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
Convention Israel

Showing Up – Now more than Ever

This February the CCAR will be convening in Israel.  While it’s always a good time to go to Israel, this February offers an especially important and unique opportunity to spend time together in Israel as colleagues, as students and as hovevei Tzion. In case you are still deliberating the costs and benefits of participating in this seminal sabbatical experience, I would like to offer three specific reasons why I think you should join us in Israel this February.

1. You need it. Being a one-in-seven year experience, this convention provides you with a unique opportunity to be exposed to cutting edge learning, leadership and the program being offered allows you as a rabbi to encounter and process complex issues in a collegiate environment in which to process and air feelings, discuss frustrations and digest the daily trials and tribulations facing Israel and the Jewish people. These days in Israel will doubtless afford us a high level of professional development and enrichment to last the whole year.

2. Your community needs you to have these experiences.  I don’t have to tell you that for many in our movement, Israel is the source of great debate, controversy and even despair. I also don’t have to remind you that for many congregants, you are the source, authority and expert on all things Jewish – including Israel.  Which is why coming now will give you the opportunity to report back and share the rich and important encounters, meetings, briefings, study sessions and experiences with your congregants, boards, staffs and community members. They are in desperate need of first hand, beyond-the-headlines accounts of the exciting changes that are happening in the Israeli Reform movement, innovative ways of learning Torah, governmental and parliamentary deliberations and all that we are doing to combat the worrisome trends that are oft-mentioned in the media.  Your congregations, organizations, Hillels, and staffs need you to be their emissaries and bring back a real and meaningful account of experiences that are only available to this sort of a convention.

3. Israel needs you. This past year we worked very hard (with much gratitude to all of our rabbis for supporting, pushing and campaigning) to ensure that ours was the largest delegation to the World Zionist Congress.  We wanted the Government of Israel and the rest of the world to see that the Reform movement cares deeply and passionately about Israel and has come out in droves during this difficult time.  We did that, and let me assure you that our presence is felt.  In a world where headlines fade quickly, we need to do all that we can to demonstrate to both the Government and people of Israel that we are committed and invested in the future of Israel and in our movement’s relationship with her.  Only a strong showing of our rabbinic leadership will demonstrate that commitment and will send the message that we are strong, dedicated and will not pass up the opportunity to stand as a collective body of rabbis to hear and be heard.

I look forward to spending time, learning and experiencing with all of you in just a few short months!

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the President of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America

Categories
High Holy Days lifelong learning Mishkan haNefesh Rabbis

Welcoming Rabbi Victor Appell to CCAR

Like many, I have been exploring Mishkan HaNefesh. Opening up a new book is always an act filled with possibilities. If it is a work of fiction, I wonder if the plot line will take me out of my own life and if I will see myself in any of the characters. If I am reading non-fiction, I wonder how or if what I am reading will change the way I think about something. Opening the new machzor is a combination of both. Perhaps I am a character in this book and with any luck, I will be changed by my interaction with it.

In one of the introductory essays to the Rosh HaShanah volume, Dr. Laura Lieber writes, “Doorways are charged spaces. We know intuitively that the world on one side of a door is different from the world on the other side…Normally we give little thought to the doors and gates through which we pass, but the High Holy Days are different: we construct an “existential doorway” and linger there for ten days of reflection.”

During those days we may find the time to think about both the year that is ending and the year that is beginning.  Surely in the past year there have been high points and low points, opportunities seized and opportunities missed.  We look to the new year as one filled with promises and possibilities.  But we are wise enough to know that the possibilities are not endless.  We are well acquainted with the mantra that we must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. The demands of our work and the obligations to our families require that we carefully budget our time and energy.

It is not an easy balancing act. Taking care of ourselves may mean that the laundry goes undone. Do we go to the gym or do we stay home in order to pay bills? Do we take some time for study or do we clean out our email inbox? Seeing it as black or white allows us to find the easy solution. We only do one of the options. And it is usually the option that benefits others more than it benefits us. But experience has shown us that we can actually do both. Even an hour can be divided in half. Moreover, doing something for ourselves often gives us the energy, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, to do even more. Just ask anyone who has exercised even a little. The benefits of greater energy or a clearer head last well beyond the minutes spent exercising.

