Categories
High Holy Days Prayer spirituality

Our Avodah (Work) during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The CCAR Committee for Worship and Practice had dedicated its work for 2019–2020 to the question: What are the spiritual practices and needs of Reform Jews—both non-ordained and ordained? We began meeting and working last fall and winter—and then the coronavirus pandemic happened.

And so, after taking a short break to adjust to an altered reality, we dedicated two of our meetings to the questions: What is the meaning of our avodah in the year of the pandemic? and What is our avodah especially during the High Holy Day season this year? 

We learned that what we as rabbis are asked to do is similar to the work of translation: We need to go back to our core theologies, spiritual practices, communal commitments, and ethical callings—and then we have to “translate” those into a new language of Zoom, Facetime, Vimeo, and Google Meet. As Reform rabbis, we are intimately familiar with the practice of translation. It is one of the first skills we practice in rabbinical school, and it forms the basis of our work after ordination: translating the wisdom of our tradition, originating in languages and cultural frameworks vastly different from our own, into an idiom that our communities can understand and appreciate. In this way, we help Torah to adapt itself to every generation.  

As we begin to prepare for the High Holy Days this year, with many of us learning an entirely new language, we found it helpful to be guided by questions—questions we want to share with you, our colleagues, along with some preliminary answers (far from being exhaustive!): 

Core Theologies, Spiritual Practices, Communal Commitments, and Ethical Callings: What Remains the Same?

  • We as clergy still model spirituality and spiritual practices.
  • Pre-existing relationships matter. It is much easier to maintain pre-existing relationships, than create new ones.
  • While some people enjoy active participation, others still simply join to watch.

Name What Hurts: Which Changes May Be Painful?

  • There is an immense pressure on clergy to learn many new skills, especially technical ones, in a short time. 
  • Virtual communities in a time of social distancing collapse the boundaries between our private and our synagogue lives.
  • Virtual communities sometimes encourage passivity, we “show” rather than “share.” 

Lean into the New: Which Changes Might Be Inspiring and Insightful?

  • The visual components of prayer become center piece. 
  • One-on-one prayer, counseling, and meetings allow for a new intimacy. 
  • Virtual communities allow us to demonstrate our vulnerability and imperfection, and this promotes connection. 

Comfort: What Can We Learn from the New Centrality of Our (Jewish) Homes? 

  • Private, personal, and home rituals and prayers gain new importance in the lives of Reform Jews. 
  • Showing our homes on screen also gives us an opportunity to share the sacredness of our own homes—this can be a form of hidur mitzvah.  
  • Leading our services from home allows for a more improvised and spontaneous experience of prayer. 

Familiarity: What Can We Learn from the New Centrality of Jewish Time? 

  • Jewish time has taken on a renewed meaning. The cycle of the holidays, the Omer, and above all Shabbat, help us differentiate between days that seem otherwise indistinguishable

While it might not have been a big surprise, it is still worthy for us to reiterate: our work is sacred work, and it has always been “mediated”—that means, it has always been communicated through books, phones, videos, touch, smiles, words, livestreams, and melodies. Our core theologies, spiritual practices, communal commitments, and ethical callings remain the same also in the time of the coronavirus.

However, during a time of prolonged distancing and a potentially altered reality to return to, we are asked to do the work of “translation”: to ask, once again, how we can make sure that our Torah may enrich, comfort, and engage our people. This is the work we do.  

Categories
Conversion General CCAR Healing Rituals spirituality

Handwashing Ceremony for Online/ Virtual Conversion

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and social distancing remains in effect here in New York City, we are still faced with many rituals we cannot complete in person. One of these rituals is the Beit Din/Immersion process for our conversion students, which we usually would convene at the mikvah. Given that our community had a number of students who were ready to complete their conversion studies, but no solid estimate as to when we could safely return to the mikvah, we wanted to give these students an option to ritualize their conversions virtually. (It should be noted that all of our students will have the opportunity to go to mikvah in the future, should they wish.)  

