Categories
Reform Judaism Social Justice

Standing as Witness and Capable Ally in Voter Protection

Today is Election Day. Along with my wife, colleagues at The Temple Rabbis Peter Berg, Loren Filson Lapidus, Lydia Medwin, an inspiringly large number of our congregants, Reform rabbis and other Jewish leaders from across North America, including CCAR’s own Rabbi Steve Fox, I am in Macon, Georgia, to partner with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to provide non-partisan election protection. We will be in the field to monitor polls to ensure that those who desire to vote are able to cast their ballots for their candidate of choice, freely exercising their Constitutional right to vote. Our work is part of the Religious Action Center’s Nitzavim campaign, a national voter rights initiative of our movement’s Racial Justice Campaign.

What I say about all of this work is simply an incredulous, “Really?!” In 2016, is the freedom to vote still an issue? Why yes, my dear, sheltered, Northern California boy, the unfettered right to vote is still in peril and a cloud of voter suppression tactics with racist overtones hangs above Macon.

Here in Atlanta at The Temple, we have been working within our own version of the RAC’s Reflect/Relate/Reform model. Responding to our congregation’s call to honor our legacy of the Civil Rights Movement by getting current on racial inequality and working harder and smarter to create a just society for all, we spent the better part of the past summer and into the fall doing difficult and sometimes painful reflective work. It has not been easy to own up to our own implicit biases, racism, and our failures to stand as witness and inabilities to act as capable allies and I suspect we have a ways to go. I know I do. Truth be told, six months ago I do not believe we would been able to see or have been able to respond to race-based threats of voter disenfranchisement. But the threats are real.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder no longer requires certain jurisdictions to demonstrate to either the Attorney General or a federal court in Washington, D.C., that any proposed voting change is not discriminatory before that change can be implemented, we are now living in a society in which a core measure of the Voting Rights Act has been undone. We now can see better what we could not have seen before we undertook this work. Much of today’s racism flourishes because for too long we acted like the Civil Rights Movement was a singular and eternal victory for righteousness and that the problems, inequalities, and injustices of today were not based on racist, discriminatory, and under the guise of modern colorblindness, legal practices.

We have a long road ahead of us to fulfill the vision of the Beloved Community, but we are walking together in partnership with each other and with churches and organizations representing and led by people of color. I could not be more proud of the Reform Movement’s awakening to racial inequality and as we head to Macon to fulfill our commitment, I know with every ounce of my being that our work will be on the right side of history.

Rabbi David Spinrad serves The Temple in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Categories
Reform Judaism Social Justice

Nitzavim: Standing Up for Voter Protection and Participation

As we approach the Presidential election this Tuesday, I think we are all experiencing a bit of fatigue.  The stakes certainly seem high to all of us in Ohio.  Whereas election news is garnering a lot of air time and thought time everywhere, in Ohio, the election has become an entity unto itself.  When I moved back to Cincinnati 12 years ago from Massachusetts, I realized the kind of weight and responsibility of living and leading in a “swing state.”  In Massachusetts, we never saw commercials or billboards for the Presidential election.  In Ohio, one is inundated with political ads.  It is exhausting.  At times, it is disheartening.  But, we might also look at this election as a time to lift up voices and to listen.  To speak and to hope.

Through our congregation’s involvement with our movement’s Nitzavim campaign to Stand Up for Voter Participation and Protection, we have come to understand that this election can be a time to try to understand our neighbors, to open up dialogue with those who might be different than us.  We are looking at this election as a springboard to build relationships across denominations, religions, race and class so that we might uplift every voice. We are building opportunities and coalitions as we get out the vote and volunteer to monitor polls.

For those of us who have been concerned about racial injustice in our country, this election will be a touchstone.  I will vote in Cincinnati, which has been identified as an area most at risk for voter suppression.  This election is our opportunity to face some of our own biases and our neighbors’ and to stand up for the right to vote as well as exercising our own obligation to be part of the political process.  As Rabbi Yitzhak taught, “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a).  Our democracy will be measured by access to the polls in the inner cities and by the desire to make a difference.

