Categories
Books Mussar Torah

Book Excerpt: “The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living a Meaningful and Ethical Life”

In honor of our new publication, The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living a Meaningful and Ethical Life, a new anthology edited by Rabbi Barry H. Block, the CCAR Press proudly presents an excerpt from a chapter written by Rabbi Judith Lazarus Siegal. This new book, which unites more than 50 authors who offer commentary on each of the 54 weekly parashot juxtaposed with the mussar middot, is available for purchase from CCAR Press.

“Yirah—Awe: From Fear to Awe”

Jacob goes through a major life transformation in Parashat Vayishlach, including a wrestling match with God and a change in his name from Jacob to Israel. These changes are reflective of changes in Jacob’s character as well, as he goes from a person filled with fear to one who is full of awe and gratitude. His transformation involves resolving old issues and grappling with feelings of guilt over his stealing the blessing and birthright from his brother—and, in the process, lying to their father, Isaac. As Jacob prepares to see his brother Esau in the morning, he lies restless. The Torah tells us of his state of mind: vayira Yaakov, “Jacob was terrified” (Genesis 32:8).

Later in the parashah, we learn why Jacob is fearful, as he says, “I am afraid of him, lest he advance on me and strike me” (Genesis 32:12), referring to his brother Esau. That night, Jacob takes his family and crosses the Jabbok River, and then he is left alone to wrestle in the night with an unknown man or angel or messenger of God; the Hebrew word used is ish, “man” (Genesis 32:25). Jacob does not let the man go without demanding a blessing. The other says to him, “What is your name?” and he says, “Jacob.” “No more shall you be called Jacob, but Israel,” says the other, “for you have struggled with God and with human beings, and you have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28–29). A verse later in the Torah tells us: “Jacob set up a monument in the sacred site where [God] had spoken to him. . . . Jacob named the place where God had spoken to him Beth El [House of God]” (Genesis 35:14–15).

In Jewish thought, “fear” (yirah) of God is understood to be complementary to “love” or “awe” of God. In fact, the term yirat HaShem, or “fear of God,” is equal to following the Torah and mitzvot, according to Rabbi Yosef Albo (1380–1444, Spain), author of Sefer HaIkarim. In the teachings of Mussar, however, we find a very interesting concept when it comes to the middah of “fear/awe.” Alan Morinis writes, “Though yirah can describe the unified fear/awe experience, the term can also be used for the singular experiences of fear and of awe. . . . The Duties of the Heart makes this very point: ‘The fear of Heaven has two aspects: the fear of tribulations and Divine retribution, and the awe of His Glory, majesty, and awesome power.’” 1

In other words, fear and awe can be two separate traits completely, or they can be merged together. Many Mussar teachers encourage us to “orient ourselves toward the side of fear,” 2 especially of divine retribution for our transgressions. The middah is clearly about fear in the writings of the Mussar masters, as the words that often accompany this concept involve physical manifestations of fear: people shaking, sweating, quaking, and experiencing some kind of terror. Many people resonate to this idea that we should be fearful of God’s retribution for our own wrongdoing and that that fear will keep us on the right path.

However, Jacob is a model of another kind of yirah. Jacob is fearful, and rightly so. Not only has he done wrong in the eyes of God, but he has wronged his brother, who may understandably be hurt and angry with him. Jacob moves beyond his fear, symbolized by the wrestling he does with a man (perhaps his conscience?) throughout the night. When we have wronged someone, we, too, must take that fear of what may become of us, either through divine punishment or the anger of the person we have harmed, and turn it into something more productive.

Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer, in his book, The Gates of Light, writes that the experience associated with awe is the higher form of yirah, saying, “It is clear that the awe of God’s majesty is on a more exalted plane than the fear of future accountability.” He teaches that awe must stand on a foundation of fear. So, perhaps, to get to awe, we must first go through the fear of punishment, work through it in some way, to get to the other side of it, much like Jacob crossing the River Jabbok, wrestling with a man, and then and only then being able to feel the awe for God that leads him to build a monument. 


