Categories
CCAR Press High Holy Days Prayer Rituals Technology

CCAR Press Author Interview: Rabbi Debra J. Robbins, on ‘Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27’ and the New Companion App

Rabbi Debra J. Robbins of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, shares her thoughts on the process of writing Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year (published in 2019 by CCAR Press) and creating a companion app (just released for Apple and Android).

What inspired you to write Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27?
I did not set out to write a book about Psalm 27. The book emerged over several years from my own practices. I first began reading the psalm daily in Elul, then I began writing about it daily, and then I added time to sit and sing. I kept reading it all the way to Simchat Torah. Eventually, I shared some of my reflections and they resonated with people; I realized my personal practice could be embraced by others. Thanks to those who encouraged me, it became a book.


What was the most challenging part of working on Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27?
There were three things that were challenging in creating Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27. First, it was really hard to work on a book while also working full time at a congregation! Second, because I didn’t set out to write this as a book, figuring out how to organize all the reflections into something coherent and comprehensive was a big challenge. Finally, I think the most difficult aspect of working on this book (or I imagine any book) was feeling confident enough to be vulnerable—to put my words, my ideas, my heart in print for others to see.


Was there something new that you learned while writing the book? Did any of your own practices change?
I have always found that unpacking/studying Torah was meaningful in a small group or with a partner. I discovered, however, that I could also have some powerful insights about my life and the psalm by giving myself time to sit alone with the text and reflect on it, both in writing and in silence.


Do you have advice for readers on how to strengthen their own reflection practices?
For me, ritual really helps build a practice. It can feel awkward at first to sing along to a recording with no one else in the room. It can be hard to keep writing or sitting for a full five minutes. It’s easy to resist taking the time to be forgiving, to remember an insight, or to give thanks. But as it is with good ritual, once we get in a routine, it can become a habit, and then hopefully easier (in some ways), opening up possibilities for great insight and commitment.


How do you recommend that readers use Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27?  
The book itself contains suggestions for how to use it, and there is also a study guide available with source sheets. New this year, and something so exciting, is a smartphone app that will help readers use Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27 even more easily. It has writing prompts and photos for each day, a built-in timer and daily tracker, and individuals can read or listen to the psalm and each of the reflections. It also has amazing music.

Why was the app created?

We created the Psalm 27: Opening Your Heart app in response to requests from many people who have used the book, laypeople and clergy alike, since it was published. People wanted to be able to easily stay on track and have the music readily available. The live sessions we shared showed that they liked having someone lead them in the blessing, hearing the psalm read in different voices, and listening to the Reflection for Focus instead of reading it. I’m grateful to everyone who shared their feedback and encouraged us to develop this twenty-first-century digital tool for spiritual practice.

What makes the Psalm 27: Opening Your Heart app unique?

The app is so special because it has not only the words from my book, but it also includes the voices of talented musicians and cantors who have written music to accompany Psalm 27 and the photographs of friends and family members whose eyes have captured the beauty of Psalm 27 out in the world. The app also has a lot of really cool functions that reflect the values of the book. One example: you can choose between doing the writing segment electronically or, better yet, you can write by hand on paper and then store a photo of your writing. You can choose a preferred sound for your meditation timer, and you can easily give yourself a prompt at the end of the practice so your experience will more easily stay with you all day.

Who helped with the app’s creation?

Rabbi Dan Medwin, CCAR Director of Digital Media, was the mastermind of the app. His combined skills as a rabbi and a technology expert allowed the development team to create something that is truly spiritually engaging in a realm where that is often a significant challenge. We were also fortunate to have some teenage campers test the app this summer, and thank goodness they did. They not only had some great innovations to add but caught a lot of bugs! Thanks are due as well to a generous donor who gave us the resources to make this possible.

How can people best use the app?

I hope people will use the app in a variety of ways. It can be a complement to the book or it can be used on its own. It is super flexible. If someone wants to listen to the various musical settings, that is easily done. If they want to hear the blessing only in English, they can do that too. Or, if someone prefers to listen to either a male or female voice read the psalm in Hebrew or English that’s possible as well. What I hope most is that people will use the app to do the real work of this season, open their hearts, and then be moved to continue that spiritual work into the new year.

To further enhance your practice, check out the free downloadable study guide and the Psalm 27: Opening Your Heart app, now available for Android and iPhone!


Rabbi Debra J. Robbins serves Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas. She is the author of Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, from CCAR Press.