Our tradition challenges us to embrace pluralism, even when it is difficult; even in a “purple” state.  Tosefta Sotah 7:7 teaches, “Make for yourself a heart of many rooms.”  On November 9th, this will be the real goal for all of us.  We should be like Hillel, who always respected and uplifted Shammai’s voice despite their disagreements.  The Talmud teaches that the halacha followed Hillel because “Beit Hillel were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of Beit Shammai, and were even so humble as to mention the actions of Beit Shammai before theirs” (Bablylonian Talmud Eruvin 13b).

In Ohio, we pray that we argue and vote for the sake of heaven.  But we challenge ourselves to move past this election with humility, kindness and respect.  And we dream of hearts of many rooms, moving together to lift all voices.  That is the true obligation and responsibility of this Election Day and the days to follow.

Rabbi Sigma F. Coran serves Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Categories
Holiday Reform Judaism spirituality Torah

When Torah Becomes “Mine”

That look in their eyes when, for the first time in their lives, Torah is placed in their arms, is precious.

In that moment, they realize that they are cradling the Jewish story. They recognize that what was once at arm’s length, is now quite literally in their arms. They become Moses or Miriam, or Michael or Mandy, standing again at Mt. Sinai, receiving Judaism’s most sacred text.

Each year on Simchat Torah, it happens.

After we unroll the entire Torah scroll around the sanctuary.

After we read the end of Deuteronomy.

After we review the five books of our people, highlighting the most poignant stories and Torah’s most abiding Jewish values.

After we return to the beginning again to read the opening words of Genesis.

Then, the celebration of Torah leads to Kabbalat Torah, the receiving of the gift of Torah: Those priceless moments when someone holds Torah from the first time and finds herself right there in shalshelet hakabbalah, the unbroken chain of transmission of Torah.

Sometimes it is an older woman whose synagogue back then did not allow girls to become bat mitzvah. Or an Israeli secularist who once saw Torah as the province of only an entrenched Orthodox political establishment. Or a college student coming back to Judaism after dropping out too early. Or poignantly a Holocaust survivor who missed out on receiving Torah before the world darkened around him. Or a Jew by choice choosing to embrace a new people. Or a ger toshav, a non-Jew who has dedicated her life to raising their children in the Jewish faith. Or the multicultural Jew whose skin color once made her feel unwelcome in the synagogue. Or the older gay man who for the longest time thought he was written out of the story.

For each of them, the progression – so delicious – is similar. Always, it reaffirms the power and poignancy of our most sacred Jewish text.

First comes the worry, a split second of terror: Am I holding it right? Will I be the one to drop it? What happens if I drop it?

Then comes a reassuring sense of calm: I’ve got this. I can hold this. I am doing this.

Then the amazement: I have Torah in my arms. I am holding Torah. Me.

Then the dancing: Look at me. Torah and me. Together. As one. I am part of its story. And it’s story is part of me.

Round and round the Torah goes, in and out of the circle of dancers. In and out of the arms of the community. In and out of the lives of its adherents.

Some might come back for Torah study. Some might disappear until next Simchat Torah. But all leave refreshed and renewed, having once again stood at Sinai and received the Torah.

Some love the unrolling of Torah. Others value the return to the beginning. But me? I love those moments when the public becomes the personal and for yet another person Torah becomes “mine.”

Rabbi Paul Kipnes is Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California.

Categories
Israel Reform Judaism

My Recent Visit to Israel

When I first attended HUC-JIR in Cincinnati back in 1959, Reform rabbis were still divided in their commitment to the new Jewish state. In the 60s and 70s, we became solidly united in our support of the homeland of the Jewish people. While we are yet to become fully recognized by the state, we have been sparing no effort standing by her side no matter what. As a native of Israel whose parents were among the founders of the state, and as someone who was there at the birth, to me Israel is a gift from God to the martyrized Jewish people. Since 1970, when the CCAR held its first conference in Jerusalem, I’ve been back nearly every year, and even went back to do military service. In recent years, as I did this year, I’ve been going there strictly to visit family.

In late August my wife and I spent ten days at a nice resort hotel in north Tel Aviv, minutes from my two sisters’ homes in Ramat Aviv. My children and grandchildren are very attached to their Israeli nephews and nieces, and my oldest granddaughter was just there with her camp group for a month as part of her CIT experience, and got to spend one evening with the family. My oldest Israeli grandniece just turned eighteen and was proud of her acceptance to the ranks of Israel’s military intelligence.