Rabbi Judith Lazarus Siegal has served as a rabbi at Temple Judea in Coral Gables, Florida, since her ordination in 2006, becoming the senior rabbi in 2015. She has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas, Austin. She enjoys teaching students of all ages, and Holocaust and Israel are two of her areas of expertise. Siegal is a contributor to the newly released book The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living a Meaningful and Ethical Life, now available for purchase through CCAR Press.


Categories
Books

Written in “Just Five Minutes”

A reflection by Rabbi Barry H. Block on working through Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, by Rabbi Debra Robbins, CCAR Press, 2019.

Debbie Robbins says:
“Just five minutes.”
Set aside five minutes,
No more,
To write my Elul reflections each day.
Much to my surprise,
I’ve disciplined myself to do it,
Just five minutes,
Every day.
Some days, I really need it,
Like the day that a traumatic pastoral need
Led me to extreme anxiety,
And I needed to figure out why.
Every day, I really need it.
As a rabbi,
My Elul preparation
Is all about writing sermons,
Musical cues,
Selecting reading,
Doling out honors,
All “work.”
I’m liable to ignore the inner, spiritual work of Elul;
There’s so much “rabbi work” to do.
And so I’ve resolved:
Take those five minutes a day,
And actually prepare my soul
For 5780.
Psalm 27 has opened my heart.
Funny thing:
For the first time,
Ever in my 29th year,
And that’s only since ordination,
All of my sermons are drafted—
Not “finished,” but fully drafted—
More than two weeks before Erev Rosh Hashanah.
Can that be a coincidence?


Rabbi Barry Block serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year is now available from CCAR Press.

Categories
Books

When Donors Behave Badly: Guiding Principles for Jewish Institutions

In light of CCAR Press’s publishing of The Sacred Exchange: A Jewish Money Ethic, edited by Rabbi Mary L. Zamore, earlier this year, we invited Rabbi A. Brian Stoller to share an excerpt of the chapter that he wrote.

What should a synagogue or Jewish institution do when a donor is known to be involved in illegal or immoral activity? Imagine that after a synagogue dedicates a newly renovated sanctuary, the beloved community elder who gave more than a million dollars toward the project is indicted for embezzlement. Suppose that a prominent nursing-home proprietor, whose facilities have a reputation for unclean conditions and abusive treatment of residents, offers to provide scholarships for needy kids to go to summer camp. We seek to be guided in our response to these situations by the moral voice of our tradition. While there are few clear-cut answers, our texts provide certain principles that can inform our decision-making.

What happens when two moral obligations conflict with each other?

A CCAR responsum on the case of a synagogue contribution by a criminal points out that it is a mitzvah incumbent upon every Jew to support the synagogue financially.(1) The Reform Movement has said that communal organizations should not refuse a donation from a person of questionable character because we do not have the right to prevent someone from fulfilling his religious obligations.(2) Moreover, denying the would-be giver the opportunity to do a mitzvah would further alienate him from the righteous path. As Maimonides says, “We do not tell a wicked person: ‘Increase your wickedness by failing to perform mitzvot.’”(3)

At the same time, accepting the donation may violate a different mitzvah, namely the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind. As Jewish business-ethicist Meir Tamari suggests, a person may be “blind, so to speak, to the moral consequences of his actions.”

(4) By accepting the gift, therefore, we might inadvertently encourage the donor to continue in these errant ways and cause the donor to stumble further.

These conflicting moral obligations cannot both be operative at the same time, but the sources suggest that there are circumstances in which one or the other should take precedence.

What causes money to become “dirty?”