Categories
gender equality

Toward Gender Equity: Tools for Reform Jewish Communities from the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate

A little over three years ago, the CCAR created the CCAR Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate. At that time, an important conversation, long active underneath the surface of the rabbinate, was re-emerging with greater urgency. There was a confluence of things happening at the same time: We had just published The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate; the 2016 election season had generated a great deal of newly public anger about the treatment of women; and women were more willing to share stories and experiences that had been hidden away, sometimes for decades. Given our mission to support rabbis, the time was right to create this Task Force. We are grateful to our colleagues who served on the Task Force.

The work of advancing gender equity certainly didn’t start with this Task Force. There were earlier Task Forces that did help move the needle. Moreover, this is the work that the Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN) has been involved with and has led since its founding. We are very grateful for WRN’s leadership and partnership on gender equity within the rabbinate, and indeed for working on this issue for so long when others within the rabbinate did not value its importance. Without the foundation they created and the way they brought visibility to these issues, and raised awareness, none of this would have been possible. And in addition, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) has been consistently involved in advancing the issue of gender equity more broadly throughout the Reform Movement. More recently, the Reform Pay Equity Initiative, under the leadership of our colleagues, Rabbis Mary Zamore and Marla Feldman, has taken the lead on pay equity and now the issue of parental leave, and we are so grateful for their leadership and vision.

When we initially convened this Task Force, we agreed that it would be a three-year process. We set out to use that time to first assess and study the landscape, so that we would know what the concerns were among our colleagues. We then began a process of creating resources, as well as making recommendations for policy changes. As a result of our work, policies have changed with the Placement and Rabbinic Careers system. Some pieces of this work, like the production of The Clergy Monologues that can be shown in communities as an educational resource, are still in process.

Many critical resources are now complete and available to congregations and Jewish communities, including:

The Task Force section of the CCAR website contains many other useful resources, including sample sermons, text study resources, related articles, research, rituals, and bibliographies.

We are pleased to offer a full set of materials related to Implicit Bias Training for use by search committees hiring rabbis, synagogues, institutions, and organizational boards, as well as for us as rabbis who hire staff. These materials are available as free downloads for your use.

There is a much talk about the efficacy of implicit bias training. We know that the “one and done” method is not particularly effective, nor is training that attempts to rid us of our biases. Instead, what our materials aim to do is make us aware of our biases so that they don’t become obstacles. We all have biases—this is a part of human nature. But when we are aware of them, we can be more intentional about our interactions with others and not allow our choices to be governed by our biases.

We are especially pleased to share one of the outcomes and learnings of the Task Force here with you, a video about implicit bias. This video is meant to be used as a way to begin the conversation about implicit bias and ground people in the work of the training we have created. It can also be used on its own and is a great way to spark important conversations about bias. We invite rabbis and Jewish professionals to use it with your board, your youth groups, or anywhere within your community.

As we began our work, it became more and more clear that ultimately, in order to really achieve success and reach our ultimate goal of creating culture change, we would have to work together with our Reform Movement partners. One of the culminating pieces of our three-year process was the convening of a Reform Movement Gender Equity Summit with representatives from all the different Movement organizations, including URJ, HUC-JIR, WRN, ARJE, ACC, WRJ, NFTY, ECE-RJ, PEP-RJ, and MRJ. Together, our goal was to create shared commitments to advancing gender equity and agreements about accountability. While our focus, as the CCAR, has understandably been about rabbis, there is much work for us to do together on gender equity throughout the Movement as a whole.

This work is also grounded in the broader contexts of inequity. We understand that the conversation around gender equity must be braided into the conversation about diversity and inclusion, and privilege. These conversations cannot be disentangled from questions about race, gender, and sexual identity, and people with different abilities. So too, these conversations cannot be detangled from the context of the #MeToo movement and the disheartening realities of accusations of past sexual misconduct by clergy or leaders within the Reform Jewish community that are the focus of current investigations by the CCAR, HUC-JIR, and URJ at this time. These accusations require serious institutional reckonings, and there is serious communal and spiritual work that must be done in order to heal.

The work of gender equity is a segment of that broader and necessary conversation and work, but it is not separate from or in competition with it. Gender equity has been our focus these three years as a Task Force, but it is not our sole focus. We want to express gratitude and admiration for those of our partners who have already begun serious work in the DEI and REDI areas. 