It is hard for me to believe that in a few short decades Israel went from a community of half a million Jews with a ragtag army to a nation of over six million Jews with a mighty military and a world leader in high tech. But at the same time I find myself bemoaning the fact that what started out in my day as a socialist Utopian dream of an egalitarian society reaching out a hand of peace to its neighbors, has become a materialistic, intolerant and aggressive society with a growing gap between rich and poor and a societal code of conduct which reminds one more of third world countries than a progressive democracy, what with a former prime minister and a former president serving jail terms.

Where do progressive Jewish movements like Reform Judaism fit in this contemporary picture of social decline?

To start with, it is paramount that we become fully recognized Jews in our own right, and not lapsed Jews who need the imprimatur of Orthodoxy to be accepted into the fold. The Orthodox minority in Israel has political power far exceeding its numbers and its contribution to society, making life difficult not only for us but for the majority of Israelis, like my own relatives. This has become an intolerable situation which corrodes the institutions of the state.

Second, we need representation in the Knesset. While in the Diaspora we are not a political movement, unfortunately in Israel all groups, from Orthodox to Russians, have their own political parties, which is the only way to have a voice in Israeli society. We could also become part of an existing liberal party, which would provide us with a voice.

Third, we should rally around the cause of peace. It should be clear to any thinking person that Israel cannot go on forever as a military fortress. The peace with Egypt and Jordan needs to become a productive force, rather than merely a formal relation. There are great benefits here to all parties. But even more important, the two-state solution must become a reality. We did not establish the State of Israel to occupy another people. We Reform rabbis need to work not only with our fellow Jews in Israel but also with the Palestinians, to promote the cause of peaceful coexistence. In the 60s in the United States we took the lead in the struggle for social justice for people of color, and we need to do the same in Israel. Much good work has been done already by our colleagues in Israel, but have only just begun.

Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber, a member of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Florida, is celebrating 50 years as a CCAR rabbi.

Categories
Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Reform Judaism

One Is Silver and the Other’s Gold: Precious Gifts of Mishkan HaNefesh

“Make new friends, and keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” We all heard and likely sang that ditty as children. We were not thinking of prayer books, but about friends.

For many people, though, a prayer book is an old friend. I recall an older Temple member, who was ill and unable to attend services here on the High Holy Days. When I visited, she showed me the prayer books that she and her family had used for a private service on Rosh Hashanah eve, and planned to use again on Yom Kippur: Union Prayer Book, of course.

I suspect that those High Holy Days were the most meaningful of that family’s life, as their matriarch neared the end of her life, but still able to celebrate and enjoy her family. Only immediate relatives were present, with one friend: that prayer book, which had been a part of their lives for generations, linking them to all who had come before, and to their memories of Rosh Hashanah in the Temple that has been their family’s synagogue home for a century and a half.

For many, Union Prayer Book was and remains a friend. Though a generation or more has passed since that book was used for regular High Holy Day services here, many return to its special place in our homes, to seek comfort and guidance.

Gates of Repentance was a hip, contemporary friend for its era. That decade, the 1970s, was characterized by low regard for anyone over 30; and Union Prayer Book was far older than that. Radical change was in the air in the years immediately following the moon landing and Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of Women’s Liberation. While young adults of that era embraced the change, throwing off archaic language – you know, all those thee’s and thou’s – offering more accessible English for a new generation, others mourned the loss of an old friend.MhN Standard - RESIZED FINAL

The 21st Century is sometimes called post-modern, meaning in part that we embrace advances without throwing away the gems of the past. Mishkan HaNefesh preserves more of Jewish tradition than any previous Reform prayer book, while also embracing more of our Reform heritage than Gates of Repentance.

On the one hand, Mishkan HaNefesh includes more traditional Hebrew than its predecessors. On the other hand, the Hebrew is all transliterated on each page as it appears, making it more accessible, as we have become accustomed with Mishkan T’filah.