Clearly, we could conduct the Beit Din via Zoom, but what ritual could we employ to mark the moment?  I had two basic criteria: 1.) The ritual must be comfortably completed while in quarantine. 2) It must incorporate water, thereby echoing the mikvah though not necessarily approximating it. As such, I created this handwashing ceremony to accompany the virtual Beit Din. The bonus with this ritual is that the handwashing blessing can be woven quite seamlessly into these students’ lives going forward. Please feel free to use this ritual and/or adapt as you see fit.

Items needed: 
-Ritual Hand Washer or Pitcher or Cup
-Towel

  1. Take a moment to consider this water ritual. Think about the waters that have flowed through the history of Judaism, and continue to flow through us still. God created the earth by separating the waters. God remade the Earth with the flood generations later in the time of Noah. God redeemed the Israelites from slavery and ushered them to freedom, as they moved through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs often met at the well.  Relationships were initiated by the water, marriages made in its reflection. Isaac dug wells to connect to the memory of his father.  Jacob discovered his inner strength at the well.  It is said that Miriam was accompanied by a well of water, and it is said that water sustained our people through those long days and nights in the desert.  Water renews. Water revives. Water nourishes the body, mind and soul. Today, this water bridges past to present, as you immerse your hands in its flowing stream.

  2. Take the ritual washer in your hands. Think about its significance for this moment, and then reflect on a time when you might use it again.  How are the two connected? How will this washer tell part of your unique Jewish story? 

  3. Fill up the washer with water. (Ensure you have a clean towel nearby).

  4. Close your eyes. Breathe in this moment. Honor the work, the time, and the energy you have expended to reach this milestone. Honor your agency in this process. Recall your journey. Let the memories flood your mind as you think of those who have joined you on this path, those who have supported you, and those who have served as your guides.  Acknowledge them in your heart.

  5. Now, as you prepare to wash, recite these words from Ruth (Ruth 1:16, 17): “Ruth said: Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you.”

  6. Lift up the washer in your right hand.  As you pour from right to left, recite these words (from Ruth) with each pour:

    -Pour 1: “For wherever you go”
    -Pour 2: “I will go”
    -Pour 3: “Wherever you lodge, I will lodge.”

  7. Now move the washer to your left hand.  As you pour from left to right, recite these words (from Ruth) with each pour:

    -Pour 1: “Your people will be my people”
    -Pour 2: “And your God my God.”
    -Pour 3: “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”

  8. With your hands wet, lift them up and allow the water to drip freely from them. (Our prayer is called “n’tilat yadayim” for the lifting of the hands). One way our handwashing prayer has been interpreted over the years is through the lens of action; we wash to remind ourselves that the work of our hands is essential to the work of repairing the world. Our hands have the power to do good. Our hands have the power to build bridges. Our hands have the power to help and heal and comfort.   

    With your hands raised before you:

    -Reflect on the power and capability of your own hands.  
    -Reflect on your evolving identity and how your Jewish identity will impact the work of your hands.  
    -Reflect on the tradition and heritage you now officially carry.  How will your acceptance of Judaism inform your choices, your priorities, and your perspective?


  9. Recite N’tilat Yadayim:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ,
מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,
אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו
וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִם.

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al n’tilat yadayim.

Blessed are Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.

10.  Dry your hands and rejoice in the moment!

Together we will offer the Shehecheyanu, our prayer of gratitude for having reached this milestone:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ,
מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ
וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.



Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin
 is a rabbi and mother of four. Sara currently serves Temple Emanu-El in New York City as an associate rabbi. She is a contributor to
 The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate (CCAR Press). 

Categories
Poetry spirituality

Rabbi Karyn Kedar on Faith, Courage, and Wisdom

Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is a poet, spiritual counselor, inspirational speaker, and author of CCAR Press publications Omer: A Counting, published in 2014, and Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry, and Mindfulness Practice, published in 2019. In this challenging time, she shares her poetic reflections on faith, courage, wisdom, and resiliency.


“Leave the door open a bit,” I said. 