At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic has shown us that the work of gender equity is more important than ever. Report after report is showing that women are leaving the work force in greater numbers than ever, and that the pandemic is disproportionally affecting women negatively in terms of professional advancement, salaries, and loss of benefits. In addition we know that with our Jewish world workplaces, harassment of women is still an issue, pay equity is still an issue, and barriers to professional advancement are still an issue. Which is to say that the conversation about gender equity is not over. 

Although the Task Force is formally coming to an end, we will be continuing to embed aspects of this effort within our ongoing work, with more resources and projects to come. It is our hope that the ongoing work of gender equity will one day no longer be needed. We hope that it will come to be seen as outdated. But in the meantime, there is still much work to do to ensure that our communities are safe and sacred for all. Thank you for being part of this work, and thank you for your commitment to gender equity.


Rabbi Hara Person is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus served as the chair of the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate. She was one of the first-ever women rabbis, the second female president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and she is rabbi emerita at Shir Tikvah in Homewood, Illinois. Rabbi Amy Schwartzman served as vice-chair of the Task Force and is senior rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia.

Categories
Holiday Poetry Prayer

Three Weeks of Sorrow, Seven Weeks of Consolation

Sorrow and joy meet on Rosh Chodesh Av. Rosh Chodesh—the first of each new Hebrew month—is a minor festival of rejoicing. We take note of the cycle of the moon, the grandeur of creation, and the gifts of God by signing Hallel Mizri, the Egyptian Hallel. At its core are Psalms 113 through 118.

There’s a jarring contrast between the joyous and often raucous singing of these psalms with the general mood of the period. Tishah B’Av, our national religious day of mourning, commemorates the destruction of both temples in Jerusalem. It’s a day of tragedy so profound in the eyes of the rabbis of the Mishnah that they went to great lengths to attach other disasters to this date.

In Masechet Taanit 4:6, we read: “On the Ninth of Av it was decreed upon our ancestors that they would all die [in the wilderness] and not enter the land; and the Temple was destroyed the first time [by the Babylonians], and the second time [by the Romans]; and Beitar was captured; and the city [of Jerusalem] was plowed, as a sign that it would never be rebuilt.”

The tradition of linking catastrophe to Tishah B’Av continued in later periods. Some say that the Jews were expelled from England on Tishah B’Av in 1290 CE, that the deadline in 1492 on which Jews in Spain needed to leave or convert was Tishah B’Av, and that the First World War began on Tishah B’Av.[1] Perhaps most startling: The Hebrew date that Treblinka began operations as a death camp was Tishah B’Av.[2]

The Talmud decrees: “Not only does one fast on the Ninth of Av, but from when the month of Av begins, one decreases acts of rejoicing.”

Even before Av begins, some Jews observe a three-week period of mourning, called “The Three Weeks,” from 17 Tammuz until Tishah B’Av. The Mishnah relates that on 17 Tammuz five catastrophes also befell the Jewish people, and the day is observed by some as a minor fast.

Right in the middle of the three weeks, Rosh Chodesh is observed, as always, with song and praises. “Hallel in a Minor Key”—an alternative Hallel that I created with music by Sue Radner Horowitz—was written for moments like these, when joy and sorrow meet.

This liturgy began with a question last winter: How can we sing God’s praises fully as we move into the second year of COVID-induced, socially distanced Passover seders? In the writing, the question expanded: How do we sing God’s praises after a profound personal loss? How do we praise God when our spiritual calendar places joy and sorrow side-by-side? How do we find a voice of rejoicing when our hearts are in mourning?

My personal experience with this contrast still informs my writing. My wife Ami, z”l, died of traumatic brain injury just before Passover. The religious expectation of our calendar was brutal. After two days of shivah, we were expected to shift into the spiritual joy of Pesach, celebrating our liberation from bondage, singing Hallel as part of the Passover Seder and then again at services. Although it was twelve years ago, that experience of contrast was a core motivator for creating this liturgy (read more about the creation of “Hallel in a Minor Key” on RavBlog).