Another example of embracing both traditional and Reform practice is in the scriptural readings. Those of us who’ve been Reform for as long as we’ve been alive, or at least for as long as we’ve been Jewish, may imagine that the Binding of Isaac is the traditional Torah reading for Rosh Hashanah morning. That’s only partially true. In traditional synagogues, that section is read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Mishkan HaNefesh offers choices. This year, for example, we will read the traditional selection for the first – and in our case, the only – day of Rosh Hashanah, which is about the birth of Isaac. Then, we will immediately turn to a Haftarah designated by our Reform forbears, a selection from the Book of Nehemiah about an ancient Rosh Hashanah.

The evocative English of Mishkan HaNefesh is its greatest strength, whether in translations of traditional prayers or in the more interpretive sections on the left side of the page. We may find inspiration in prayer and poetry that is mostly new to us, and then turn to a reading that has brought meaning to Reform Jews since the first edition of Union Prayer Book.

The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh solved some nettlesome problems with grace. For some years, we have been awkwardly changing the words when Gates of Repentance refers to God as “He.” As with Mishkan T’filah, that problem has been solved in ways that are never noticeable.

The most important words on the High Holy Days are Avinu Malkeinu, previously translated, “Our Father, our King.” The solution in Mishkan HaNefesh is a thing of beauty: “Avinu Malkeinu, Sh’ma Koleinu, Avinu Malkeinu – Almighty and Merciful – hear our voice.” “Almighty and Merciful” is evocative alliteration, reflecting the opening “a” and “m” sounds of Avinu Malkeinu. More significant, the meaning is conveyed, even if not literally. We call upon Malkeinu, our Sovereign, to acknowledge God’s power to judge us when we have sinned. We call upon Avinu, our loving heavenly Parent, asking the Holy One to be merciful when we have gone astray.

Most creative is the placement of the shofar ritual. In Orthodox synagogues, the shofar is sounded during the mussaf service. Mussaf means “additional,” and it refers to a repetition of prayers, duplication eliminated by our Reform founders. Reform prayer books placed the shofar after the Haftarah reading, since traditional mussaf follows the Torah service. The shofar ritual has three parts – the first, emphasizing God’s sovereignty; the second, asking God to forgive us by recalling the merit of our ancestors; and the third, pointing toward amessianic, future. When the entire shofar ritual is compressed into one part of the service, whether in mussaf or after the Haftarah, each part loses its significance. Mishkan HaNefesh liberates us both from a tradition that is no longer meaningful to us and a decision of our 19th century Reform founders. We now separate the three sections, giving each its own special place in the service.

One is silver and the other’s gold. Mishkan HaNefesh enables us to make a new friend while keeping the old. It preserves our birthright, the old friends that are our Jewish tradition and our Reform heritage, with prayers from the ancient and medieval High Holy Day machzor and words from Union Prayer Book. It provides new poetry, a new friend, inviting our spirits to soar. Mishkan HaNefesh is art in our hands. The look and the feel of these gold and silver volumes are classic wonders, worthy to be cherished for generations, even in a future when these are the beloved old books on the shelf from a previous era.

We have received a magnificent gift, from our editors and from our Conference. Let our hearts, full of gratitude, find precious gems in the silver and in the gold.

Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Rabbi Block chairs the CCAR Resolutions Committee.

Learn more about Mishkan HaNefesh.

Categories
Reform Judaism

Selling Judaism

For a long time, the perception has been that marketing and Judaism are like oil and water — they just don’t mix.  Active outreach was seen as seedy at best and, at worst, as a violation of our value not to proselytize. Now, necessity has forced us to leap over that intellectual hurdle. If people aren’t coming to us, we must go to them. The question for our day is not if to market, it’s how to market.

In seminary I read an article that stayed with me. It was a list of all of the things rabbis should not be. Don’t be a therapist. Don’t be a maintenance professional. Don’t be a CEO. Don’t be a marketer. Well, I’ve acted in all of these roles at times and I think the reality is that those of us who are passionately driven to pursue the perpetuation of our congregations must improve at all of these skills for ourselves and our professional staffs. So here we go, here are some things I’ve learned (and actually grown to love) along the way about marketing Judaism.

Clip art is not art

These cut-and-paste cartoons are inexpensive and fast. When potential participants see images that were grabbed from online without much thought, they see just that — a rushed, under-resourced experience.  An image says it all: the lack of connection with our target audience and the lack of resources (or knowledge) to hire a marketer.  When we use clip art or other sub-professional tools, we weaken our brand and diminish the seriousness and depth of our offerings. Cheap marketing suggests cheap content.