According to Deuteronomy 23:19,(5) payment for prostitution (which is forbidden by the Torah) and the monetary value of dogs used by hunters and watchmen to intimidate the public (which are lawful but unseemly activities(6)) are unacceptable as donations to the Holy Temple.(7) Maimonides rules that “when one steals or obtains an object through robbery and offers it as a sacrifice, it is invalid and the Holy One hates it.”(8) That principle suggests that the Torah regards money and anything else acquired through illegal and immoral means as “dirty” and unfit as an offering. Therefore, should someone seek to make such a donation, the synagogue or communal entity should refuse to accept it, even though doing so would prevent the person from fulfilling his obligation.

But if money gained through illegal or immoral activity is “dirty,” what about money that is earned on the up-and-up by someone who behaves immorally in other areas of her life? Is there a difference between a donation from Bernie Madoff, who acquired his wealth through theft and fraud, and a donation from Harvey Weinstein, who earned his money legitimately but sexually harassed and manipulated countless women? In a relevant discussion, Maimonides holds that a kohein (priest) is not disqualified from performing his religious duty on account of immoral behavior in his non-priestly life unless he commits one of the three cardinal sins of Rabbinic Judaism: idolatry, illicit sex, or murder.(9) Following this reasoning, could modern institutions say that immoral behavior unrelated to how one’s money is gotten should not disqualify a donor from carrying out her religious duty unless she commits an act that the community regards as a cardinal sin? If so, what actions would rise to that level?

Should the Donor be Acknowledged Publicly?

The sources raise two key concerns about publicly honoring a donor of dubious character. One is that acknowledgment will draw constant, unwanted attention to this sinful behavior. The other is that people of ill-repute will “utilize a gift to the synagogue [or other Jewish institution] as a means of purchasing a good name”(10) and atoning for their sins.(11) In order to avoid these outcomes, the Reform Movement recommends that organizations accept the donation but not publicly acknowledge the donor unless and until he does t’shuvah and abandons the immoral behavior.

Organizations should not accept donations of items that are known to have been gotten illegally. Beyond this, the guiding principles outlined here leave room for leaders to exercise judgment based on communal values and the nuances of each situation. While decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis, institutions benefit from intentional conversations about core values and principles that guide their approach when donors behave badly.


Rabbi A. Brian Stoller serves Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska.

NOTES

  1. CCAR Responsa Committee, “Synagogue Contribution from a Crimi- nal,” Central Conference of American Rabbis, accessed September 17, 2018, https://www.ccarnet.org/ccar-responsa/curr-52-55/. Readers should con- sult this responsum for a thorough analysis of the relevant halachic issues.
  2. See the CCAR responsum cited above, as well as Mark Washofsky, Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice (New York: UAHC Press, 2001), 45.
  3. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot N’siat Kapayim 15:6. Translation by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, Mishneh Torah: Hilchot Tefilah II and Birkat Koha- nim (New York: Moznaim, 2007), 218.
  4. Meir Tamari, The Challenge of Wealth: A Jewish Perspective on Earning and Spending Money (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1995), 32.
  5. Deut. 23:19 states: “You shall not bring the fee of a whore or the pay of a dog into the house of the Eternal your God in fulfillment of any vow,  for both are abhorrent to the Eternal your God.”
  6. In his comment to Deut. 23:19, Abraham ibn Ezra explains that “the pay of a dog” refers to activity that, although not forbidden, is “disgraceful” (derech bizayon).
  7. These explanations of the phrases “the fee of a whore” and “the pay of a dog” are given by Rashi and Nachmanides in their commentaries to the verse.
  8. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Isurei Mizbei-ach 5:7. Translation by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, Mishneh Torah: Sefer Ha’Avodah (New York: Moznaim, 2007), 334.
  9. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot N’siat Kapayim 15:1–6, esp. halachot 3 and 6.
  10. Washofsky, Jewish Living, 45.
  11. See Nachmanides’s comment to Deut. 23:19.
Categories
Books

This Joyous Soul: Communicating with God

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s forthcoming publication, This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings, we invited Rabbi Sally J. Priesand to share an excerpt of the Foreword that she wrote.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, also known as the Kotzker Rebbe, is remembered for his profoundly wise sayings, often simple, always insightful. When asked where God is, he answered that God dwells wherever people let God in. Prayer is one of the ways in which we let God in, offering us the opportunity to open our hearts to God’s presence. Thus, prayer books exist to help us communicate with God.

