Convention Israel

Balancing Self Preservation and Justice

I attended the Pre-Convention morning studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute with Yossi Klein Halevi on Tuesday.

The Jewish people read a lot of text. We do this to remember our history, to study our most important values, and because text both ancient and modern can help to reveal ourselves to ourselves. Tuesday morning Yossi Klein Halevi helped us explore the competing values of “Remember you were strangers ” which teaches us that we may not be brutal, and “Remember what Amalek did to you…,” which teaches us that we shouldn’t be naive.

On the surface it may not be clear how these values may compete, but when we read them with an eye towards the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians we begin to see how hard it may be to find a balance. We, the Jewish people must not behave in a brutal way. We must not oppress the stranger, we must love our neighbor as ourselves, and yet when we have a long and difficult relationship with our neighbor, with the people we share land with, how can we forget, how can we love when we understand that this relationship is not so easy. How can we both avoid naïveté and brutality with the neighbor and the history that we have.

Through chevruta and with the larger group we examined multiple texts with an eye toward finding a balance both between brutality and naïveté and between self-preservation and justice.

For me the stand out text was was a poem by Uri Zvi Greenberg, “Holy of Holies.” Written in the early 1950’s, this poem is a conversation between Uri and his mother who was killed in the Holocaust. In it she says to him, “And even when the Redeemer comes, and the nations shall beat their swords into/ pruning-hooks and throw their rifles into the fire–/ you will not, my son, you will not!/ …Lest the nations arise again and gather iron/ and rise against us again and we will not be prepared/ as we were not prepared until now!” He posits that the Holocaust or all of Jewish history teaches us that even after the messiah comes we can not lower our guard because the nations will always come for us. And so we will always wear our uniforms and carry our weapons or we risk history repeating once again.

And yet, we must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love ourselves, we must love our neighbors and we must do these things in equal measure.

I do not know if balancing justice with self-preservation, or brutality with naivete, or even self love with neighbor love will bring the coming of the messiah or even just peace in the Middle East, but I  would like to see us continue in this struggle. It’s a good one.

Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker serves Congregation Kol Ami in Vancouver, Washington.

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A Conference of Colleagues, A Blessing of Rabbis

I’m not sure what one calls a large gathering of rabbis. Is it a rabble of rabbis? A den of rabbis? A blessing of rabbis? Whatever the official appellation, there sure were a lot of us at the CCAR convention I just attended in Chicago. In fact there were over 500 rabbonim gathered at the Fairmont Hotel for 4 days of learning, studying, schmoozing, and connecting. As always it is a sweet reunion of old friends, pulling out our iPhones, sharing pictures of our spouses and our kids and now for some of us, our grandchildren. It has also become a chance to meet new colleagues with new ideas about so much of what we senior rabbis have been doing for decades. These encounters can be bracing: the young are so certain about so much… These encounters can also be humbling, because they produce fresh insights into long held views on any number of practices.

We invite young scholars, many of them now teaching at Hebrew Union College, the Reform seminary. And they are so smart! So credentialed from fine universities: Yale, Sorbonne, Hebrew University, and so forth… We learn that there are few eternal verities in Jewish Studies.

We also invite people from the world of business and politics to share their wisdom as it relates to Jewish life and leadership. With them we learn the shifting complexities and expectations of community, whether that be a community of consumers, Congressmen and women, or congregants. It is sobering for all of us to recognize that everyone agrees with the notion that we are living during a transition; we just don’t know to what we’re transitioning. There’s the rub…

untitled-58-2Yet with all the stress on the new and evolving, some things do not change, including the Reform movement’s commitment to social justice. This past Wednesday night Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center reminded us that for 50 years, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (“the RAC”) has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C. The RAC educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on more than 70 different issues, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel and more. He spoke with Jim Wallis, a Christian writer and political activist who is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine. Together they reminded the rabbis to keep our eyes on the prize.

Congregational life is changing and by definition, so too must the congregational rabbinate. We are less and less called upon to be scholars, experts in Jewish studies. More and more we are called upon to serve our temples through compassionate caring and connection. Adhering to “the way we have always done it” has slowly changed to doing “whatever is new and hip.” We are truly in new digital territory with analog maps. That consensus is shared by the vast majority of rabbis. So many Reform rabbis agreeing about anything en masse is cause to pay attention.

Rabbis are opinionated people with a deep sense of obligation to our congregations. We know that we will be called upon for unimaginably wonderful moments. We also know that we will be called upon to be present, to hold the center in the midst of devastating loss. We are not prophets yet we are often expected to fill that role – as well as the role of priest. Being at a conference of colleagues reminds us all that we are all human. We lack super powers. We are lonely sometimes. We are blessed to be present in the most sacred moments of life. Thirty years after my ordination and a day after the CCAR annual convention, I feel more blessed, luckier every day, to be a congregational rabbi.

Rabbi Keith Stern serves Temple Beth Avodah in Newton, MA.

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Arriving at #CCAR14 – The CCAR Convention

The CCAR Convention – it’s a gathering of over 550 rabbis in one place.  An awesome experience every year with opportunities to study, teach, pray with, and connect with colleagues.  And it all takes place starting in just a few hours.

convention-home-imageSome of us have already arrived and being from the west coast, are wide awake at 1:53 am. Morning will come soon enough and meetings will begin, (I’m honored to serve on the CCAR National Board) and learning will commence. Not to mention, much coffee  will be consumed because we will not be sleeping. Too many people to catch up with as most of us talk throughout the year but this is the one time we get to see one another face to face. And who wants to sleep when someone pulls out a guitar in the lobby and all we want to do is sing all night!

So let the 125th CCAR National Convention begin.  There will be great programs, amazing conversations, and thoughtful challenges to help us be better rabbis. (And I’m feeling good that all this is true, I am on the committee who helped plan it).

Follow us on Twitter – #CCAR14, read my blog and many others and check out what happens when 700 Reform rabbis get together in one place! Yeah, this is going to be awesome!

Rabbi Heidi Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana, CA. This post originally appeared on her blog, 

You can follow everyone tweeting about #CCAR14 by following our #CCAR14 Twitter list.