Writing Our Rabbinic Histories

As a rabbinical student, I spent a lot of time studying and working with Dr. Gary Zola, and so I am never that surprised to find myself unconsciously mimicking him by referring to, “the historic Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR.”

HUCinci was historic well before I stepped onto the campus, but today, as I returned to 3101 Clifton Avenue for the first time since I was ordained in 2014, I realized that I had become a part of my school’s historic identity.

This understanding was cemented for me during the class “roll call” which highlighted more than 60 years of ordination classes that are present at our convention. As each year was called, I watched as rabbinic classes demonstrated their diverse personalities. Some shouted and clapped, others stood calmly and with little fanfare, and still others sprung up from their seats, waving joyfully.

As we made our way back in time, we eventually reached the classes that had been ordained more than 50 years ago. It was very moving to see how the entire conference stood for each of these groups, applauding the colleagues who have served the Jewish people for so many decades.

Hours later, at the Women’s Rabbinic Network dinner, we repeated the roll call. Once again, each class showed their unique style. Some moved across the room to stand together, others high fived enthusiastically, and upon standing, some discovered that their new vantage points allowed them to see classmates that they had not realized were in attendance. And then 1972 was called, Rabbi Sally Priesand stood with a smile and wave, and all of us who came after her rose as well, applauding in gratitude for her leadership and spirit.

While both of these roll calls were joyous and fun, they also prompted moments of introspection. I couldn’t help but think about what my classmates and I would look like when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our ordination. This May will mark 5 years since we stood on the bimah of Plum Street Temple and received our blessings from Rabbi Aaron Panken, of blessed memory. But, even though it has only been half a decade, it feels as if we have all changed and grown so much already. Who will we be in 10, 20, and 60 years? What kind of rabbis will we have become? What history will we have written for ourselves and our communities?

200 years ago, the founder of American Reform Judaism, Isaac Mayer Wise, was born. 144 years ago, the Hebrew Union College was created by Rabbi Wise, and 130 years ago, he established the Central Conference of American Reform Rabbis. 47 years ago Sally Priesand became the first woman ordained by a rabbinical seminary, and 44 years ago, female rabbinical students created the Women’s Rabbinic Network. Five years ago, my classmates and I were ordained, and in that moment, we were written into the history of the CCAR and (for my female classmates and I) the WRN.

It has been wonderful to spend several days praying, talking, and learning with rabbis of so many generations. At moments, it has felt as if I could see both the past and future of our movement reflected in the faces of the hundreds of colleagues who have gathered together for our convention. It has been a gift to have the time to reflect on the history of our movement, but I know that I will leave Cincinnati tomorrow focused more on our future than on our past.

I’m not sure what the next forty-five years will hold for my classmates and I, but I hope that when we stand together in 2064 and listen to someone call out, “the class of 2014,” we will rise with all the joy, pride, and contentment that comes from knowing that the history we’ve been writing has benefitted our college, our conference, our movement, and the Jewish people. It’s a tall order, but we’ve got plenty of time to make it happen.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman serves Temple B’nai Chaim and is the Marketing and Communications Vice President of the Women’s Rabbinic Network.


A Class Reunion Dinner at CCAR Convention

An Italian restaurant.  The pasta, pizza, atmosphere— all these things were lovely.  However, this particular dinner was not really about the food.  The dinner was a modality for bringing together a group of rabbis.  The CCAR Convention is a collection of a number of groupings: different interests, differing causes or issues, friendships created over time spent on committees, on trips, servings faculty at camps.  These various levels and sizes of cohorts add texture and meaning for the rabbis who gathering in our annual rabbinic conference.  I believe that these experiences can matter for those who attend regularly and for those rabbis who only attend occasionally or rarely.  These are among the ingredients that offer learning, experimenting, and visioning for our individual rabbinates and our Conference as a whole.

One such grouping is particularly unique. It is a gathering around the meal that I began describing.  The primary ingredient was and is rabbinic school classmates catching up.  Laughing, sharing stories, supporting one another; these are the spices.  Some of us talk or text often.  Others connect only at the annual CCAR Convention, or even less often.   Each time we gather around the table, we represent only a portion of our class.  However, the others are present as we tell old stories and catch up regarding our class.

Glancing around the restaurant, we realize that there are other classes gathered as well.  They connect over their stories, sadnesses, advice and laughter.  This year is special for our class.  We celebrate 25 years since our 1994 ordinations, across multiple HUC-JIR campuses.  We embrace those members who started with us or ended with us, but didn’t spend the full journey together.  Our rabbinic careers are spent largely apart from one another, but we draw strength in our gathering amidst a larger convention.