Prayer books enable us to look within to those values that shape our lives, and they assist us in gathering strength and courage for the tasks that remain undone. In many ways, a siddur is a history book that reflects the story of those who create it and those who pray from it. Each generation adds its own piece to the puzzle that is Judaism. A prayer book reflects those beliefs that are important to its users and provides insight into how Jewish tradition evolves from generation to generation.

Our children and grandchildren would probably find it strange to pray from a siddur that did not mention our Matriarchs, that talked about Israel only with the wish that the sacrificial cult be restored, and that consistently referred to God as “He.” They are the product of their generation, and their response to a prayer book reflects the values with which they have grown up. A willingness to change makes possible the continuity of our tradition.

Alden Solovy is a worthy representative of our generation, for creating spiritually satisfying prayer. With This Joyous Soul, a companion volume to This Grateful Heart, he has artfully crafted once again a book of prayer that touches the soul in joyous ways. His ability to focus on the needs of the human heart makes prayer accessible to the individual and the community living in a contemporary world.

We begin our day by celebrating God as the Creator of life, a reminder that God creates through us and so makes us all creators too. Solovy has taken this God-given gift of creativity and developed it in such a way that our eyes are opened to new truths, our souls uplifted, and our spirits made tranquil. An extraordinarily gifted liturgist, he puts into perspective those things that matter most and challenges us to delve into the innermost recesses of our hearts, there to find God and understand that God cares who we are and how we act and what we do. Indeed, God depends on us, even as we depend on God.

This Joyous Soul was written to accompany Mishkan T’filah, with the hope that it would be placed in pew racks and used to enlarge the offerings found on the left-hand pages of the newest siddurim of the Reform Movement. That is good news, especially for those of us who attend synagogue services regularly and appreciate new material upon which to reflect. For those who do not attend quite as often, This Joyous

Soul invites you to consider the ways in which prayer can enrich your life. Either way, these prayers are appropriate for communal prayer and/or individual reflection.

Our teacher Dr. Jakob Petuchowski, z”l, used to say that one generation’s kavanah (intention) becomes the next generation’s keva (fixed prayer). In other words, the private prayers of one generation become the public prayers of the next. I am confident that Alden Solovy’s work will find a well-deserved place in whatever new prayer books are created by our generation, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Rabbi Sally J. Priesand was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion of Cincinnati in 1972, making her the first woman rabbi to be ordained by a rabbinical seminary.  She served first as assistant and then associate rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City before leading Monmouth Reform Temple in New Jersey from 1981 until her retirement in 2006.

Students from HUC-JIR recite Alden Solovy’s “On Making a Mistake,” one of the many readings included in the forthcoming publication This Joyous Soul, from CCAR Press.

Categories
Books Passover Pesach Social Justice

Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: The Obligations of Our Exodus

In anticipation of the release of CCAR Press’s newest book, Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, we’ve invited Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, co-editor of the book, to share an excerpt of the book on Passover. Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority is now available for pre-order from CCAR Press.

A couple of months ago I was arrested in the grand rotunda of the Russell Building of the United States Senate. Nearly one hundred Jewish clergy and leaders joined in song and prayer, demanding that the United States Congress pass the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to the nearly eight hundred thousand Dreamers who came to the United States as children and are every bit American as my own daughters. As we sang “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” (“We will build this world with love”) over and over again, hundreds of Dreamers stood cheering us on from the balcony, ringing us like a human halo. In an intentionally ironic twist on the famous cry from Moses to Pharaoh, we chanted, “Let our people stay!”