In addition to making the time, planning is a key element in turning our best intentions into realities.  From setting an hour aside in our day for study to rearranging our schedules in order to attend an out-of-town conference, planning is essential.

As the new year is about to unfold, we again have the opportunity to consider, and plan, how study and professional development will add value to our lives and strengthen our leadership. Perhaps it will be a seminar on successful communications, taught by an expert in the field. Maybe it will be a series of webinars on building a Jewish mindfulness practice. Or a program designed specifically for rabbis of smaller congregations. As the role of the rabbi continues to change and the Jewish community continues to evolve, the CCAR is committed to providing you with the highest level of lifelong learning and professional development opportunities and experiences. The doorway of the new year is open, waiting for us to choose wisely from all that is there.

Rabbi Victor Appell is the new program manager at Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Categories
omer Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

We All Count: To See Ourselves, We Should Also See Others

This blog is the second in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the period of the Omer to the issue of race and class structural inequality.  Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is a joint project of the CCAR’s Peace & Justice Committee, the URJ’s Just Congregations, and the Religious Action Center. 

בכול דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים

“In each generation, a person is obligated to see things as if they themselves came out from Egypt.”

Looking through my father’s desk after he died, in the wallet that he had used in high school, in Baltimore in the 1950’s, I found two cards.  The first said something to the effect that “I am glad that your establishment chooses to serve people of all races, and I am proud to patronize it.”  The second basically said the opposite.  “I am sorry that your establishment does not choose to serve people of all races, and I will no longer chose to patronize it.”  I do not know that my father ever actually used these cards.  None of his friends remember this campaign.  I can only imagine the combination of courage, tact, and chutzpah it took to do so.  But before my father could have used such a card, he had to take a look around and notice the patrons of a particular store, or the signs that denied patronage.

In my middle school grade, there was one black child.  I noticed that he was black, but I did not consider what it might have meant for him to be the only black student in a white, suburban school.  My high school, on the other hand, was more diverse – I recall one of my teachers calling it a “ghetto school.” While the race of students in my health class matched the local demographics, there were no black students who were enrolled in all honors classes.  I didn’t recognize this until later.   To be honest, I might have noticed a large amount of African-Americans in a given situation; I didn’t noticed a demographically disproportionate small amount.

I have since learned that a vast amount of racial inequality happens under the radar of those who therefore reap, often unknowingly, the benefits of that injustice.  In learning about “the talk” that parents of African-American children need to give to their sons and daughters, I have discovered an entirely different view of our society.  Over the last several years, with a small group of individuals of different racial backgrounds, I have been engaged in deeply personal and open conversations about our experience of race and prejudice.  Educationally, socio-economically, and geographically, the leaders of this group (Social Justice Matters) are in the same location.  The world that we live in, however, is very different.  There has been much talk about what it means to “drive while black”, how the encounter of an African-American male with the police can be very different from that of a (seemingly) white or Asian male or female, even about being seen as an opportunity for a sale or a problem in a retail store.  What I have begun to see is the entire social construction that a black member of the group wears every day in order to live in a world where he must be ever-ready to explain himself, where any encounter can turn disastrous, and where he cannot even voice his frustration at the failure of another’s understanding or the non-existent pace of social change, lest he be branded an “angry black man”.

What does it mean for Jews to see ourselves as if we ourselves came out of Egypt?  Even if we cannot live inside someone else’s skin, how can we begin to understand another’s story?  How can we not only share that we are willing to try, but that we can begin to open our eyes to see the world differently – through the eyes of oppression?  After my father put those cards in his wallet, and before he handed them out, he had to take account of where he was, and who was around him.  Because, only once we have begun to see and take stock of and to number what is around us – to truly count, as we are called to through the omer – can we even ask the question what we can do to make change.