Sure, just a dinner.  However, a dinner of friends, who having started our careers together, still can draw strength, support, and mutual respect from each other. So the ingredients at this meal were special and we look forward to future meals together.

Rabbi Andrew Busch serves Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.  

Convention News

Prayer and Pancakes at CCAR Convention

A day that begins at a historic synagogue and concludes with lemon ricotta pancakes is an excellent one, if you ask me. In between these marvelous experiences came wonderful conversations with colleagues – on topics ranging from the CCAR Journal to rabbinic self-care to the Code of Ethics to the Shulchan Aruch to the malleability of halacha – and enriching learning sessions and a moving plenary honoring Steve Fox; but I’d really like to focus on the synagogue, and the pancakes.

One of the reasons I became a rabbi is my love of prayer. But since ordination, I have a hard time with communal prayer. Although I find great meaning and even inspiration praying with my congregation, I also feel on display, watched, and judged – and not (just) by the Holy One. Well-intentioned remarks like, “You have such a beautiful voice,” “Your hair looks so pretty pulled back,” and “I love seeing you pray – you seem so into it,” make me feel self-conscious, and unable to throw myself into worship as wholeheartedly as I once could.

But it’s different at CCAR – and not only because of the majesty of Plum Street Temple, where I was ordained almost 21 years ago, or the incredible talents of our shlichei tzibor. It’s different because I’m among colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. I can sing “Ma Tovu” as passionately as I’d like (with apologies to those sitting nearby, as my voice is not actually all that beautiful), remain standing during the Amidah as long as I want, get teary-eyed during the Mi Sheberach, bounce along to “Lo Yisa Goy” as the Torah is taken from the Ark – and no one comments. No one notices. No one is evaluating me – not my stance in prayer, not my engagement with the liturgy, not even my hair (which was not pulled back but still looked quite pretty, in my opinion). It’s just me, and God, and hundreds of colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. And it’s amazing.

And about those pancakes. I don’t love pancakes as much as I love prayer, but it’s embarrassingly close. And while I do have close friends in my hometown with whom I can eat pancakes, I’m also wary of being watched and evaluated when I’m at a restaurant with new acquaintances. People comment on what I order, how much I eat or don’t eat, ask me why I avoid or indulge in specific dishes – and while I know I shouldn’t care, of course I do. And while I know logically that people’s opinions about my eating habits have exactly no correlation to my ability to serve as their rabbi, I still don’t order pancakes with people unless I know them really, really well.

But it’s different at CCAR. I went out to a meal with some new acquaintances – and I wanted lemon ricotta pancakes, so I ordered them. I didn’t worry about what my fellow diners might think, or if they would look askance at my meal, or if they would check out my figure and decide silently if I should be eating pancakes or not. Instead I enjoyed swapping stories from our Years-in-Israel, playing Jewish Geography, and seeing photos of some truly fabulous hand-sewn Purim costumes. It was just me, and pancakes, and a tableful of colleagues, friends, rabbis who get it. And it was amazing.

Of course the CCAR Convention is for rabbis – but in a way, it’s a break from being a rabbi. And that break makes me a better rabbi – more focused, more honest, more joyful, more dedicated, more in touch with my learning and my prayer and my self-care and my calling and my God.

I am really grateful for this day. I am really grateful for Convention. I am really grateful for CCAR.

Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman is the editor-in-chief of the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly.


Finding the 2019 CCAR Board of Trustees

In 1890, in his message to the first convention of the CCAR, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise shared the following:

“Whatever advances the spirit of Judaism in its true character …  it is the right and duty of the united rabbis in conference assembled to do, and do it well., in the name of God and Israel, for the sake of our country and our people, for the triumph of truth, humanity, and righteousness.”

Here we are, almost 130 years later.  This charge continues to inspire us, lifting our souls, grounding our mission, and igniting our values.

Andrea Goldstein and I were honored to co-chair the nominating committee for the next generation of the CCAR Board.  Our committee took very seriously the sacred task of finding those in our Conference who would not only perpetuate the vision inspired by Wise, but also those whose can propel us into the future.