When we were handcuffed, removed by the Capitol Police, and placed under arrest, we understood that we were following directly in the footsteps of our ancient Israelite ancestors. Ironically, our being put into fetters was inspired by the Hebrew slaves, who rose up from their slavery in Egypt and cast off the chains of Pharaoh’s bondage in their journey to redemption. As our hands were locked in cuffs and we were led away, we chanted the verse taken from the Song at the Sea “Ozi v’zimrat Yah, vah’yi li lishuah,” “God is my strength and might, and will be my salvation” (Exodus 15:2). There seemed no words more fitting than those our ancient Israelite ancestors sang as they passed through the parted seas of their redemption.

Even as we were led into police custody, our group understood that we were walking in the footsteps of countless generations of Jews before us, generations who internalized the Rabbinic mandate in the Passover Haggadah that “it is incumbent on every generation to see itself as if they themselves—every person—had personally escaped from Egypt” (Babylonian Talmud, P’sachim 116b). Our deeds of civil disobedience were an act of moral resistance to the injustices being perpetrated on the Dreamers, along with tens of millions of other immigrants and refugees. We acted on the spiritual authority inherited from recent leaders like Rabbis Richard Hirsch, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Maurice Eisendrath, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because they internalized the most often repeated commandment in all of Torah: “You shall love the stranger, because you were a stranger in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). Jews have marched throughout history because the core narrative of our people, the defining master story of our tradition, is the archetypal tale of redemption. Our Exodus from Egypt is the story of the transformation of the world-as-it-is, in which “strangers” are continually crushed by oppression, into the world-as-it-should-be, one where all people know justice. The power of the Jewish master narrative lies in its inherent call to every generation to live empathy; because our ancestors were strangers, we—in this era, and in every era—are to love the stranger.

Jews not only retell the master story of redemption throughout our ritual and cultural life; we have relived it throughout history. Our history has served to reinforce the most central exhortation of our Exodus narrative: we are obligated to love the stranger as ourself.

Among the many gleanings of the Exodus narrative that ground Jewish life and values, three stand out as the sources of the spiritual authority demanding that Jews resist injustice and champion morality in every age (and regardless of the challenges we face). First, we learn not only that resistance is required by our faith and experience, but also that it is always possible. Second, we are reminded that our empathy extends beyond the “stranger” to all those who are vulnerable in our midst. Finally, we instill in our souls that the Exodus is not simply about freedom from bondage; our master story culminates with the agency to enter into a covenantal community in which all people are bound to one another.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner serves as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He has led the Religious Action Center since 2015. Rabbi Pesner also serves as Senior Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism. Named one of the most influential rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine, he is an inspirational leader, creative entrepreneur, and tireless advocate for social justice.  Rabbi Pesner is the co-editor of CCAR Press’s  upcoming book, Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice, as well as a contributor to Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation.

Moral Resistance and Spiritual Authority: Our Jewish Obligation to Social Justice is now available for pre-order from CCAR Press. 

Categories
Books Healing News Prayer spirituality

A Prayer of Gratitude from URJ Biennial 2017

Take a moment to be fully grateful for just one thing in your life. That little pause may be enough to change your outlook and your attitude for the day.

At the URJ Biennial, CCAR Press offered that opportunity with a set of stickers and a poster board featuring the book, This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day. Each of the stickers read ‘I’m grateful for…’ and folks who came by the booth could complete that line and add the sticker to the poster. Adults and kids, rabbis and cantors, educators, congregants, and lay leaders joined in. By the end of the convention, the board was covered with individual prayers of gratitude.

Gratitude for family and the Biennial appeared most often. One of my favorites came from a little girl who dictated her gratitude to her mother: “being fancy.” I got a chuckle reading “my puppy (woof).”

This is a prayer based on those stickers. I added the language in italics – as well as the punctuation and a few of my own gratitudes – and arranged the order. The words of the prayer are taken from the stickers written by Biennial attendees.

Biennial Sticker Prayer of Gratitude

We are grateful for so much,
All the gifts this world offers.
We celebrate:
The URJ, the CCAR and our congregations,
Biennial, the people, the music and the ruach,
The chance to learn and share,
Being a college ambassador
And singing in the Biennial choir.