He looked at me as if he heard only soft sounds, vowels and breath. The sun seemed stuck on its way down beyond the horizon. There was an early evening afterglow. “Don’t close the door,” I said, “I like the sound of the rain, and the color of the trees and the thickness in the air. Just leave it ajar.” 

The rain was falling fast and constant, straight down. It made the sound of the nighttime pitter patter that comforts the restless soul which is unwilling to settle down. The trees were bright green, defiant, and proud to line the lane in beauty.

It had been raining all day. I followed the loud alerts from my phone and television warning of flooding. The Des Plaines River was already swollen, each day certain trails were impassable. This was going to make things worse. For sure. 

Why does every word sound like a metaphor, every thought symbolic for a greater truth?
The river escapes beyond the banks, 
the path impassable. 
The sound of rain, 
the bloom of trees. 
The beauty. 
The out of control nature of things. 

This morning I got dressed. White leggings and flats with a bow that no one will see. I put on a moss green tunic I bought several years ago in Jerusalem from a young woman. She was skinny and artsy with a tattoo and a nose ring and curls that had a mind of their own falling this way and that way. Her tattoo said “Jerusalem” in Hebrew. She told me how much she loved the city and though all her twenty-something friends were all moving to Tel Aviv, she would never would leave this beautiful city and how amazing this tunic looks on me and I could wear it this way or that. But I never do. I barely wear it at all. 

This morning the rain has stopped but I am still speaking in vowels which must be why Ezra keeps saying, huh or what? The fog settles and the morning abounds with dampness and all paths are flooded. 

The one thing I know for sure. Living takes faith, courage, and wisdom. 

I know this with every fiber and sinew of my body. I know this with my broken heart and with my unbreakable spirit and with every vowel-ladened breath. FCW is the great truth of the resilient soul, it always has been, and it always will be. 

We are living a ricochet of emotions: a wild bouncing between fear and hope and denial and confusion and peace and blessing and guilt and anger and secret joy and despair and existential astonishment. And mortality. And impermanence. And the perpetual question of the soul that asks why, and how, and huh?!

So,

FCW. 
Living takes Faith. Courage. Wisdom.
Because that is the one thing I know for sure.


Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Illinois.

Categories
Economy omer Shavuot Social Justice spirituality

Economic Stability: An Ageless Quest

Last fall, my husband and I ordered a new sukkah decoration straight from Israel. The package arrived with a free magnet, imprinted with the image of a woman holding an umbrella, walking in the rain. The magnet had one word on it. Sasson (“joy”). It took me a moment, and then I realized my cultural gap. Living in New Jersey, joy is not the word I associate with rain. However, in Israel and other arid climates, rain is pure joy, because it is desperately needed. 

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, includes a section on the holidays, a calendar chiefly driven by the agrarian cycle. Theses verses are relevant to modern Jews because, thousands of years later, we still celebrate the holidays, albeit with layers of development around our rituals, but at the core, these holidays are still the same. But to be honest, the descriptions of the biblical holiday sacrifices, meal and fruit offerings, and animal sacrifices, do not resonate when compared to my modern observance of Judaism. 

For example, the parashah describes the counting of the Omer, the annual schlepping of grain offerings for seven weeks. This daily offering of grain bridged the barley harvest of Passover to the wheat harvest of Shavuot. But how do I count the Omer today? Do I schlep a bundle of barely to the Temple, to be offered, in recognition of God as source of all? Not at all! Today, an app on my phone sends me a reminder every night at sundown, and I count the Omer, with words. Done. 

Given the vast differences between now and biblical times, it is easy to forget how scary the harvest cycle would have been for our ancestors. In the winter they waited nervously to see if there would be enough rain to sustain the growth of their crops to feed their family and their animals. Then after the rains of winter, once the crops were planted, it was a waiting game. Would they be able to harvest the crops before something bad happened? The possibilities for failure were endless: too much heat, not enough water, locusts, or some other plague. It was a precarious time.