After Tishah B’Av, the rabbis have given us seven weeks of healing, seven weeks in which special haftarot of consolation are chanted. Here are several prayers for the season:

  • 17 Tammuz: “The Temple
  • Rosh Chodesh Av: “Hallel in a Minor Key” (A PDF published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, including the sheet music, can be downloaded here.)
  • Tishah B’Av: “In Sorrow” from This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day (CCAR Press, 2017)
  • Seven weeks of consolation: “Tears, Too Close: A Prayer of Consolation” from This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer (CCAR Press, 2021)

It is said that God permitted the destruction of the Second Temple because of sinat chinam, the baseless hatred of one Jew against another. Throughout this season, let us pray for the well-being of all of the people of Israel, and everyone, everywhere. “Let Tranquility Reign,” from This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, includes a line from Psalm 122: “For the sake of my comrades and companions I shall say: ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the House of Adonai our God I will seek your good.”


Alden Solovy is a liturgist based in Jerusalem. His books include This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New DayThis Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, and This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer, all published by CCAR Press.


[1] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/946703/jewish/What-Happened-on-the-Ninth-of-Av.htm

[2] https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/7-tragedies-that-befell-the-jewish-people-on-tisha-beav-598199

Categories
Books CCAR Press Holiday News Shavuot

Author Interview: Rabbi Oren J. Hayon, Editor of Inscribed

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Rabbi Oren J. Hayon of Congregation Emanu El in Houston shares insights on the process of editing Inscribed: Encounters with the Ten Commandments.

What inspired the creation of Inscribed: Encounters with the Ten Commandments?

I contributed an essay to the 2017 collection Seven Days, Many Voices, which was a compilation of articles focusing on each of the first seven days of creation, as described in Genesis 1. That project sparked my interest in editing a similar collection of essays, from a diverse lineup of authors, offering different complementary perspectives on the Ten Commandments.

What was the most challenging part of editing this book?

From its earliest proposal, one of the most important aspects of the book for me was that it include contributions from a diverse list of authors. I wanted the chapters to come from writers within the Reform Movement and beyond it, those who work as Jewish professionals and those who don’t. It was a challenge to secure contributions from such a diverse group of authors while still producing a finished book that would be comfortably at home in Reform settings.

What is something new that you personally learned while working on Inscribed? Did any of your own perspectives change?

I learned so much! The best part of my role in editing this book was that it gave me the ability to learn from amazing teachers with extraordinary expertise and insight in areas I had not explored deeply before—philosophy, military ethics, journalism, and so much more. For me, an educational imperative is at the center of Jewish life, and it was a joyful experience to spend so much time with so many marvelous writers and scholars.

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

As a literary bloc, the Ten Commandments have endured and remained stubbornly relevant for thousands of years. I don’t think it’s impious to suggest that this is not because these Commandments are especially inspiring; instead, it’s because hundreds of generations have worked energetically to build relevance into the Ten Commandments. The beautiful and provocative writing of Inscribed’s contributing authors shows how this process of meaning-making continues to grow and unfold even in our own day.

If you would like the opportunity to learn more, six authors from Inscribed: Encounters with the Ten Commandments have created short video teachings based on their chapters in the book. These videos and the free downloadable study guide can be used for Shavuot study with your community!


Rabbi Oren J. Hayon serves as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Emanu El in Houston, Texas. He is the editor of Inscribed: Encounters with the Ten Commandments, from CCAR Press.

Categories
Books News Prayer

B’chol L’vavcha: Renewing a Classic

Rarely does one have the opportunity to create a new edition of a book many in our movement have grown up with: B’chol L’vavcha: With All Your Heart: A Commentary on the Prayer Book, the beloved magnum opus of Rabbi Harvey J. Fields, z’’l, who was a rabbi, teacher, and friend to many Reform rabbis, cantors, and congregants alike. His warm, clear, and accessible writing provided introductions to and meditations on the major prayers of the previous Reform siddur, Gates of Prayer, for adults, teens, and children—equally useful in adult education, bar and bat mitzvah preparation, and religious school.

And it still does. However, the third edition of B’chol L’vavcha, just released by CCAR Press, adds new layers of learning and teaching to the familiar book. Many female and queer rabbis and teachers have found their way onto the pages as commentators; the book itself is the product of the labors of one Reform cantor, Sarah Grabiner, and two Reform rabbis, Hilly Haber and myself. Many contemporary poems and prayers have been added to bring diversity, new depths, new meanings, and new Torah to the familiar liturgy. Newly added sections—Kiddush and Havdalah—reflect today’s reality in which we, as Reform Jews, do not pray only in our synagogues, but just as often in our homes, particularly during the past pandemic year. However, perhaps the most basic but also the most remarkable change is the shift from the language and layout of Gates of Prayer to the words and aesthetics of Mishkan T’filah, making the third edition the perfect companion for any teaching on prayer, including iyunei t’filah.