What does that include:

  1. It was important that the board maintain a sense of continuity so that the new board felt they were able to hit the ground running right away (especially with the retirement of Steve Fox)
  2.  Diversity– specifically we were looking to create a more diverse board when it came to gender, LGBTQ colleagues and non-pulpit rabbis.  We were less concerned, this year, with geographic diversity or in looking at the size of the congregations or organizations that our colleagues served.
  3.  Dynamic Initiative– we were looking for colleagues whom we believed would not just fulfill the expectations of being a CCAR board members, but who would go above and beyond in working to improve our conference.
  4.  Finally, we were looking at an intangible quality that we referred to as “rabbis who make us want to be better rabbis” – rabbis who inspire us and continue to remind us of why our jobs are meaningful.

When the Conference unanimously affirmed our new slate, the Lamp that we are eternally lighting grew brighter, and the dream of Rabbi Wise transformed into the prophetic promise of our leadership.  MAZAL TOV to our new leaders, and THANK YOU to all who have served on this past board.

It was so meaningful being a part of this process.  Each and every member of the CCAR is a descendant of incredible vision.  We are also ancestors to those who will transform goodness.

Rabbi Zach Shapiro serves Temple Akiba of Culver City, California.


Dr. Susannah Heschel on Her Father’s Legacy

After a gracious introduction by Rabbi Gary Zola, Dr. Susannah Heschel took the stage at the 130th Convention of the Conference of American Rabbis. She started by telling us how she once wanted to be a rabbi not a professor, but we are so lucky that she choose the path that she did. Even though her father told her not to be an academic. For she is a brilliant teacher or scholar as was her father.

Dr. Heschel spoke about her father’s legacy and the importance of tzedek v’shalom, justice and peace. She spoke powerfully about the walls we build, not only physically but within our hearts. Throughout her talk, Dr. Heschel connected her father’s words to our current lives. His legacy continues through each of us, who have been touched by his life and writings.

Rabbi Heschel lived his life during a period of turmoil in our country. His words are our inspiration as we figure out whether we never again for the Jews is the same as never again for everyone in our world. Her challenge to us, Reform Jewish leaders, was to figure out what is important to us and to work on that issue. For there is too much in our world that is wrong that without direction we will be frozen.

Rabbi Heschel’s legacy is a reminder that we have the power to make a difference in our world, that we cannot stay silent even in light of the divisions within our communities.

Dr. Heschel is a credit to her father’s legacy, but we must remember that she is an important scholar in her own right. She spoke eloquently about the fact that Zionism has always come in multiple strands, and we have a responsibility to dialogue with one another and with those outside of our community. These were powerful words in a room of diverse opinions.

A great thank you to the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives for sponsoring Dr. Heschel’s talk.

Rabbi Simone Schicker serves Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


Anticipating Cincinnati 2019

Several of my fellow Convention Committee members have offered reflections in this space about the upcoming convention. I join them in looking forward to the opportunity for professional development and personal growth.

The CCAR convention was held in Jerusalem during my HUC-JIR Year in Israel. There are two things that I vividly remember from that gathering. First, we had the opportunity to participate in the programs with many of the major speakers, including Prime Minister Rabin. Second, I was amazed and uplifted by seeing so many of my rabbis in one place at one time, and to see the love and enthusiasm they offered to one another.

Our conventions are special because they allow us to be together, in person and away from the demands of our daily lives. Yes, there may be a temptation to brag or to only share in superficial ways, but I believe that our conventions provide us with an important chance to open up to one another. The power of coming to Cincinnati this spring lies in the chance to find support in facing our stresses. I have learned over the years that while I can certainly talk about my successes when I see colleagues at Convention, it is much more gratifying and beneficial when I open up and share about my struggles. The time we have together at convention is a unique opportunity to be with people with extraordinary talents, great wisdom, and a definite understanding of what we face in living and working as rabbis.

Yes, there will be several impressive keynote speakers at CCAR 2019. There will undoubtedly be lots of chances to celebrate together. However, what I look forward to most is the chance to bring the fullness of my life and my rabbinate to share with our colleagues, and to find the support, inspiration, and comfort that allows me to recharge and return home renewed in confronting the demands that lie ahead.

Rabbi Peter W. Stein serves Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY.  Click here to register now for CCAR Convention 2019.


Apologies to Marie Kondo

Recently the self-appointed organizing guru, Marie Kondo, stated on her Netflix show Tidying up with Marie Kondo, “ideally keep less than 30 books.” Needless to say, this caused a great deal of consternation and a bit of a kerfuffle in the social media world. Some of the best responses included those asking follow up clarification questions like: does she mean per shelf or per night stand? Kondo replied by stating, “If the image of someone getting rid of books or having only a few books makes you angry, that should tell you how passionate you are about books, what’s clearly so important in your life.”