Social media requires skill and strategy

In 2011 I was asked to increase the level of millennial participation at Shabbat services at my synagogue.  I used social media but did not understand the mechanism behind the machine. After working in depth on the content and structure of the program, I got a crash course in social media. The sites themselves often teach you how.  If you can afford to consult with a marketing professional, even better. Now we have 200+ millennials at our services on the regular. Thank you Jewish marketing!

Animation is not for children only

I was an animation snob. I thought that cartoons were for kids. In fact, I had become so sensitized to the kitschy images that the Jewish non-for-profit world seems to love, I bristled when a colleague suggested an animated “explainer video” for our new at-home religious school program. This was supposed to be a serious offering. A high-level, in depth attempt at improving Jewish education. It was a project I had thought about, researched, imagined, designed, and focus-grouped for months. Could a cartoon convey all of that to our community? Check it out for yourself, what do you think?

Rabbis put so much effort into our sermons, as we should. But how can we put countless hours into our sermons and only a moment into getting people to hear what we have to say? The word is powerful and always will be, but marketing is one word that we cannot afford to see as dirty. It is necessary and must be embraced. Those of us with a sense of vision should ensure that our marketing matches our message.

Rabbi Diana Fersko serves Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City.

 

Categories
News Reform Judaism Torah

Tisha B’Av: Modern Destruction

As I write this, Jews around the world are preparing to commemorate Tisha B’Av. On Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed not once, but twice: first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and again by the Romans in the year 70 CE.

Tisha B’Av is a day of communal mourning. It is similar to Yom Kippur in its observance – Jews fast during Tisha B’Av and refrain from doing anything enjoyable. Since the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, Tisha B’Av also commemorates the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, numerous pogroms, and other tragic events that have befallen upon our people.

Of course, it is quite doubtful that each of these events transpired on the actual 9th of Av. But by placing our communal tragedies and misfortunes onto this one date, we have the chance to mourn together. gives us a chance to heal together. During my first year in Israel at HUC-JIR (1999), Paul Liptz suggested that the 9th of Av becomes a spiritual bucket for our misfortunes in order for us to get on with our lives the other 364 days a year.

During the recent months, there have been many days of mourning. In many ways, today is Tisha B’Av. Our world seems to be rampant with racial tension, political discord and senseless violence and death.

A few weeks ago, over 80 people were mowed down by a truck driver in Nice, France. In our communities, each of us have mourned deaths in Turkey, Dallas, Brussels, Israel, Baghdad, Orlando, Baton Rouge… the temple is getting destroyed again, and again.

On Tisha B’Av, as we mourn the destruction of the temple, we read from the book of Lamentations:

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

The very name of this book, Lamentations, reminds us that we must learn how to lament – how to mourn. Too often in our communities, mourning turns into anger or blame. Instead of mourning the loss of a child, some blame parents. Instead of crying at the loss of life due to gun violence, many (myself included) turn to Facebook and act as “armchair lobbyist.” But Lamentations teaches us differently: Instead of proposing solutions, or laying blame, the most appropriate response to tragedy is to be together to bear witness, to mourn, to lament.

Just before its conclusion, Lamentations offers us a bit of hope:

Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old.

This reminds us that we are never so far astray as to remove all manner of hope. But the onus is not upon God to restore us. The responsibility is on ourselves.

Generations after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, our rabbis taught us that the reason for the destruction of the Temple was Sinat Ha’Am – the hatred amongst people.

We still have not learned the lesson. Sinat Ha’am is very easy to find these days. When we are able put an end to this senseless hate, we will be renewed as in days of old. Yes, the onus is indeed on us. Until then, God laments and mourns alongside of us.

2000 years ago, our 2nd Temple was destroyed. I continue to pray for the day within our lifetimes that our communities do not add even more tragic events to the commemoration of Tisha B’av.

Rabbi Eric Linder serves Congregation Children of Israel in Athens, Georgia. 