Let me give you two examples:

Accompanying the Sh’ma, you will find this prayerful version by Rabbi Emily Langowitz:

Sh’ma Listen.

Yisrael God-struggler.

Adonai Was-Is-WillBe

Eloheinu Is our God

Adonai Was-Is-WillBe

Echad Is One.

Listen, God-struggler. Was-Is-WillBe is a reflection of my own divinity. Was-Is-WillBe, the One who moves the universe, the One who knows that being can never be static, the One in whose image I am made, bears witness to my own unity.

I give thanks to that Spirit of life who allows for the continued revelation of self.

I marvel at the wonder of sexuality unfolding.

I lift up the truth of all the ways I have loved, do love, will love.

.בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ יָהּ, אַחְדוּת הָעוֹלָם, שֹֹֹֹּּּּוֹמַעַת הָאֱמֶת

B’ruchah at Yah, achdut ha-olam, shomaat ha-emet.

Blessed are You, Oneness of the world, who hears my Truth.[1]

And the book closes with a moving reflection by Rabbi Andrea Weiss, PhD, Provost at HUC-JIR:

Lech L’cha

Go forth on a journey.

Go by yourself.

Standing at a crossroad

You venture from the known to the unknown.

Some journeys must be made alone.

Go to yourself:

Spiral inward and unwrap your past

And your potential.

Remember that the soul which you have made

Is unique and holy.

Go for yourself:

Smell the fragrance

Which spread across the land

As you roam and wander.

Refresh yourself

Under the tree which grows by a spring

At the side of the road.

Make your name great and

Make your life a blessing.[2]

Go and have a look at this book, so that it can accompany you and your people on your journeys!


Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz, PhD, is the Editor at CCAR Press.


[1] Previously published in Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells , edited by Rabbi Denise Eger (New York: CCAR Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Emily Langowitz.

[2] Previously published in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: CCAR Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008). Copyright © 2008 by Andrea Weiss.

Categories
Holiday Passover Pesach Poetry Prayer

Hallel in a Minor Key

We face another year of pandemic Passover. Most congregations are still shuttered, and Pesach worship will be remote and online. Seders will be small or socially distanced, a far cry from our usual crowded, joyous gatherings. Nevertheless, we will still sing Hallel, our liturgy of praises, as part of the Haggadah.

Hallel (praise), Psalms 113 to 118, is sung or recited in the synagogue on all festivals (including intermediate days), as well as on Rosh Chodesh (the first day of a new month), on all eight days of Chanukah, and, in recent years, on Yom HaAtzma-ut (Israel’s Independence Day). Hallel is also recited on the eve of Pesach during the seder.1 

On these sacred days of communal rejoicing, we are asked to set aside our sorrows to praise God. But how do we sing God’s praises during a time of catastrophe or pandemic? How do we sing God’s praises after a profound personal loss?

Depending on personal practice—what one chooses to include in the seder, how often one goes to services, whether an individual participates in two seder nights, and how many days are observed—Hallel can be recited as many as ten times during the festival period.

This raised a hard question for me as a liturgist. How can we sing God’s praises fully as we move into the second year of COVID-induced, socially distanced Passover seders? Could I find a liturgical response? Personally, I know how difficult this can be. My wife passed away the Shabbat before Passover twelve years ago, and the shivah ended abruptly after only two days.

I began by rereading all my prayers written about COVID and came across a line in a piece called “These Vows: A COVID Kol Nidre.” A line from it reads: “How I wish to sing in the key of Lamentations.” From there, the idea for “Hallel in a Minor Key” was born.

As I started writing, it became important to me to create a liturgy that was robust enough to stand as a full alternative Hallel, reflecting praise in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow. To me, this meant two things. First, I wanted to make sure that each psalm in the classic Hallel was represented by at least one Hebrew line in this liturgy. Second, I wanted to include the sections for waving the lulav in this liturgy, to ensure that it could be used on Sukkot by those with that practice.

Still, something was missing—music specific to this liturgy. Song is a vital part of the public recitation of Hallel, and it serves to create a personal connection with prayer. So, I adapted the opening poem into lyrics—carrying the same name as the entire liturgy—and began searching for someone to compose the music. I listened to a lot of Jewish music online, starting with my small circle of musician friends. When I heard Sue Radner Horowitz’s Pitchu Li, my search for a musician was over.