We all count is not just about who matters.  We must also actually count – who sits at the table with us; who can even enter the same doors; who is present and who is not.  Only then can we seek them out, and ask what it is we can do to help.  I have just begun to open my eyes.  This period of the Omer, I, and Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, invite you to open your eyes and take a count, as well.  Take the old story of the Exodus, and see through different eyes.  Look at the numbers that are people – in your communities and across the nation.  Only if we all count, can others count on us.

———

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the CCAR’s Committee on Peace, Justice and Civil Liberties, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations.

Rabbi Joel Abraham serves Temple Sholom of Scotch Plains, NJ

Categories
General CCAR Healing Rabbis

Rabbinic Soul Maintenance

I recently met with a colleague who informed me that she really doesn’t like to ask God for help, especially during Tishrei, because there’s already so much on God’s plate. It reminded me just a little bit of the old story with the punchline, “look who thinks she’s nothing?” I am reminded as well of a poignant piece by Jacob Staub on the difficulty of asking for help, available at http://firstdaypress.org/asking-for-help/: “And it is, for many of us, so difficult to ask for help. We may feel things slipping away from us, or the color bleeding from life. But all too often we wait until everything has already hit the fan to pick up the phone and say, ‘I need you.’”

Seth Bernstein posted a beautiful contemplation regarding the gift that Ruth Alpers and he offer our members as the Hotline rabbis of our CCAR Rapid Response team. I am honored this year to be able to join them as CCAR Intern for Member Care and Wellness, as part of my training at the NYU School of Social Work, where I am pursuing an MSW. Seth offered up a list of the kinds of issues which might prompt you to pick up the phone and call one of the three of us. Additionally, I invite you to attend to the basic question of soul maintenance – how are you holding up on a day-to-day basis in the face of all you shoulder personally and professionally? We would never hesitate to encourage a congregant who tells us she is feeling listless or he is feeling joyless to consider speaking to a therapist? But how many of us wait until something has gone dreadfully wrong. Are we sufficiently attuned to the weight of compassion, fatigue and, even, vicarious trauma on our psyches?

Dear colleagues, you offer yourselves up so generously to help others bear the burdens of their lives. The CCAR offers you the same. Ruth and Seth are available for moments of crisis. And for those who would like a few sessions of listening, sharing and examining where you are right now in your life and in the center of your being, I am here for you as well. I am also available for a small number of sessions of spiritual direction and will be facilitating some group work over the course of the year as well.

For more information, go to:  http://ccarnet.org/rabbis-communities/personal-resources-chevruta/rapid-response/

Rabbi Rex D Perlmeter is the CCAR NYU Social Work Intern for Member Care and Wellness.

Categories
Books Machzor Prayer

Machzor Blog: Liturgy with a Coat of Many Colors

Several years ago one of my congregants captured the essence of a discussion about a future Reform Machzor by saying, “I would like the liturgy to be like a coat of many colors.”

All of us present for the conversation understood.  This congregant was referring to the way in which the standard High Holiday liturgy mostly presents a single image of God.  “He” is enthroned on high; God rules, decides, and forgives a very frail humanity.

Before Mishkan Hanefesh had taken shape, my congregants and I were hoping for a Machzor that went beyond the “black and white” theology presented in the historic liturgy.  We were hoping to move, you might say, to “full color,” to the multi-faceted way in which Jews of the past have explored divinity, prayer, and life as well as the ways in which contemporary Jews continue that process.

The good news from my perspective is that, on the whole, my prayers and those of my congregants are on their way to being answered.

Back on a chilly Sunday morning in April, we used the new pilot service for Yom Kippur Morning and found much of what we experienced moving, challenging, and relevant.

Opposite Mi Chamocha, we encountered a reading based on the Mechilta’s assertion that the mighty God can sometimes be a silent God.  Later in the Viddui another text began with these words, “It is not easy to forgive God…The human suffering that surrounds us feels utterly unforgivable.”

There was sweetness too among other readings.   A beautiful poem on the page facing Ki Anu Amecha played with the metaphors of God as a Shepherd or Master.  The text invited worshipers to imagine God was a caring Gardener (1) and to consider what it might be like to experience love and tenderness from such a divine source.

