collection of Reform responsa here.

Please note: This responsa deals with the ritual aspects of b’rit milah. A doctor should always be consulted in regard to the medical aspects of b’rit milah.


Question
What should be the proper procedure regarding b’rit milah during the COVID-19 pandemic?
(Submitted by Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler, Director, B’rit Milah Program of Reform Judaism)

Response
In the midst of the current pandemic, it is understandable that parents and mohalim/ot are confused and frightened. We will examine the issues here carefully, one by one.

1. The importance of b’rit milah

In emphasizing the importance of b’rit milah the Talmud equates it to all the other mitzvot and, indeed, credits it with preserving the very existence of the world.[1]  In Christian lands it was an unmistakable, permanent marker of Jewishness; in Muslim lands, it marked Jewish male children.  Its complex psychological significance in a classically male-centered Jewish spirituality cannot be overstated.[2] It is true that the first generations of Reformers were deeply ambivalent about it; Kaufmann Kohler, for example, called it “a barbarous cruelty,” and recommended its abolition.[3]  It is quite likely that most Reform Jews would have ceased to practice circumcision had it not been for the view that gained currency in the early 20th century, that circumcision conveyed hygienic and health benefits.[4]  Before World War II, lengthy post-partum hospital stays for middle- and upper-class women and their infants made it easy to arrange a hospital circumcision, with or without ritual.  In the postwar era, however, shortened hospital stays led to numerous inquiries about the acceptability of circumcision before the eighth day, or the reality of Jews simply ignoring b’rit milah in favor of medical circumcision.  While Responsa Committee chair Israel Bettan authored a strenuous objection to that widespread practice in 1954,[5] Solomon Freehof was far more accommodating in 1960.[6]  All Reform responsa since then, however, have followed R. Bettan in insisting on the importance of milah on the eighth day as a religious rite.[7]  As a movement we have encouraged Reform Jews to choose b’rit milah  on the eighth day, and have facilitated this by training Reform mohalim/ot.

2. Circumstances for delaying b’rit milah

We are forbidden to endanger ourselves. As Maimonides writes:  “The Sages prohibited many things because they are life-threatening.  And anyone who ignores their words, and says, ‘I can go ahead and endanger myself; what business is it of anyone else what I do to myself?’ or ‘I pay no attention to that’ – they are to flog him for rebelliousness.”[8] We are obligated to preserve ourselves from danger (and, as parents, we are responsible for preserving our children from danger). There is, therefore, unanimous agreement among all halakhic authorities that we delay b’rit milah if the infant is not healthy enough to undergo it.[9] By contrast, there is far less consideration of whether b’rit milah might risk the well-being of an otherwise healthy infant.[10]  However, there is a faint thread running through the halakha that is worth examining in detail. It begins with this Talmudic passage:

Rav Pappa said:  Therefore, on a cloudy day or on a day when a south wind is blowing, we do not circumcise [an infant], nor do we draw blood.  But nowadays, when people are accustomed to ignore [these strictures, we rely on the assurance that] Adonai preserves the simple (Ps. 116:6) [and we proceed on the assumption that no harm will follow].[11]

This statement was never codified in the later halakha, but the Nimukei Yosef cites it approvingly:

The Ritba wrote in the name of his teacher [with reference to this passage]:  From here we learn that whoever does not wish to circumcise on a cloudy day has permission to do so, and is acting with clear justification in not relying on Adonai preserves the simple. And similarly it is appropriate not to circumcise on Shabbat if it is cloudy.[12]

The discussion of this issue by the Arukh Ha-Shulḥan makes abundantly clear that the underlying concern is whether conditions are such that performing the rite could endanger the infant:

…But Rabbenu Yeruham wrote that neither a cloudy day nor a south wind delays the b’rit milah, because Adonai preserves the simple.  However, the strain of a journey – meaning that the infant is ill from the strain of having made a journey, does postpone the b’rit, until he is well.  Another authority wrote that anything other than some illness in the infant himself – such as having to go on a journey – does not delay the b’rit, just as we do not delay it for the sake of blowing winds.