“Hallel in a Minor Key” begins in minor, but mid-chorus, with words of hope, it switches to a major key. In discussing the music, we both felt it was important to follow the tradition of ending even the most difficult texts with notes of hopefulness. Indeed, the shift reflects our prayer that sorrows can be the doorway to greater love, peace, and—eventually—to growth, healing, and joy.

We also talked about drawing on Eichah trope—used to chant Lamentations on Tishah B’Av, as well as the haftarah on that day—as a musical influence. This idea follows the tradition of bringing Eichah trope into other texts as a sort of musical punctuation. Many will recall its use in M’gillat Esther on Purim. Eichah trope is also traditionally used during the chanting of Deuteronomy 1:12, as well as in selected lines from the associated haftarah for Parashat D’varim, Isaiah 1:1–27. Sue wove hints of “the trope of Lamentations” into the chorus melody of “Hallel in a Minor Key.”

A PDF of the liturgy, including sheet music, can be downloaded here. You can hear a recording of the music here. Sue’s rendition of Pitchu Li, written prior to this liturgy, is also included as part of “Hallel in a Minor Key.” That music can be found on her album Eleven Doors Open.

This is our gift to the Jewish world for all the many blessings you have bestowed upon us. We offer it with a blessing. We encourage you to add music or additional readings that would add meaning to your worship. If you use the liturgy in your worship, we’d love to hear from you. You may reach Alden at asolovy545@gmail.com and Sue at srrhorowitz@gmail.com.

Portions of “Hallel in a Minor Key” were first presented during a Ritualwell online event, “Refuah Shleimah: A Healing Ritual Marking a Year of Pandemic.” Portions were also shared in a workshop session at the 2021 CCAR Convention, held online.


Alden Solovy is a liturgist based in Jerusalem. His books include This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, and This Precious Life: Encountering the Divine with Poetry and Prayer, all published by CCAR Press.


1 Rabbi Richard Sarason PhD, Divrei Mishkan T’Filah: Delving into the Siddur (CCAR Press, 2018), 190.

Categories
CCAR Convention Convention

Celebrating Joys, Sorrows & Deepening My Faith: Rabbi Paul (Shaul) Feinberg on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

My rabbinate in North America and Israel has given me opportunities to share in the joys and the sorrows of others. Moreover it has enabled me to learn and teach our religious heritage. My rabbinate has helped me to deepen my faith in God; my family, my teachers, and colleagues have guided me in this path.

In 1981, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion invited me to join the faculty of the Jerusalem School and thus enabled us to make aliyah. I became an integral part of the developing narrative of our people, while strengthening the Reform Movement in Israel.

For three decades, I engaged with students in their quest to develop religious leadership wherever they were to serve. During these years, my rabbinate facilitated my travels throughout the world to teach Judaism, Israel, and education. All along I was deepening my own religious faith, refining the understanding of Judaism as an ever changing way of life. My rabbinate continues to connect me with former students, now colleagues and leaders, in their own communities.

In all facets of my rabbinate, education has been a key empowering factor of living the values of tikkun olam b’malchut Shaddai. As Tania always says, the Jewish community begins at home; in this spirit we are grateful to see our children teaching their children values they hold dear as each one of them continues on her or his own path.

My credo is shlichut—being on a mission which as a parent and as a rabbi continues to unfold to this day.

Today, fifty years from our Ordination is a milestone, even as we remember dearest friends and classmates who have gone to their Eternal Rest.

“This is the day the Eternal has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’maan hazeh.


Rabbi Paul (Shaul) Feinberg is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

Categories
CCAR Convention

My 50-Year Learning Journey: A Rabbinic Evolution, by Rabbi Richard J. Birnholz

The African proverb: it takes a village to raise a child pretty much describes my 50-year rabbinic career because of all the people who helped me get here.

My classmates were the first to rescue me when I arrived at HUC-JIR. Though New York City was only a few thousand miles from Austin, Texas, I felt like I had been dropped into an alien world. But my new classmates, all from the northeast, helped me find housing and jobs, welcomed me into their parent’s homes, showed me where to find Hebrew textbooks on the Lower East Side, and then spent five years explaining the meaning of course work that was totally foreign to my classical Reform, southern mindset.