From my perspective, several translations also elegantly reframed the connection between God and humanity.  “Avinu, Malkeinu, enter our names in the Book of Lives Well Lived.”  “For all these wrongs, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, help us atone.”

As you can tell, I liked this new presentation of the Yom Kippur liturgy.  Perhaps because my congregants have spent so much time with me considering and reconsidering faith and theology, they too were intrigued.  There was less formality in this proposed Machzor.  God isn’t as high.  Then again, we humans are not as low.  Both parties play a more balanced and significant covenantal role.  Both parties are where they need to be in order to have the kind of encounter that can make the High Holidays as meaningful as they really ought to be.

Mark Shapiro is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

Categories
Ethics General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice Statements

Reform Movement Welcomes Ruling in Marriage Equality Cases

Reform Movement leaders issued a statement today in response to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on marriage equality in the cases Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry. The following statement comes from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, chief executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Marla Feldman, executive director of Women of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is a significant victory for the protection of Americans’ civil rights. No longer will lesbian and gay couples remain invisible to the federal government; no longer should there be doubt about the legal legitimacy of these partnerships.

 

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which we vigorously opposed when it was first considered, has been an offensive and discriminatory measure since its passage in 1996. Since then millions have been denied fundamental rights because of the impact of this ill-advised law. Though that law still stands, today’s ruling in Windsor v. United States promises to lessen some of its most damaging effects. By striking down Article Three of DOMA – a section of the law that the Obama Administration stopped defending several years ago – the Court has enabled legally married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits, rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples.

 

Sadly, too many couples across America are still denied the fundamental right to marry. The Court’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively expands that right to tens of millions more Americans. The Court missed an opportunity to take a stronger stand for marriage equality today, yet it is a step toward greater civil rights for millions of Americans.

 

There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. Many faith traditions, including Reform Judaism, celebrate and sanctify same-sex marriages. Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.

 

Inspired by our Movement’s longstanding commitment to civil rights, we joined in amicus briefs to the Court in both the Perry and Windsor cases. We look forward to the day when full civil marriage equality is the law throughout the country, reflecting our nation’s historic commitment to the civil rights of every individual. In the meantime, today’s decisions will inspire us to continue to seek justice for all.

 

Categories
Books Machzor Prayer

Machzor Blog: Rosh HaShanah Morning and Torah Reading Options

The most traditional texts for the Torah reading on Rosh HaShanah morning are Genesis 21 and Genesis 22. In many congregations that observe two days of the holiday, it is most customary to read 21 on the first day and 22 on the second day. Genesis 21 begins with the notion that God remembered our matriarch Sarah and enabled her to have a child. The idea of remembering is tied to a name of Rosh HaShanah in the Bible: the Day of Remembrance. This is the lesson: God remembers us as God remembers Sarah. To paraphrase a very different cultural artifact: “God knows when we have been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.”

Genesis 22, the famous Binding of Isaac story, may be read on the second day for the prosaic reason that it is the next part of the Torah, and thus no Torah scroll maneuvering is needed. There are also connections between the ram in the story and the sounding of the ram’s horn. In addition, there are a multitude of sermonic challenges, explaining why God would test Abraham in such a way. But then maybe that is the point of Rosh HaShanah: we are all being tested.

When Gates of Repentance was adapted more than thirty years ago from the British liberal machzor, the committee decided to omit Genesis chapter 21, perhaps due to its negative treatment of a non-Israelite, but also because of lack of space. Space was lacking because Genesis 1 was added. Rosh HaShanah is considered by the ancient Rabbis to be the birthday of the world, so it follows that reading about the birth of the world is apt.

Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor, will include all three of these three choices, enabling congregations to have more options about what to read on Rosh HaShanah.  In addition, the editors wish to also add a fourth option: chapter 18 of Genesis. Why? Genesis 1 is beautiful but offers no human narrative. Genesis 21 and 22 feature the founder of what will become Judaism acting in ways that modern readers easily find questionable, i.e., casting out his son Ishmael and her mother and then readily agreeing to kill his beloved Isaac. On the other hand, Genesis 18 features Abraham questioning God, like a loyal but confident subordinate might question his or her boss. When God chooses collective punishment for all the inhabitants of Sodom, Abraham asks God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth not also act in a just manner?” We the editors feel that a story showing the positive side of Abraham’s development as a leader is inspirational for all of us who aspire to act with righteousness, even if at times that means questioning authority.

We hope that the Torah choices included in the new machzor will prompt many years of conversation about important topics and lead as well to chesbon hanefesh, a searching of our own souls for the good and the true.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg has served as the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables since 1996. In July he will begin serving as the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago. Rabbi Goldberg is the coordinating editor of the forthcoming CCAR Machzor and is the author of five books including, Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most and Love Tales from the Talmud. This post also appeared on http://www.reformjudaism.org. 

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

Categories
Books General CCAR Machzor News Prayer Reform Judaism

Machzor Blog: Thoughts on Torah Readings

Our congregation, Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York, has been worshipping with a draft copy of Mishkan HaNefesh for three years now, on the second day of Rosh Ha-Shanah.  About four hundred congregants and members of the community-at-large show up for this service, and we have taken the opportunity not only to pilot the new machzor from the pulpit, but also to invite the participants’ feedback.  In general, opinion about the machzor is positive, with many praising the dignified, uplifting, and poetic English prayer-renderings and meditations, and others appreciating the opportunities for study and reflection built into the machzor.

Because the draft copy we have been piloting does not feature a Torah service, we have jumped back into Gates of Repentance for the Torah Service and we have produced our own one-page handout for the Shofar Service.  The Torah service, however, prompts a fascinating question about which our congregation and clergy have been wondering aloud for a couple of years:  what Torah readings will Mishkan HaNefesh propose for reading on First and Second Day Rosh HaShanah?

This spring I taught an eight-week adult education course in midrash using Akedat Yitzhak (The Binding of Isaac, Genesis 22) as our primary text.  While many of the students feel spiritually and emotionally drawn to the Binding of Isaac and recognize its importance within Judaism–an importance that led to our Reform Movement proposing it as the reading for First Day Rosh HaShanah, instead of on Day Two, where it is found in Orthodox and Conservative circles–many agreed that the time has come to re-locate Akedat Yitzhak on Day Two, and replace the Torah reading for First Day Rosh Ha-Shanah with the traditional Scriptural passage, Genesis 21, which not only sets up the drama for day two (Genesis 21 details the birth of Isaac and his place in Jewish genealogy), but also beautifully meshes with Rosh Ha-Shanah themes of birth and hopefulness.

I would warmly support the re-introduction of this text.  It would embrace the value of Klal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish People, by bringing us into common practice with other streams of Judaism.  It would also invite the rabbi to explore new and varied preaching topics on Rosh HaShanah morning, and offer new discussion topics for congregants.

Knowing our Reform Movement, and the format of Mishkan T’filah, I suspect that choices will be offered, including the choice of reverting to Genesis 21.  Readers, what do you think?

Rabbi Jonathan Blake serves Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY.

 Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.  For more information about participating in piloting, email machzor@ccarnet.org.

 

Categories
General CCAR News Rabbis Reform Judaism

Gender and the Rabbinate: Difficult Issues

In the final session of the recent two-day CCAR conference on “Gender: Difficult Issues,” there were no epiphanies.  Instead, we acknowledged that while gender is more fluid than we had once thought, it also can seem more intransigent.  As we talked, we concluded that looking at these difficult issues requires a multi-layered approach to gender.

In the early days of women in the rabbinate, most of us thought that once the novelty wore off, people would relate to male and female rabbis in similar ways. Now we know that they do and yet they don’t.  A story will illustrate. I think of the time I ran into our colleague Rabbi Howie Jaffe in the local supermarket. Two congregants of his passed by and commented on what a terrific guy he was (and he is!), helping out his wife by shopping for her in the middle of the workday.  I remember saying to him, “You know, if you were a  female rabbi, they would have walked past and said to each other, ‘You see? You hire a woman and she’s at the store instead of being at the Temple.’”