As the modern plague of COVID-19 unfolds, we are foremost concerned about life and health. However, we also hold our breaths as we watch the world’s economy spin out of control. Therefore, this year, while we count the Omer, we also count our balances in checking accounts and retirement funds. We wait to see if jobs will continue or salaries will be cut. And we deeply understand the fears of our ancestors, who prayed to be sustained by their storerooms. The biblical fears are near to us as ever. Our holidays, with their deep agrarian roots, are ultimately about the basic human need, shared by every generation, to have enough to sustain us, even when times are tough.

This desire for economic stability and sustenance is voiced in the following passage, added in some communities historically, at the conclusion of the daily morning service.

First, the community would read the passage from Exodus 16 about the manna and then add something like this example: 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתַּזְמִין פַּרְנָסָה לְכָל עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפַרְנָסָתִי וּפַרְנָסַת אַנְשֵׁי בֵיתִי בִּכְלָלָם, בְּנַחַת וְלֹא בְּצַעַר, בְּכָבוֹד וְלֹא בְּבִזּוּי, בְּהֶתֵּר וְלֹא בְּאִסּוּר, כְּדֵי שֶׁנּוּכַל לַעֲבוֹד עֲבוֹדָתֶךָ וְלִלְמוֹד תּוֹרָתֶךָ כְּמוֹ שֶׁזַּנְתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ מָן בַּמִּדְבָּר בְּאֶרֶץ צִיָּה וַעֲרָבָה:

May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to provide sustenance for all Your people, the House of Israel, and sustenance for me and all the members of my household, with pleasantness and not with suffering, with honor and not with degradation, through permissible activities and not forbidden activities, so that we will be able to serve You and to learn Your Torah, just as you sustained our ancestors in the wilderness with Manna in a dry and desert land.[1]

Our Torah portion and this liturgical addition are examples of the human desire for economic stability. Our tradition does not suggest we merely pray for sustenance, but rather balance our longing for stability with financial literacy, community resources, educational opportunities, and generosity to others through tzedakah

Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Elders, 3:17 teaches these famous words from Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya: 

אִם אֵין קֶמַח, אֵין תּוֹרָה. אִם אֵין תּוֹרָה, אֵין קֶמַח.

If there is no flour [meaning ability to earn money], there is no Torah. If there is no Torah, there is no flour [ability to earn money]. This is frequently interpreted as: the religious, spiritual, and ethical teachings of Torah must co-dwell with the mundane matters of earning money and sustaining ourselves. One realm should not exist without the other. 

The line in Pirkei Avot just before the flour/Torah teaching adds: 

אִם אֵין בִּינָה, אֵין דַּעַת. אִם אֵין דַּעַת, אֵין בִּינָה.

If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no knowledge.

Perhaps, at this time of economic instability, we can read these lines together to understand that economic stability must be built on the best of Jewish values and the best of secular financial knowledge. 

May you and your loved ones know health and financial security, Torah and generosity, and therefore know sasson, (“joy”).

[1] Robert Scheinberg, “Money and Transaction in Jewish Liturgy and Rituals” in Mary Zamore, ed., The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic (New York: CCAR Press, 2019), 335.


Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the editor of and a contributing author to two acclaimed CCAR Press Challenge and Change anthologies, The Sacred Exchange: Creating A Jewish Money Ethic (2019) and The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic (2011). The Sacred Table was designated a finalist by the National Jewish Book Awards. She is also the Executive Director of Women’s Rabbinic Network.

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
Healing Holiday Passover Pesach spirituality

When Is Enough, Enough Already?

With Pesach just concluded, I am still contemplating part of the seder. In my family, like many others, we add to the singing of Dayeinu, the wonderful custom of smiting one another with scallion. “Dai, dai yeinu, dai, dai yeinu…,” we sing joyfully. “It would have been enough. Enough, enough, enough. To bring us out of Egypt, to give us Shabbat, to give us Torah—enough, enough.

But when examining the stages of Dayeinu, I wonder, would each of these moments really have been enough? To have been brought out of Egypt, but left at the Red Sea? To have been brought into the desert, but with no manna? To have been brought to Sinai, but with no Torah? Would that really have been enough?