Meanwhile Dr. Cohen and Dr. Borowitz z”l helped my HUC-JIR transition in significant ways. By teaching about power politics, Dr. Cohen helped me differentiate between the political and the spiritual in Jewish texts. This distinction made the “sacred pronouncements” in the texts more believable because I could finally understand theological narratives in their historical context. I think my students over the years appreciated this insight as much as I did.

The “God question” was also an early stumbling block to my rabbinic career, but here Dr. Borowitz z”l came to my aid. His existentialist explanation of knowing God in moments when we let God in, as opposed to having to prove God as a concept, immediately resonated with me. I liked the Buberian notion that personally experiencing God’s presence, despite the existential risk involved, was “proof” enough that God is real. This paradigm has been one of the most valuable accessories in my rabbinic tool kit.

Fortune further unexpectedly shined on me when I reached out to Rabbi Harry Danziger while navigating my assistantship at Temple Israel in Memphis. Harry had preceded me there, and, in addition to having been loved by all, was known for his extraordinary wisdom. Harry quickly became my friend and career-long mentor. He gave me sage advice and at a critical time in my rabbinate. He said two things: First, a rabbi’s greatest gift to people comes from just being there for them. The words and prayers are important, but a rabbi’s spiritual presence says more than words ever can. Second, if you first give your congregants time to feel comfortable with you, the rest of your time with them will take care of itself. This advice has served me well whenever I have moved or launched a new initiative. Harry was teaching Relational Judaism long before it became popular.

At Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, Mississippi, congregants helped me refine my curriculum-building skills. They met with me once a month to develop lessons for a seventh through ninth grade, three-year, rotating religious school program. I introduced raw ideas and they massaged them into effective lesson plans until we felt they would work. And they did. I won the NATE Samuel Kaminker Memorial Curriculum Award for Outstanding Informal Education as a result, but my congregants deserve much of the credit for the cooperative effort. Best of all, I learned the value of partnering with lay leadership, which was particularly important in Jackson for another reason. I went there near the end of the Civil Rights struggle when the Jewish community still faced attacks from the Klan. I quickly learned that I had to coordinate my pronouncements with the best interests of the congregation lest I put my congregants at risk. This collaborative mindset then carried over into my rabbinate as a whole and has reaped benefits I never could have anticipated.

My introduction to Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa came by way of a behind the scenes recommendation from another classmate. It has been the gift that keeps giving. My congregants here opened their hearts to Donna and our family from day one. They gave us a forever home, where we could feel appreciated, supported, and loved.

To put it bluntly, I had no idea how to lead a large congregation. My leadership saw this and decided to patiently teach me, skill by skill, with each new president and executive committee adding a new one. 

And then my lay leaders did something even more important. By providing a safe environment in which failure was an acceptable option, I learned to do the same for my expanding team and for all my congregants. My leaders though never spoke of failure. They referred instead to “accepting people and outcomes.” I adopted this phrase and attitude and am convinced that using it widely became the “secret sauce” propelling our growth.

It took me a full 50 years to grow into my rabbinate and I am incredibly grateful for the “village” that made my evolution possible.


Rabbi Richard J. Birnholz serves as Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa, Florida. He is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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Convention

Learning in Order to Teach and Act: Rabbi David Ruderman on 50 Years in the Rabbinate

Each year at CCAR Convention, we honor members of our organization who were ordained 50 years ago or more. In advance of CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, we share a blog from Rabbi David Ruderman.

I must admit I was initially quite ambivalent about attending HUC-JIR some fifty-five years ago. I came to the College with significant Hebraic skills and knowledge of Jewish history, and I was already certain I wanted to be a historian, not a communal rabbi as my father had been. But I needed more rabbinic skills, and I was destined to have the great scholar, Shmuel Atlas, z”l, as my teacher of Talmud.  HUC-JIR allowed me to accelerate my studies and even offered me the opportunity to begin my doctorate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem at the same time I was a rabbinic student, and then supported me in Jerusalem after I was a rabbi. In the end, the greatest reward of my ordination was to have my late father, Rabbi Abraham Ruderman, bless me at the ceremony at Central Synagogue.

My father always insisted that the most important degree I would earn was the rabbinic one. I grew to appreciate what he meant in viewing my almost fifty years of university teaching as an extension of my rabbinate. What greater joy was there for me than to study Jewish texts, to reconstruct the Jewish past, and to write books that laid out my fresh ideas on the importance of what I had studied! How meaningful it has been to encounter thousands of students in my classes at Maryland, Yale, and Penn, and to guide their discovery of our people’s lives and spiritual treasures! And how exciting it has been to create programs in Jewish studies at every university with which I was affiliated; to build institutions of Jewish learning which hopefully will continue for generations to come!

I never abandoned my love of K’lal Yisrael, the synagogue, and the Jewish community. My goal was always to connect town and gown, to bring scholars into the synagogue sanctuary, to connect them with rabbis and laypersons, and to demonstrate that academic learning [wissenschaft] is not devoid of spirituality and emotional energy. Along these lines, I visited congregations all over the U.S. to teach and share my own versions of Torah; I even produced two courses on Jewish history for the Great Teachers Courses that still circulate even several decades after they were created.

Our present world offers serious and perplexing challenges to human existence, and we Jews are hardly immune from them while facing squarely our own particular ones. In old age, I am hardly a prognosticator of the Jewish future, only a mere historian who has tried to excavate the Jewish past in light of the present world in which I have lived. But I do know one thing which my abba taught me about our precarious condition then and now: the rabbi still executes a critical function in the performance of Jewish life. A rabbi learns in order to teach and in order to act. By studying, applying, and living Torah, the rabbi remains—in the language of the great historian Salo W. Baron (1942)—the chief protagonist in the drama of Jewish communal survival. I am proud to have been a small part of that drama with my own classmates and we proudly pass on our legacy to the next generation of rabbanim b’Yisrael.


Rabbi David B. Ruderman is the Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History and Darivoff Director at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.

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CCAR Convention Convention

A Scholarly Rabbinic Career: Rabbi Roy Furman on His 50-Years in the Rabbinate

During my years at HUC-JIR, my expectations of a future rabbinate were vague, at best. What 50 years after ordination actually held were beyond what I could then have imagined. It would certainly prove to be a multifaceted rabbinate, one which extended the boundaries of how I would be a rabbi and what sort of congregation I would serve. It has been an interesting journey to say the least. 

That journey first took me to Los Angeles where I served as Hillel director on the campus of the University of Southern California. There I immersed myself in the creative challenges and rewards of working with students developing a vibrant campus Jewish community. Four years later, I decided to enhance my counseling skills by studying for and obtaining an MSW, followed by another four years practicing clinical social work at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. 

By the ten-year mark after HUC-JIR, I sought congregational work for the first time, moving with my wife to Portland, Oregon to work with a small, participatory, egalitarian, and very spiritual chavurah. The five years with that community were my idea of rabbinic heaven. I would still be there, I imagine, if my wife did not need to relocate to pursue her academic aspirations.

If Chicago did not readily yield to my rabbinic needs and aspirations, it did provide me with the opportunity to work with a gay and lesbian community, with a suburban congregation in an assistant rabbinical position, and another two years as interim rabbi for a large Reconstructionist shul.

Through the years, I took great pleasure in doing scholarly work, including PhD studies in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Having served as a rabbi on a college campus, at Jewish family service, with a chavurah, and with three Chicago-based Jewish communities, I now entered the academic part of my rabbinic journey. Some twenty-three years after ordination, I began teaching comparative religions and Jewish studies at DePaul University, an adjunct position I held for twenty years, along with part-time work as campus rabbi. 

At the forty-sixth year post ordination mark, I entered a year-long training program in clinical pastoral education and continued working as a chaplain in an acute hospital setting until the Spring of 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And through all of these years, my rabbinate has been expanded and enriched through interactions with Jews in congregations, both old and newly emerging, in Russia, Germany, Poland, Spain, France, Chile, and Morocco.

From the time I left HUC-JIR until the present, I have been active as a leader, facilitator, and member of chavurot and minyanim. That aspect of my journey reflects much of what has come to be important and meaningful for me as a rabbi and as a Jew, as I have met, taught, counseled, comforted, andlearned from many, many wonderful people along the way. I continue to write divrei Torah for my minyan, study Hasidic and Mussar literature with Rabbi Richard Hirsh, my long-time chevruta and dear brother-in-law, and to be challenged by the likes of Maimonides, Heschel, Buber,  Hartman, and the Baal Shem Tov.


Rabbi Roy Furman is celebrating 50 years in the Reform Rabbinate.

We look forward to celebrating 50- and 51-year rabbis when we come together online at CCAR Convention 2021, March 14-17, 2021. CCAR Convention 2021 will strengthen us spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, bringing us together at a time when we need it more than ever. CCAR rabbis can register here.