Categories
Reform Judaism

Reclaiming Tisha B’Av

If Pesach is the Jewish holiday most celebrated by American Jews, Tisha B’Av is the most second-guessed. Modern Jews don’t know quite what to do with it. Most Jews and probably all Reform Jews do not yearn for the Temple to be rebuilt or for the priesthood to be restored. We are followers of Rabbinic Judaism, not the Israelite sacrificial cult. So the question naturally arises: Why mourn what we don’t miss?

 

One early American Reform leader, Rabbi David Einhorn, went so far as to make Tisha B’Av a happy celebration in his siddur, Olat Tamid (1896):

“The one Temple in Jerusalem sank into the dust, in order that countless temples might arise to Thy honor and glory all over the wide surface of the globe… The true and real sanctuary, They imperishable testimony, remained ours, untouched and undimmed… In this our hope, this day of mourning and of fasting hath, according to the word of Thy prophet, been turned into a solemn day of rejoicing in view of the glorious destiny of Thy law and our high messianic mission which had its beginning with the historic events which we recall today” (Olat Tamid, Rabbi David Einhorn, trans. Emil Hirsch, S. Ettlinger: 1896, Chicago, pp. 144-145).

This transformation of a day of ancient mourning into a modern universalistic festival spoke to the classical Reform principle of being a light to the nations by spreading ethical monotheism to the world. The Diaspora, made possible by the Temple’s destruction, enabled our noble mission.

Notably, Einhorn’s liturgical innovation predated both the modern state of Israel and the Reform Movement’s support of Zionism. Einhorn’s solution to the Tisha B’Av question does not work for us today because it lacks balance and because the Jewish world has changed dramatically.

A fitting Tisha B’Av rite for the postmodern Jew should embrace the themes of loss, destruction, and weakness while also acknowledging the unprecedented prosperity and security of most Jews today. There is haunting beauty and spiritual richness in sitting on the floor in a dimly lit sanctuary, hearing the cantor chant Eichah. Not to mention that the themes of destruction and exile resonate today in so many places around the world. Tisha B’Av can be an opportunity to cultivate our capacity to care. (As I write this, a refugee team is competing in the Rio Olympics. Look no further than those champions to learn about exile and resilience.)

A balanced Tisha B’Av would include mention of our people’s triumphs as well. We should emphasize what makes the Jewish reality today so different than in 586 BCE (the Babylonian exile) and 70 CE (the Roman destruction). The state of Israel exists as an economic and military powerhouse, and the American Jewish community is more prosperous than ever. Neither is without its challenges, but our crises pale in comparison to our ancient forebears’. Let us feel gratitude for our blessings even as we pledge vigilance in the face of our challenges.

If nothing else, Tisha B’Av is a chance to retell part of our people’s story. The power of storytelling creates a sense of belonging and shared purpose, and even a sense of responsibility to carry on the story. Psychologists who study family storytelling have determined that the most powerful family narrative type is the “oscillating” narrative: We had struggles but we overcame them together. So many of our historical holidays touch that theme. Tisha B’Av is often a missed opportunity to retell part of that story – the ups and downs and everything in between. With some intentional planning and thoughtful implementation, we can honor Tisha B’Av’s origin and make it matter again to the Jews of today.

Rabbi David Segal serves Aspen Jewish Congregation in Aspen, Colorado. 

Categories
Reform Judaism Technology Torah

Na’Aseh V’Nishma: Podcasting the Aural Torah

In an age of video and universal sensory stimulation, podcasts are a strange niche. They require us to only listen, and as the success of so many of them has shown, there is an audience that wants to only listen. One of the greatest images of the Golden Age of America is the family gathering around the radio to listen – to the news, to the Lone Ranger, maybe even to a surprisingly realistic broadcast of War of the Worlds, with which Orson Welles displayed the true power of the spoken word, sending the population who was unaware of the fiction of the radioplay into a frantic tizzy at the news that aliens had invaded. Listening, as everyone with even the slightest understanding of Judaism knows, is one of the key components of our tradition. “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad,” “Listen, Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.”  “We will do, and we will listen,” said the Israelites in acceptance of God’s covenant in Exodus 27:4, effectively founding Judaism.