And so, too, now we wonder. In each of our lives, we have moments when it is simply not “enough.” To have been given chemo for our cancer, but given —lo dai.  To have cutting-edge treatment for my depression, without feeling better—lo dai. To work towards a vaccine, without lowering the rate of transmission of COVID-19—lo dai.  

And, when, at the time of Elijah’s cup, we remember and recite the tradition of “pour out Your wrath,” when we note that “in every generation, tyrants have risen up to oppress us,” we might think—yes, God, enough. Perhaps more than enough. In this time of coronavirus, we may think, “Yes, oh God, enough already.” Surely we could learn to feel God’s presence, God’s redemption in our lives without yet another plague or persecution.  

I led two Zoom seders this year. Ordinarily I lead one, and my family is invited out to the other. Not only was I exhausted afterwards, but it was hard to tell how they went. As opposed to “in-person” sedarim, online ones are murky. Were other people singing along? Was there joy in being together? Did we lift up our voices together in Hallel, and were we silly as a group in the songs at the end? Or were people just tired, bored, waiting for the end?

If I felt worn out after two nights of leading family and friends, I can only imagine both the over-functioning of my pulpit and other working colleagues, and their need for positive feedback, to know that their efforts are hitting the mark often enough. That they are dai.  

And so it occurs to me that perhaps this is what Dayeinu means to us this year. Not that we say to God, “What You have done for us is enough,” but rather, “Dayei-nu” “we are dai, we are enough.” If our seder leadership brought our families to Sinai (without a major Torah revelation), well, then, we are dai! We are good enough, and we did enough. If our remote visits to the sick and with mourners comforts them, but not as good as a hug would have, אנחנו די, we are enough! And if we are leading remote services on Shabbat, then, remember—we, too, need a Shabbat, a rest—because we have needs, because we are enough, not God.

In this extraordinary time of uncertainty and fear, of rabbis rising to do remarkable work, let our Pesach hymn carry us forth. God, give us enough to work with, when we affirm that we, ourselves, are enough. And that is the blessing of gratitude and limits, of thanksgiving and self-acceptance, wrapped into a song of joy and scallions.


Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado. She may be reached at ravsjcohen@gmail.com.

Categories
spirituality Technology

Klei Kodesh: New and Old Tools to Create Holiness

The extraordinary disruption and stress of facing the coronavirus has impacted my rabbinate in ways unlike almost anything I have experienced in over twenty years in the pulpit.  

However, in a sense, the work and the primary goal is still the same: to create meaningful and sacred moments for the members of my congregation and for the broader community.  

I have found myself reflecting on the tools I am using over the last several weeks. Each day, I learn more and refine my skills. Each day, I encounter both satisfaction and frustration in these efforts. 

I have been using computers ever since my ordination in 1999, however the depth and breadth of that activity has grown exponentially over the years.  It has become routine, for example, to communicate with people through email, and to post information on our temple website.  

In these last weeks, email has become even more critical, with the absence of in-person activities. I find myself asking a question, though, each time I start to write an email: Does this need to be a phone call or video chat?  Whereas before emails were a valuable tool that gave me flexibility and efficiency, I find that now there is a hunger to connect in the most direct way possible. I am making many more phone calls than I have in a number of years.  

Part of my Shabbat practice for many years has been setting aside my cell phone and computer. This wasn’t so much about my understanding of the halachah of using electricity as it was about my need to create a certain restful and inward focused space on Shabbat. Simply put, I needed to unplug.

Now, my cell phone has become a critical part of offering robust and meaningful Shabbat study and worship. My colleagues and I are leading from three different locations. On Pesach morning, we offered a service jointly with our sister congregation, and we led from six different locations!  

My cell is now a tool that helps me create holiness. When we text one another, it is a powerful way of coordinating and ensuring that the prayer experience happens the way we want.  

I never thought of tech support as a sacred task, but when I use my cell to text with a congregant to help them log on to a service or study session, it is a powerful tool in the sacred work of engagement. 