Obviously, we do not delay the b’rit for the purpose of going on a journey, but rather we carry it out. But it seems to me that it is obviously forbidden to take the infant on a long journey until he has recovered from the circumcision, lest he be endangered. However, it may be permissible to take him in a wagon, since in that case he is placed in one spot and appropriately covered with blankets and pillows. Also, one can see, when they have brought him on a journey by wagon, whether any weakness appears in him. This requires examination by experts in the body and face of the infant. Indeed, we have never heard what the Nimukei Yosef wrote, that on cloudy days it is permitted to delay the b’rit.  In fact, it is because Adonai preserves the simple that we are lenient on optional matters such as drawing blood on the eve of Shabbat…and thus all the more so with regard to an important commandment such as circumcision.  And the proof of this is that not a single one of the authorities saw fit to mention this.  So we learn that we do not use its guidance in fulfilling our obligation. Thus has the custom spread, and there is no changing it.[13]

It is quite obvious that the original authority, Rav Pappa, was expressing a genuine medical concern, based on his best knowledge. As subsequent generations’ medical knowledge changed, however, they dismissed these concerns as nonsense – but did not replace them with their own medical concerns.  This may reflect the tacit trend toward stringency evident in the halakha over time, as seen in other practices such as the discontinuation of hafka’at kiddushinas a way of preventing agunot, or the Ashkenazic invention of “glatt kosher.”


Fortunately, we are under no obligation to adhere to the codified halakha when a minority viewpoint has clear merit.  And as we have stated before, we rely on medical expertise:  “As rabbis, we are not competent to render judgments in scientific controversies.  Still, we do not hesitate to adopt ‘the overwhelming view’ as our standard of guidance in this and all other issues where science is the determining factor.”[14]

It is clear to us that b’rit milah may be delayed when performing the rite would endanger an otherwise healthy infant.

3. Does performing b’rit milah at this time endanger the infant?

The reality in North America is that parents can take many steps to minimize the chances of infection, but under current circumstances it is virtually impossible to eliminate all possibility of infection. Asymptomatic individuals are not being tested; the incubation period can be lengthy; and the virus is extremely contagious.  In many areas, by the time the infant reaches his eighth day, it is already highly probable that he has already been exposed to someone who is carrying the virus, unless he was born at home under conditions of strict isolation, and the medical practitioner(s) who delivered the baby were known to have tested negative for the virus.  In other areas, it appears that this will be the case before too long.

As of this writing, there is not enough science available to stand as definitive research on COVID-19 in infants. Anecdotal evidence continues to mount, however, indicating that infants do not appear to be seriously affected. Infant deaths from the virus are so rare that individual cases are being reported as news. It appears that in each case there were underlying health complications.[15]  It seems counterintuitive, and understandably goes against parents’ instinctive reactions, but so far the evidence is that babies, including newborns, are far less susceptible to COVID-19 than are older adults, unless the infants have some other health problem. It appears that the adults who would be present at a b’rit milah could be at greater risk than the infant himself.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that this virus will disappear soon.  Experts are saying that it will continue to circulate until there is a vaccine to treat it, with some saying that we will, therefore, require social distancing for 12-18 months.[16] After that much time has elapsed, circumcision will be much more difficult and will carry its own set of risks.

Medical literature regards “newborn” circumcision as routine, requiring only local anesthesia, up to about age six weeks.[17] Beyond six weeks, or when the baby grows larger than twelve pounds, it may be advisable to wait until he is six months old and perform the procedure under general anesthesia. There is a small indication that bleeding is a more likely complication for an older baby. Furthermore, as the baby ages, the foreskin is thicker and less pliable, so it is more difficult from a technical point of view to perform the circumcision using the more traditional Mogen clamp.