I give thanks for:
My family,
My wonderful husband, my wonderful wife,
My children, my grandchildren,
My sons, my daughters,
Nephews and nieces,
Mom and dad,
Sisters and brothers,
My amazing boyfriend,
My fantastic girlfriend,
Thoughtful work friends,
My dog, my puppy (woof) and my cat,
My house, bed and toys,
Best friends and conversations,
Being who I am,
My camp, my nanny and my students,
Jewish music and my guitar,
You.

We marvel at the gifts of:
Dreams, spirit and creativity,
Opportunities, expected and unexpected,
Personal passions,
Good health and sleep,
The ability to grateful,
The ability to forgive,
Second chances and
Guardian angels,
Good food and better company,
Water, hugs and coffee,
Doctors, medicines and helping hands,
America,
Torah and Israel,
Books, puns, words and being fancy.

Today, Source of love and light,
We are grateful for
Every. Single. Thing.

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist, and teacher. His teaching spans from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem to Limmud, UK, and synagogues throughout the U.S. Solovy is a three-time winner of the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. He made aliyah to Israel in 2012, where he hikes, writes, teaches, and learns. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012), L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016). He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, published by CCAR Press in 2017.

Categories
Books Holiday Inclusion

Sukkot Inclusion and Children’s Books

After the power drill is put away and all of the pointy parts of the s’chach that is just right for poking your brothers’ eyes out is finally on top of our little booth, Sukkot transforms into one of my favorite holidays to celebrate with my children. In the Moroccan Sephardic tradition, we leave a chair out for Elijah. This special chair is often laden with books for ushpizin. As the younger of my three year old twins still occasionally chews on the furniture, I prefer to leave more child-friendly books within reach (rather than, say, my favorite binding of Psalms I enjoy periodically weeping over). But which books to pile onto our special chair this year?

To me, the value of inclusion is deeply related to the concept of hachnasat orchim (the welcoming of guests). After all, hachnasat orchim, treating each other with empathy and kindness, is the first step into true inclusion. We particularly celebrate these values at Sukkot, as we welcome both real and spiritual guests into the sukkah. In honor of a holiday in which we greet and happily receive others into our dwellings, here are eight non-traditional children’s stories about welcoming others into our hearts. I included several about narwhals; narwhals are so hot right now.

You could read one a night with the ushpizin who come to your sukkah!

Wendell the Narwhal How do we invite in though who want to be included, but don’t know how and feel overwhelmed?

Not Quite Narwhal How many communities do you belong to? How does belonging to a variety of communities enrich our identity?

Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea Sometimes it is hard to make friends with someone from a different background; but these friendships can be some of the most important. (This is set up in semi-graphic novel style and is the beginning of a series about Narwhal and Jelly’s adventures together.)

Something Else Have you ever felt excluded? What does that feel like? How can you use that experience to prevent someone else from feeling the same way?

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed  Authority figures setting the standard to create a culture of inclusion

Can I Play Too? Learning how to find a way to play together might take some creativity, but means that everyone can have fun!

Ada Twist, Scientist Sometimes even the people who we love most (and who love us the most) aren’t quite sure how to acknowledge who we are, celebrate our differences, and include us. Inside a family, how can we figure this out?

Winnie the Pooh Written in a time before many of the diagnoses we now use today, Winnie the Pooh’s friend circle as an example of inclusion of individuals with a variety of dispositions and procivities. No matter which story you choose, note how this community of toys consistently and naturally includes one another, without ever asking anyone to “just get over it.”

Do you have any other books you love to use when talking about inclusion? How do you practice including your Sukkot guests?

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.

Categories
Books

Nu, Did You Know? What’s New For You from CCAR Press

There is so much going on around us that it is easy to let information slip through the cracks. As we head toward Convention, our annual opportunity to come together as a community face-to-face, we want to take a moment and bring you up to date on some of the resources now available to you from CCAR Press.