Using Zoom and other platforms for meetings, worship, and pastoral counseling is a new and challenging activity. Here too, rather than set aside technology, it enables me to forge connections that are so critically important right now. The computer becomes a tool that can alleviate the isolation felt by everyone, especially those who are living alone.  

But, of course, what happens when the internet connection fails in the middle of a service? Or when screen sharing doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to?  

In the thousands of services I’ve led, I’ve never had an experience with a conventional service where my fellow service leader disappeared right in the middle of the service! Or where all of a sudden the prayerbooks vanished from everyone’s hands at once!

When these things happen, I try and remind myself that these are just unique parts of using these tools to create holy experiences. The holy experience comes when we open ourselves up to those who are in need, when we extend ourselves to those who are facing challenging circumstances. Each time we use these tools, we get better and better, and things run much more according to plan.

It is a reminder to me that “smooth” is not the ultimate goal. In a conventional setting, we may finish the service or class and be pleased that everything went smoothly. We started on time, hit all our cues, and everything unfolded the way we hoped.  

Now, in this new reality, I try and focus on something bigger. There may be pauses or glitches or even the need to change something on the fly. But, the bottom line is that these new technologies, these new klei Kodesh, enable us to honor Shabbat, to retain Torah study as a nourishing part of the community, and to bring people together, even when we are physically apart.

For most of my rabbinate, I have done the Torah reading by taking the scroll from the ark with the traditional ritual, opening to the weekly portion, and reading and translating the prescribed chapter. I have done so out of my fervent belief that my role was to transmit the Torah in a meaningful and engaging way. While musical and comfortable with the cantillation, I rarely chose to chant through the portion.

With the shift to Zoom services, I quickly realized that one of the elements of the service that would be hardest to replicate would be the Torah reading ritual. With everyone in their own homes, we didn’t have an ark or a scroll.  There would be no hakafah and no hagbahah.  

I wanted to provide a sense of continuity and connection to tradition. And so, what I’ve done each week is put up on the screen a picture of the inside of the scroll for everyone to see, and I’ve chanted the portion for the congregation for everyone to hear.  

I believe this enables everyone to receive the Torah in a meaningful and engaging way. While they can’t touch and kiss the scroll, every single person is able to see the sacred calligraphy of the Torah. Even while sitting in their homes, we are all able to hear the powerful sound of the Torah, just as it has been heard for so many years.  

So, even in this brand-new world, and with the use of all these technologies, I am finding anchors in the continuing ancient traditions. The blend of old and new is what has always sustained us and is still the case now.  

Many years ago, when I was living in Jerusalem, I was attending Friday night services at a synagogue that was just in the process of building their building. One week, right in the middle of our singing and praying, the electricity went out. We found ourselves sitting in the dark!  

After a momentary pause, we simply continued singing and praying and honoring Shabbat, relishing the tangible sense of connection. We didn’t need anything other than our voices…and one another. It was a transcendent and sacred experience I will always remember.  

We have many tools at our disposal. I celebrate that we are using our phones and computers and so much more to sustain and even deepen our communities during this most challenging time. Let us continue to have the flexibility and openness to learn how to use all of the tools that we can.  

When we see these technologies as tools that help us create sacred experiences and sustain holy connections, we strengthen our communities.  If this moment is indeed part of the beginning of the next era in how the Jewish community functions, we can be part of a bright future. We have all that we need to come through this time stronger and closer than ever before: we are in this together.


Rabbi Stein is the senior rabbi of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, New York and an adjunct faculty member at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He is the outgoing Dues Chair for the CCAR and the Vice Chair of the CCAR Convention Committee.

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.

Categories
CCAR Convention News spirituality

‘Isolation Need Not Mean Loneliness’: President Ron Segal’s CCAR Connect 2020 Opening Remarks

Each year at CCAR Convention, it’s customary for the CCAR President to address the rabbinic membership. However this year, given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCAR was forced to cancel our annual Convention and move the event online. Below is the address that CCAR President Ron Segal gave to the digital gathering of Reform rabbis who gathered online throughout the country in this time of change and need.


The date on which I delivered my first address as CCAR President was April first. April Fools Day; the parashah was Tazria-Metzora. “Could it get any worse?,” I remember thinking. 