This idle comment reflects the deepest layer of gender attitudes and perhaps the one that offers us the greatest challenges.  It reflects the fantasies that exist in the unconscious primitive mind.  In this part of the brain, the Mother Rabbi as the source of unconditional love is enshrined in a way that the Father Rabbi is not.  The Father Rabbi may elicit a desire to feel protected and guided, but when you cry – and sometimes before you cry – it is the Mother you turn to for comfort and sustenance.  The only problem is that no one ever has the perfect mother.  Some are lucky and have a mother who is “good enough” (the idea that the mother only needs to be “good enough” to raise a healthy child is a concept offered by the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott).  Real mothers come too late or too early and offer too much or not enough.  So real children necessarily feel deprived and, by extension, so do adult congregants who unknowingly respond to those emotional triggers.  The Father Rabbi in the supermarket might make you feel safe and cared for, while the Mother Rabbi sparks your old feelings of deprivation by putting her family’s needs ahead of yours.

These responses to rabbinic gender aren’t as neat as I make it appear in this story. People can develop a mother transference to a male rabbi or a father transference to a female rabbi. But for this moment in time, it gives us a way of thinking about how our gender affects our rabbinates, what our gender arouses in the people we serve, and what gender inspires in us.  Because these attitudes about gender are unconscious, they aren’t available to us and people aren’t aware they are acting on fantasy. To them, in that moment, it feels real.

Knowing that gender triggers these deep fantasies can help us grasp the practical implications and guide us in our responses. One implication has to do with rabbinic comings and goings. People who are sensitive to deprivation often react strongly to rabbinic absence, whether a long absence when the rabbi goes on vacation or a shorter absence when the rabbi goes to her child’s soccer game instead of going to the bar mitzvah luncheon.  While it is important for rabbis to spend time with our families and to have time to ourselves, we need to think carefully about how we present those needs to our congregations and constituents. It would be nice to think that they want us to lead whole balanced lives and that they are thrilled when we spend time recharging, but even members who have the general appreciation that rabbis have personal needs are likely to feel specifically deprived if their personal event is sacrificed for rabbinic personal happiness.  If you say, “I can’t officiate at your baby naming on that day because my son has a soccer game,” you are more likely to trigger deprivation and anger than if you say, “I wish I could officiate on that day but I am not available.  How about the following Sunday?”

Another implication – this for more discussion another time – has to do with contract negotiation.  Negotiating with a congregant who (unconsciously) yearns for your unconditional love will be highly charged.  Contracts are by definition conditional.  For some members, negotiating with you is like having to pay mother for her love.  And there are also the feelings (often also unconscious) that we bring to these interactions.  Are we wishing for unconditional love ourselves when we negotiate?  Or are we so afraid of wounding our congregants that we hesitate about getting our own needs met, leaving us the ones feeling deprived?

“Gender: Difficult Issues” was an apt title for our two-day conversation.  It was only the beginning of an ongoing conversation we need to have with ourselves, each other, and our leadership.

Rabbi Ellen Lewis (www.rabbiellenlewis.com) has a particular interest in the integration of religious and psychoanalytical concepts and has worked at developing models of clinical supervision for rabbis, cantors, and other religious professionals.  In her private practice, she works with rabbis and cantors in therapy and supervision.  After her ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1980, she served congregations in Dallas, Texas, and Summit, New Jersey, where she was named Rabbi Honorata.  Since 1994, she has been the Rabbi of the Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey in Washington, NJ (www.jcnwj.org).  

Rabbi Lewis is also a certified and licensed modern psychoanalyst in private practice in Bernardsville, New Jersey and in New York City. She received her analytical training in New York at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (www.cmps.edu) and at present serves on the faculty of the Academy of Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis (www.acapnj.org).  She is a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (www.aapc.org). She can be reached via email at rabbiellenlewis@rabbiellenlewis.com or in her NJ office 908 766 7586.