It is therefore unsurprising that so many people most renowned for their podcasts are Jews: Sarah Koenig of Serial, Robert Krulwich of Radiolab, and the seemingly omnipresent Ira Glass of This American Life, just to name a few. This connection was not lost on us when we set out to make what has become Nü Rabbi, but it certainly added to our confusion as to why (at the time) there were no Progressive Jewish podcasts with similar structure. So, we set out to make one.

Initially, we thought we’d interview the rabbinic luminaries of our Reform world about hard-hitting topics. And then we tried to book those interviews. Needless to say it didn’t work out so well. But while trying to practice our interview and microphone skills on our classmates, we discovered something all the more precious: The voices and opinions of the up-and-coming rabbinical and cantorial students at our school. And thus was born Nü Rabbi – a play on “New Rabbi” and the oft-heard phrase “Nu, Rebbe?” when a particularly insistent question is asked of a Rabbi. In effect, what we have ended up creating is the beginning of a Mishna for our day and age. The Tannaim are ourselves and our classmates – discussing, windingly and in many different manners, some of the most pressing issues of our day. Our first issue was, just like in the Mishna, prayer.

Mahu t’filah?”– what is prayer– we asked ourselves and our colleagues, and the beautiful Torah spilled forth. But this was only the beginning of our journey. We then had to learn the editing software, to commission music and art, to figure out how to make it all flow together into something imminently listenable. As of now, we think we did a pretty good job. Four of our classmates (Stephanie Crawley, Dan Slipakoff, Harriet Dunkerley, and Samantha Frank) and a recent ordinee of JTS (Rabbi Jessica Minnen) all contributed the Torah of their hearts, and the combined product, the stitching together of all of them with the help of the connecting thread of Quincy Ledbetter’s wonderful music, is a rich aural page of mishna. Listen for yourself, and let us know what you think!

 

Andy Kahn and Josh Mikutis are both rabbinical students (’18) at HUC-JIR in New York, and are both three-time recipients of the Be Wise Grant in Jewish Entrepreneurship. This coming year, Andy will be the organizing rabbinic intern at East End Temple, and Josh will be working at the 92nd Street Y.

Categories
Reform Judaism Social Justice

Beyond Colorful Socks and a New Outfit

“I like Rabbi Prosnit’s colorful socks,” said a congregant during last week’s synagogue program. This comment was a response to one of our panelist’s statements that whenever she wears the color pink or has a new outfit, a congregant usually remarks on her clothing, yet rarely do her male colleagues receive comments about their attire. She is absolutely right. Rarely does anyone say anything about my ties, shoes, or sweaters, though occasionally, I do get comments about my colorful socks.

Last week, our congregation organized a program titled The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate in anticipation of the release of the new book with the same title from the CCAR Press. We were privileged to welcome co-editor of the book, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein-Schorr, who facilitated a dialogue with three rabbis from our Temple community, Rabbis Ellen Lewis, Mary Zamore, and Sarah Smiley. The four rabbis took part in a candid conversation, sharing reflections about their education at HUC-JIR, the challenges they have faced as leaders of congregations, and the continued work that synagogues and our Movement need to undertake for women rabbis.

During the conversation, I discovered that the language on my smicha is different than my female colleagues. (Rabbi Mary Zamore has written an article about this in the forthcoming book.) My appreciation deepened for my Temple Emanu-El predecessors’ hard work to create a strong family leave policy at our congregation. I became more aware of the uncomfortable, funny, and challenging conversations that my colleagues have, and continue to have, because of their gender.

Yet, the biggest takeaway for me was the importance of this conversation for our congregants. For many in attendance, particularly our younger Temple members, they never knew the struggle that women rabbis had to go through to establish themselves in their careers. It was an eye-opening conversation as well as an opportunity for self-reflection for our congregants on how they may treat their rabbis differently depending on their gender. People were so drawn in by the stories from our rabbis that they did not want to leave.

I am extremely excited for the release of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate and look forward to using the book in our adult education, confirmation, and b’nai mitzvah programs. This book will be a great tool to share the legacy and history of our first women rabbis and also a way to spark conversations with our congregants. I hope that our discussions will transcend colorful socks and a new outfit and will help to create a rabbinate that is fair and equitable for all.

Rabbi Ethan Prosnit serves Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, NJ.

To pre-order your copy of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate visit our website.