And…here we are.

Considering the present reality of our world and the fact that, this year, I have the great privilege of sharing a few comments in front of a desktop monitor, I realize now how unimaginative I was! 

If ever there was a time when Tazria-Metzora was fitting for the time in which we are living, surely it is this year. With the exception, perhaps, of a handful of U.S. Senators, who could possibly have imagined such a reality: a time when every one of us has essentially been isolated from the camp until such point all have been declared clean. Determining how best to lead our communities while also in isolation is surely not something for which most of us were prepared or trained. This is surely unfamiliar turf for all of us.

These past several months and, no doubt, the months still to come are a staggering reminder about the unpredictability of our world. While recognizing that too many of our colleagues have previously experienced tragic manifestations of life’s caprice, we convene today with the knowledge that all of us—no matter where we live, no matter the nature of our rabbinate, regardless of our age or station in life—each and every one of us is confronting the same unfamiliar, anxiety-ridden, fear-inducing, individually isolating, community-rending pandemic.

I don’t know about you, but I will honestly share that, to be a rabbi at this moment feels overwhelming. Even with the forced cancellation of numerous trips, appointments, meetings, and community functions, and a calendar that at first blush might seem more open than it has in years, it feels like we have never been busier. For in addition to the heightened relational and pastoral needs of those we serve, we are also now buried under an enormous list of decisions to be made on how to transition every aspect of our complex roles and organizations into an online, virtual format. Further, trying to sift through and extract helpful guidance from traditional sources and the constant stream of articles, news programs, op-eds, Facebook posts, and non-stop emails has felt like drinking from a firehose. It’s been…a lot friends, has it not?  

Assuming my conversations and interactions with colleagues are representative, I would daresay that many of us might presently describe our inner life as one of pizur hanefeshpossessing a scattered soul understood by some of our sages to be the consequence of having to simultaneously devote one’s attention to too many things for a sustained period of time, resulting in an inner life that feels scattered, out of balance, and far from the spiritual ideal.  

I think about the 250 or so rabbis and IJS alumni whom I join each weekday for a virtual, half-hour guided meditation in the hopes of merely trying to center myself, and I am further convinced that there are countless scattered souls among us.

However, I also believe that colleagues are eager and need more than ever opportunities to address our own feelings of isolation and to regain a sense of internal balance. Whether through meditation, exercise, reading, or any other means, we surely recognize and understand we will be better equipped to lead during this time of uncertainty and physical separation if we can do so with a calmer soul and more equanimous spirit. I found these very sentiments affirmed in the conclusion of a poem written and posted on RavBlog by our colleague Lance Sussman this past week. “We Shall Prevail: A Poem for Unprecedented Times” ends with these words:

“Now is the time to collect our inner selves
and to be strong alone
until the time comes again
when we can be strong together.

Until then
until that day
Let us resolve that we shall prevail.”

And of course, we will prevail, just as rabbis have done throughout history. Each of us will soon come to a point in time during this pandemic and isolated existence when the number of urgent decisions we have to make will diminish, and the course for our respective communities will have been charted, and…we will actually be able to stop, catch our breath, work on unifying our souls that feel so very scattered, and come to understand and internalize what I know we have been saying repeatedly to those in our communities, that “isolation need not mean loneliness.”  

During this period which none of us has ever known, even as we continue to support those in need, I also believe that ‘to prevail’ means we must not allow this unexpected window of time to pass by unappreciated, without discovering anew the simple miracles of daily life too often obscured from sight. Liberated from the grueling routines that have dictated our lives for however many years, might not this moment awaken in us a spirit of renewed curiosity, hopefully greater humility, and an appreciation that, though physically distant, we are in truth “alone together,” convening both individually and collectively at the same time. 

I genuinely believe we need this heightened awareness to confront as a rabbinic community what is increasingly understood to be a watershed moment in our history, when the character and nature of future Jewish communities as well as where and how Jewish communities convene are being defined literally before our very eyes.