It would appear, then, that there is no absolute guarantee of safety for the infant; but he is no more at risk in a b’rit milah performed on the eighth day, even during the pandemic, than he will be at any time in his first year of life. That assumes, of course, that the b’rit milah is carried out in a way that does not add needless risk. It should be in the home, and there should be no one present other than the parents and the mohel/et.  All standard procedures to minimize transmission should be followed, including wearing masks and gloves. It would be advisable to reduce danger to the parents by not having the rite performed by a mohel/et who has been working in a hospital or clinic where COVID-19 patients are being treated.

Some parents will, doubtless, consider a medical circumcision immediately after birth, followed by hatafat dam b’rit at home. We would point out that the most significant risk factor for the virus is the number of people to whom one is exposed at close range. A hospital procedure will bring the infant into contact with at least as many adults as will a b’rit milah performed at home.

Conclusions

  1. B’rit milah on the eighth day is a mitzvah that we as Reform Jews take extremely seriously.
  2. We take seriously the obligation of sh’mirat ha-guf, preserving our well-being, and we therefore recognize danger to an otherwise healthy infant as a valid reason for postponing a b’rit milah.
  3. In keeping with our commitment to taking into account the best scientific and medical advice, given what we know about COVID-19, its transmission, and the danger it poses to infants, we do not find that performing the b’rit milahon the eighth day, with appropriate precautions, poses a more significant risk to the infant than delaying it until the pandemic has passed.

As we wrote recently, the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a genuine emergency situation (sha’at had’ḥak). “In an emergency situation a bet din is responsible for taking action for the welfare of the community, and may issue a temporary ruling (hora’at sha’ah) to prevent the kahal from going astray.”[18] People can “go astray” in all sorts of ways, including by allowing  self-preservation and concern for our families to turn into irrational fear and panic. We pray that this pandemic will pass, and that as many lives as possible will be spared, and that people’s livelihoods will not be destroyed; but in the meantime we will – we must – continue to live our lives.

Joan S. Friedman, chair
Howard L. Apothaker
Daniel Bogard
Carey Brown
Lawrence A. Englander
Lisa Grushcow
Audrey R. Korotkin
Rachel S. Mikva
Amy Scheinerman
Brian Stoller
David Z. Vaisberg
Jeremy Weisblatt
Dvora E. Weisberg


[1] Nedarim 32a.

[2] See Lawrence A. Hoffman, Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Judaism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), and Shaye J.D. Cohen, Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised? Gender and Covenant in Judaism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

[3] “Authentic Report of the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Conference Held at Pittsburg, Nov. 16, 17, 18, 1885,” in Walter Jacob, ed., The Changing World of Reform Judaism:  The Pittsburgh Platform in Retrospect (Pittsburgh:  Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1985), 101.

[4] See David Gollaher, “From Ritual to Science: The Medical Transformation of Circumcision in America,” Journal of Social History vol. 28, no. 1 (Autumn 1994): 5-36.

[5] ARR #55, “Circumcision on a Day Other Than the Eighth Day of Birth.”

[6] RR #21, “Circumcision Before Eighth Day.”

[7] ARR #56, “Circumcision Prior to the Eighth Day” (1977); CARR #28, “Berit Milah” (1978); CARR #100, “The Pressured Mohel” (1988).

[8] Yad, H. Rotze’aḥ 11:5.  See also Isserles’ gloss to ShA YD 116:5.

[9] Yad, H. Milah 1:16-17; ShA YD 262:2, 263:1.

[10] This question did arise in connection with metzitzah b’feh.  The majority opinion is that metzitzah is a hygienic matter, not an integral element of the mitzvah, and therefore any technique that makes it safer is permitted.  Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (NY: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1979), 424.

[11] Yev. 72a.

[12] Nimukei Yosef, Yevamot 24a, s.v. ve-ha-id’na.

[13] Arukh Ha-Shulḥan YD 263:4-5.

[14] RR21, vol. 2, 5759.10, “Compulsory Immunization.”

[15] For example, see this news story: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/29/coronavirus-illinois-governor-announces-rare-death-of-baby, accessed 10 April 2020.