I like to joke that one of the reasons I became a rabbi was because in this profession, book addiction is not only socially acceptable but also required. Aside from a variety of Torah Commentaries, Codes, and general books on Jewish history and philosophy, my office, like many of yours, is an a eclectic mix of topics from sociology and psychology to the luminaries of Hollywood and the early years of the comic book industry. I think this is in part because ours is one of the last professions where we are expected to know a little bit about a lot of topics.

This is one of the main reasons why I so enjoy coming to convention. I enjoy hearing from experts and scholars in their fields to help me learn just a little bit more than I knew before I attended. I am particularly excited for our Beit Midrash, our day of study at HUC-JIR. We will have the opportunity to learn from a number of professors from all four of our campuses both in lecture presentations and also in guided chevruta study. What is just as powerful, is as one of the committee members who has been working on this program, the number of our professors who are equally excited and honored to be presenting to us. It looks to be an amazing day of learning.

The theme of the convention is the “130th Birthday of the CCAR and the 200th Birthday of Isaac Mayer Wise.” More than that, our hope, as the committee, is to look at our past in order to be better equipped and prepared to take on an ever more dynamic future. The very nature of what it means to be a rabbi in the 21st century is changing constantly and evolving in ways that I am sure would both surprise and confound Isaac Mayer Wise. However, I am also sure that he would feel that the future of the movement and the rabbinate is in no better hands than ours.

To this end, I for one, am excited to learn from our teachers and our colleagues not just at the HUC-JIR Beit Midrash, but also at the General Workshops and all of the other sessions we are working so diligently to offer. If individually, we each know a little bit about a lot of things, this means collectively, we know a lot more about a lot of things. Aside from connecting with friends, eating good food, and learning more technical skills, I feel CCAR Convention is one of of our greatest opportunities simply to learn for the sake of learning and to continue to build upon that collective knowledge. And who knows, maybe by the end of Convention, we also will get some more book recommendations to add to our shelves. I for one am looking to see if I can get at least 30 more great book ideas, apologies to Marie Kondo, but books and learning are a big part of my passion in life.

I hope to see you there.

Register For Convention Now


Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff serves The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York. 

Learning and Connecting at CCAR Convention 2019

I stood as I’ve done thousands of times before with my eyes closed concentrating on the words, Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad! Except this time it was different. I was leading my congregation on a recent Friday night and for the first time during this moment of introspection a terrifying thought emerged, “what if? What if a perpetrator at this exact moment decides to enter like at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh because at this moment I am vulnerable, I am not paying attention to my surroundings?” This thought was quickly followed, “what is this world coming to?”

This is a question that I know I am not alone in considering. At the upcoming Convention in Cincinnati, we will take the time to delve deep into the issues of our day like antisemitism, security protocols, Torah learning, professional development, and so much more. It will also be the first time for many of us that we will share the stories and learn best practices from others as we debrief our communities response to the Pittsburgh Massacre. There will be sessions like, “Recovering from Moral Injury: Textual and Ritual Resources for Care,” “Lessons from Parkland and Northern California,” and “The Realities of Hate Online,” where we will be able to learn from experts and take new insights and practices back to our own communities.

In particular, I am looking forward to hearing from Attorney Roberta Kaplan. While known for her work on United States v. Windsor, the case that led to the end of the Defense of Marriage Act, Kaplan has a new case. Sines v. Kessler accuses the organizers of the Charlottesville’s march of conspiring to bring a campaign of violence under a pretext of a peaceful exercise of free speech. As Kaplan says “DOMA ‘was about the equal dignity of gay people…The Charlottesville case is also about equal dignity. It’s just about different groups of people.’”[1] There will surely be information and experiences to glean from Kaplan that will help those of us fortunate to attend to convention to consider and to share with our colleagues, institutions, and communities.

Most importantly, there will be opportunities, as abundant as one wishes to make them, for sharing stories, connecting with others, and hopefully, healing. In today’s world, we need to be together. While just a few days time, the annual Convention is a time to recharge one’s rabbinic batteries. We will take the opportunities, both formal and informal, to listen to one another, to ask the hard questions, share our fears, and make plans to move forward together. I hope that you will join me. Register now.

[1] Chernikoff, Helen. “Madam Precedent.” The Forward Magazine. (July 13, 2018): 26-31.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman serves Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, California.