Throughout Jewish history, with every disruption in the world, rabbis have reshaped, redefined, and recreated Jewish life and expression to ensure Judaism’s survival and continued relevance. I know I am not the first to suggest that the time has come for us to do so again. For with each Shabbat service we appropriately and necessarily livestream, every adult learning session and Hebrew class we offer online, all of the b’nei mitzvah students we now tutor solely through Skype or in Google Hangout rooms, every committee meeting, board meeting, and convention which we hold via Zoom, even the instances of pastoral outreach to those whom we can no longer reach in person…with all of these monumental efforts that many have been forced to implement for the first time, we have, albeit unintentionally, also helped to dramatically expand accessibility to Jewish life and to ensure Judaism’s relevance more than ever before.

In his column printed in last week’s Forward, our colleague Jeff Salkin astutely noted ‘The coronavirus is transforming Judaism… This is our Yavneh moment, a time when we have] to rethink Jewish life, expression, and service.” We surely recognize that, when this pandemic eventually passes, neither we as individuals, nor our congregations, or agencies, or Hillels, or communities, will be—or can be—the same again.

Though nothing can replicate the spiritual and emotional significance of physically being together in community, or ever replace the efficacy of actually reaching out to hold the hand of someone in need, still, having employed new modalities to connect with and engage people throughout our communities, including those who had previously determined our congregations’ or organizations’ offerings were either too limited or not in their budget, having discovered new and creative ways to respond to the needs of our diverse community, we need to understand and greet this moment with an open-hearted and open-minded spirit, not with a sense of foreboding. This is a defining moment in the life of the Jewish community and the ways in which we as rabbis and Jewish professionals respond now, and how we must continue to respond in the future, are how we will foster appreciation, nurture greater loyalty, and most significantly, ensure our and Judaism’s continued relevance. 

So here we are, members of our CCAR, alone together, “Zooming” in hopefully from some comfortable place, connecting in a manner we did not originally intend and could never have predicted. Unquestionably, many of us are greatly missing the long-anticipated opportunity to reconnect and learn and pray together with one another in Baltimore. However, this moment provides us with another opportunity, to realize the words of parashat Vayakhel read just this week and bring to this virtual Mishkan that we are building together across the miles the sincere and genuine gifts of our hearts. Among those gifts is surely one of gratitude for the members of our Convention Planning Committee (under the leadership of Chair Alex Shuval-Weiner and Vice-Chair Amanda Greene) who have labored for well over a year to plan our in-person gathering. Certainly, gratitude goes as well to our talented CCAR professional leadership for making the courageous decision to convene online and especially to Betsy Torop and the entire CCAR staff, who planned and executed this online convention in two weeks’ time, while also working from their homes.

This moment is a unique opportunity for the CCAR, for unexpectedly, a new window has opened and provided us a glimpse of where—and how—we as a Conference must surely continue to evolve in order to remain accessible and relevant to all of our CCAR colleagues in the future, to all of our CCAR colleagues.

With Pesach a little more than two weeks away and thoughts of virtual seders already in mind, perhaps new inspiration might emerge this year from the theme of liberation—liberation from the rushed, often stressful routines of our lives and communities (at least until a month ago), and a transition to the next still-to-be-defined period in Jewish life.

Having personally had the great honor of working closely with an incredibly dedicated CCAR board and gifted staff, I have great confidence in the CCAR’s ability to help shape and successfully guide us into this new moment, confidence that is significantly emboldened by the fact we are led by Rabbi Hara Person. I could not have asked for a greater privilege than to serve in this capacity as Hara assumed the responsibilities as our Chief Executive. Brilliant, thoughtful, reflective, and strategic, Hara is precisely the right rabbi and leader to help us navigate the next era in the life of our Conference. With her steady hand and our shared spirit of curiosity, trust, and faith in one another, we will emerge from this unprecedented moment, prepared to define anew and write this next chapter together. May it indeed be so.  

Thank you for the sincere privilege and honor of continuing to serve as president of the CCAR.


Rabbi Ron Segal is President of the CCAR and senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, Georgia.