[16] See, e.g., https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/federal-government-18-month-plan-life-return-normal/story?id=70046439, accessed 10 April 2020.

[17] For the research that provided the information in this paragraph I thank Dr. Bryan Hecht, M.D., Division Director of Reproductive Endocrinology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, MetroHealth, Cleveland, board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, and a certified Reform mohel.

[18] Yad H. Mamrim 2:4, cited in 5780.2, “Virtual Minyan in Time of COVID-19 Emergency.”

Categories
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.

Categories
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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chaplains congregations Convention General CCAR Prayer Rabbis

A Full and Diverse Rabbinate

I grew up in a small South Georgia town. “Shabbat” services were every other Sunday evening, as our congregation of 18 or so families did not have a full-time rabbi, but would invite the rabbi in a neighboring community to visit. (One of our rabbis was Julius Kravitz, z’l, who later was on the faculty of HUC-JIR in New York, and who led our 1963 summer program in Cincy.)

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

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

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

After ordination in 1970 I served in Lincoln, NE and Springfield, OH before entering the United States Air Force as a Chaplain. I was stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs (twice), the Military Air Lift Command headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, IL near St. Louis, Royal Air Force Mildenhall in the United Kingdom near Cambridge, and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. After 20 years of active military service I retired and became the founding rabbi of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs, CO.

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

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

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


Rabbi Irvin Ehrlich coordinates CCAR Sharing Our Lives announcements.

Categories
General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

A New Year’s Message From CCAR Chief Executive, Hara Person: Looking Ahead Into 2020

Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive of the CCAR, reflects on her first six months as Chief Executive, her vision for the organization as 2020 begins, and her gratitude for the community of Reform rabbis.


Dear Rabbis,

Six months ago, I stepped in my new role as CCAR Chief Executive. It’s been quite a ride so far. I’ve had to transition from a specialist in Jewish publications, organizational strategy, and communications into a generalist in all things Reform rabbi. This has meant learning to stretch in new ways. Many of you have generously shared your wisdom and experience with me as I undertake this process of learning, and I am so grateful.

I am spending a good part of this first year in my role traveling with the intention of connecting with as many of you as possible. It is both a joy and a privilege to learn about your triumphs and your challenges, and to hear what brings you the greatest meaning in your rabbinate. I thank you for sharing yourselves with me—both the good and the sometimes painful.  I look forward to meeting and connecting with even more of you as I continue traveling.

As we step into 2020, I’m excited to see the third and last year of the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate reach its conclusion, and to then embed those findings, recommendations, and suggestions in the ongoing work of the CCAR in meaningful ways. We will also begin to implement the work of another important task force, that on Retirees and Successors. We have also begun a process of thinking about how the CCAR can evolve as our membership continues to diversify, with an ever greater percentage of our members serving in a wide range of roles throughout the Jewish world. And all of this is just a small part of what we’re busy with at CCAR; there are webinars and in-person meetings in development, new publications, other committees, task forces and commissions, trips being planned, and, of course, CCAR Convention 2020 in Baltimore, March 22–25.

One of the things about the CCAR that makes me so proud is the ways in which you are there for each other. For some of you, that means serving on committees or task forces or commissions that make the CCAR a stronger organization, for some that means contributing to our publications and helping us be the teachers and leaders of Reform Judaism, for some that is helping us find the resources we need to best support our mission, and for some that means being each other’s rabbis in moments of crisis. For so many of you, sadly for too many of you, this means finding meaningful ways to come together at this time of increased antisemitism. However it is that you participate in helping the CCAR achieve our highest aspirations, I am moved by your commitment, and I thank you for your gift of self.

I hope that I will see you in Baltimore as we gather to enter the next era of the CCAR. It will be a time for us to come together to learn, to study, and to teach. But even more, it will be a time for us to draw succor from being with other Reform rabbis, no matter the type of rabbinate, to celebrate together, to share together, and to gain strength from one another as we face the challenges of today.  

Sincerely,

Hara E. Person

Chief Executive, CCAR