The CCAR Press has been providing essential resources for the Jewish community for over a century. With the recent addition of our new imprint, Reform Jewish Publishing (RJP), as well as our ongoing development of a wide-range of electronic products, we find ourselves in an exciting new position. Now we are able to extend our support to rabbis worldwide, whether through eBook versions of classic texts, our growing collection of Visual T’filah, or any one of our liturgical publications. And by providing such support, we are blessed with the opportunity to support our Jewish community at large. As the primary publisher of the Reform Movement, we see it as our responsibility to not only provide the highest standards of support to our members, colleagues, and friends, but that we are able to directly connect with and strengthen the many communities of which we are lucky enough to be a part.

In an effort to better serve you and every one of your unique communities, we have launched several new Press initiatives. The first, our CCAR Press Resources initiative, provides material and event planning services to lay leaders, gift shop professionals, and congregants. Whether seeking educational resources for Temple programming, customized material for upcoming events, or a message of inspiration to share with the community, CCAR Press is here to help! Coupled with our 2015 Gift Shop Initiative, which provides resources for gift shop professionals at significantly discounted rates, our new Resources initiative makes it as easy as possible for you to introduce and utilize the most current and essential Jewish resources to your friends, family, and congregants. Please contact info@ccarpress.org for questions and tailor-made materials.

This is a time for learning and conversation, and we believe that in fostering community-wide conversations with accessible Jewish resources, we can aid in restoring and sustaining the unity and strength of our community worldwide. To that end, we’ve also introduced our Host an Event Program, created to help you organize and host community events in your congregations, schools, libraries, and Jewish Community Centers. Here at the CCAR, we know that no community is the same, and we’re excited to work together to determine how we can best meet your distinct needs.

Launched in 2016, The Sacred Calling Event Program continues to connect and inform congregants throughout the nation, and we are excited to announce that this program remains available for communities through 2017. Meant to facilitate an ongoing conversation about the impactful reality of women in the rabbinate, this program uses the narratives provided in the award-winning CCAR Press publication, The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate, as a launch-pad from which communities may begin to add their own voice to the continuing narrative of equality in the Jewish world. In celebrating the accomplishments of the past, we encourage you to consider the future, and to discuss the actions you can take against prevailing inequalities in your own communities.

New in 2017, we also offer a Grateful Heart Event Program, which features our new publication from poet and liturgist Alden Solovy. This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day provides a uniquely original anthology of modern day psalms and prayers to lift us up, inspire our days, and mark our milestones, spanning topics from the simple delights of daily living to the complexities of grief and sorrow. We offer this program not only with the conviction that Solovy’s words will speak to our own personal moments of grief and joy, gratitude and struggle, but with the hope that these prayers will speak to your collective hearts, giving you the opportunity to bring your community together with the simple yet formidable power of prayer. For more information about these programs, please see the links above. For a full list of upcoming events, visit events.ccarpress.org.

Finally, and in response to requests, we have launched Your Jewish Library, a one-stop-shop for the home libraries of anyone who hopes to further immerse themselves in the rich heritage of our tradition. From CCAR Press classics to critically acclaimed Torah commentaries from RJP, we offer essential Jewish resources to enhance your Jewish life and learning. All titles included in Your Jewish Library are offered at a discount, providing the perfect opportunity for congregants to  stock their shelves with important Reform resources.

As always, we continue to develop new publications, resources, promotional material for your bulletins and mailings, and programs that will help us to help you in strengthening your communities and, ultimately, in strengthening our Movement. Please contact us to learn how you can work with your local libraries, gift shops, and JCC’s to better introduce Jewish resources to your communities, continue important conversations pertaining to our Movement, and to come together in empowerment and gratitude over our shared heritage, traditions, and faith.

Please plan to visit the CCAR Press area at Convention. Meet our staff, and find out what we can do for you. See you in Atlanta!

Rabbi Hara Person is Publisher of CCAR Press and Director of Strategic Communications for the Central Conference of American Rabbis

Categories
Books General CCAR Passover Pesach Technology

Post-Pesach Blog: Zero-Based Seder Leading with Sharing the Journey Haggadah

Passover might be over, but it’s not too late (or too early…) to look back and start to bank ideas for next year.  Rabbi Eddie Goldberg shares thoughts from his seder experience. 

Recently a stressed-out father asked me what haggadah would be best for a family with youngish children.  I was happy to recommend Sharing the Journey (CCAR Press), by Alan S. Yoffie and illustrated by Mark Podwal. But I reminded the dad that the haggadah does not a good seder make, by itself.  The more important question is not which haggadah but what is one trying to accomplish.  Indeed, a case in Chicago could be made for taking the children to Lake Shore Drive and asking them to imagine reaching a large body of water with a hostile army in pursuit.  What would they do?

Nevertheless, due to Chicago weather (it was snowing during the seder) and inconvenient rules involving religious rituals on state beaches, the seder we conducted last night was a close second to being the most authentic Pesach moment for the eleven of us, mostly cousins, who shared a seder for the first time ever or, if not, then in about thirty-five years.

In preparing for the seder I knew that the new haggadah would serve us well with its respect for tradition, beautiful appearance, transliteration (mostly) and contemporary spin.  I also spend a lot of time on a Power Point (or Keynote) component.  (I even have a version of the new haggadah on my iPad.)  Although I found the Visual Tefilah Haggadah supplement well done, I chose after considerable thought to use instead my own, which does not follow the new haggadah so much as provide a midrashic complement to it.  In general I see electronic tefilah (or seders) as an enrichment and not mirroring of the worship or ritual experience.

I am glad to report that, due in some measure to my efforts and the invaluable help of my 23-year old USC computer science grad, the seder came off without a hitch.  The incredible culinary talents and warmth of my wife did not hurt either.  It was great presenting a seder experience to contemporaries who thought that Maxwell House equaled the tip-top of haggadah offerings.  We also had a nine-year old cousin who had never attended a seder before.  She entered visibly scared and annoyed and left the star of the seder and having asked all the right questions and more!

Tonight the seder will be presented at our congregation with the new haggadot.  I know the food and atmosphere will not be able to  match last night’s efforts but I am delighted that, if we succeed, the haggadah will have proven its worth once again as a sacred component of an evergreen evening.

RabbiGoldbergSeder-2014

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.

Categories
Books Passover Pesach Rabbis Reform Judaism Technology

Pesach Blog: Why is this Haggadah different from all other Haggadot?

VT1Purim is over so Pesach is not far away.  My congregation has the new CCAR Haggadah (Sharing the Journey) set and ready to go for a second night congregational seder.  Choosing a haggadah was the easy part in that the new Yoffie/Podwal is beautifully done and user friendly.  The challenge is creating an experience at a community seder that feels authentic and participatory.  I am planning to use Visual T’filah and group singing to help create community as well as engage participants.  I can also plan some shtick.

Fortunately there is much more that this new haggadah offers.  For instance, one can choose to buy on iTunes an electronic version of Sharing the Journey.  Why bother?  I decided to try it myself.  This is what I discovered:

STJ3First, it is very cool that I can tap on a song in the e-book and the melody is sung.  Think how nervous or musically challenged seder leaders now have support at their very fingers.  There are even choices between different melodies, say, for the four questions.  In addition, there are interactive things to do with the e-book that will make the seder more fun for a child.  If that were not enough, there are also notes for leaders that are accessed by tapping on a leader’s guide icon.  I am sure there is more to discover as I explore the interactive book.  (Btw, I foresee a revamped MT iPad tool that offers instructive tips and spiritual iyonim with a timely click.)

I will definitely use my iPad edition to lead my seder, and model it for others.  I don’t suppose the CCAR will have a Haggadah iPad Case by April so I will most likely go with my official Mishkan T’filah case.  But one can dream!

Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago.