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.


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.


50 Years in the Rabbinate

About the time I was ordained, Arnold Jacob Wolf alav ha-shalom, wrote a paper entitled, The Ideal Synagogue. I have saved it over the years. With modification it represents the dream of an ideal congregational rabbi I have harbored for half a century and even before.

What if there were a God? A God who was alive, concerned, somehow connected with the Jews. What, then, would the Synagogue be like? It would be a place of prayer directed toward the living God, where one could study God’s cryptic communiques to man and humbly try to enact God’s will in life …. No poor man, no victim, no brother in need would be unwelcome to entreat these Jews. All of these deeds of the congregation would be in the service of God. Service of self would not be the purpose of that congregation. Strenuous work in prayer, in study, and in acts of compassion would preempt time or energy for self-congratulation or for amusement. … Entering that congregation would mean submission, not to the Rabbi or the board, but to the One who called the world (and the synagogue) into being.

(That Synagogue would be a congregation) where all views are welcome if those who hold them do not run away but seek further, where an atheist is (only) one who lives everywhere as if there were no God.

The Rabbi of such a congregation will open the substance of his faith to public inspection and the accuracy of his knowledge will be on trial every day. His members .. will want his concern and will offer him their advice. He will learn more than he meant to learn. He will be pushed to extremities of creativity he finds dangerous and new. … He will see the awful emptiness of the contemporary American Jew and most of all, his own and his predestined failure will be in the service of the Utmost. … He will stand for something, some One – and encourage his people to become both free and committed.

Perhaps this congregation under God is Utopian. But Utopia is only what some call the Messiah. Messianic is what takes a long time, and Jewish is what we can do immediately.

My immediate Rabbinate has been far from this ideal, but it has been closer than many. Its best years, the greater majority, have been spent at congregations which hold active membership in both the Reform and Conservative Movements. In West Virginia and Utah I have come to learn that Judaism is a uniter of diverse Jews once they come to face and accept the commonalities of our Covenant.

Inspiring my rabbinate have been teachings of four of my Rabbis. I paraphrase them slightly:

Rabbi Maurice Pekarsky of the University of Chicago Hillel taught me: Judaism is a discipline for making a Jew into a better person.

Rabbi Petuchowsky of HUC-JIR taught me: You come here wanting to be a Rabbi, but first you have to learn how to be a Jew.

Rabbi Jacob Radar Marcus taught me: Remember, rabbis, you are in sales, not in management. God is the Manager.

Rabbi Sheldon Blank taught me: For Jews, hope is a duty.

All these teachings have led me into an active life teaching, preaching, leading worship, officiating at life cycle events from womb to tomb, representing the Jewish community to the non-Jewish world from Mormons to Muslims, counseling, administering, mentoring and nurturing potential Jews and non Jews who love Judaism, attending an infinity of meetings, helping to set policy, distributing tzedakah, executing the will of a bachelor philanthropist, and even janitoring. All in all, I’ve been neither a Rav nor a Rebbe, but proudly a Reform Rabbi who teaches Judaism to Conservative and Reform Jews in Salt Lake City.

In retirement, I have spent three wonderful seasons in Israeli Youth Villages and nearly four fulfilling years as Rabbi in Residence in Alaska. I taught world religions in a liberal arts college for eleven years. Twice, in between my successors, I’ve assumed full Rabbinic duties. I belong to two Havuot. Rochelle and I continue our lives together in Salt Lake City, the place that has become our home. I continue to teach teens and adults and officiate when asked in the Synagogue where we raised our two wonderful children. Close friends surround us here, and two plots await in the Salt Lake Jewish Cemetery.

In 1987, Rabbi Morris Hershman of the URJ told me: If you can raise a merger of convenience into a vision, you’ll be success. I’m still working at it.

Rabbi Fred Wenger is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 







The Road Taken

My classmates and I walked out of Isaac Mayer Wise Temple on Plum Street in Cincinnati 50 years ago with smiles on our faces and the ink barely dry on the S’michah each of us had just been awarded. While I occasionally muse on the roads not taken (law, medicine, teaching), for me, the rabbinate was the road taken.

We were the last class required to volunteer for the military chaplaincy, and some of us were headed to those assignments. Others were headed to assistantships or solo positions in small congregations. Some were headed to Hillel or Ph.D. programs. We were one of the last three classes to be comprised of all males. Sally Priesand would be ordained three years later. Some of us began our studies at the Appian Way campus in Los Angeles. The opening of the Skirball Campus near USC was some two years away, and ordination in L.A. was years away. L.A. students finished their studies in Cincinnati. And we hardly knew our New York counterparts, who studied on W. 68th St. The Brookdale Center campus on W. 4th St. would open 10 years later. Some of us had taken a year’s leave of absence along the way to study in Israel, so we were not ordained with our original entering class. The First Year in Israel for all students was still more than a year away from reality.

I was among those headed for an assistantship in a large congregation with a seasoned senior rabbi as mentor. In my new congregation – as in the majority of Reform congregations – the rabbis wore black pulpit gowns (white on the High Holy Days) and led services from the Union Prayer Book in rather formal (and often magnificent) sanctuaries. Hebrew was minimal. A formal sermon was de rigueur. The organ accompanied a professional choir. Cantors were rare.

The movement was emerging gradually from its Classical Reform era, and, little by little, there were experiments with innovations in worship. So-called “creative” services were offered, often sparked by the congregation’s youth, for whom that was standard practice at regional NFTY conclaves. Such services were composed on typewriters and reproduced on Ditto or Mimeograph machines, until photocopiers began to become more ubiquitous. These services were often intended for one-time use. Recycling became a concern.

So-called multi-media services emerged, using slide projectors (often with dissolve capability) and even movie projectors. While organ accompaniment was fairly standard, guitars and occasional keyboards began to appear on some pulpits. Again, with a hat tip to youth, for whom the guitar had been the standard accompaniment during services at conclaves and camp.

All of the above were part of the impetus and also the forerunners of the efforts by the CCAR to develop a new prayer book, which resulted in the emergence of Gates of Prayer a few years into my early rabbinate during my tenure in my first solo pulpit following my assistantship, followed by Gates of Repentance. I was among those rabbis who introduced both of these in that first solo pulpit and in a subsequent congregation a few years later.

I began my rabbinate in a congregation where neither the rabbis nor the congregants wore a kipah or a tallit and little Hebrew was heard. By the time I retired and became an emeritus, most rabbis and many congregants had been wearing both kipah and tallit for quite some time, and hardly any rabbis were wearing a black pulpit robe. The “Gates” series of prayer books have given way to “Mishkan,” more prayer is offered in Hebrew, and Cantors share the pulpit.

My rabbinate has spanned an era of enormous change in our movement. I was part of some of it, but not all of it. And, in reflecting on the past 50 years as a rabbi, I understand even more the truth behind the title of a UAHC program I participated in and was trained to lead earlier in my career. It was called “Reform is a Verb.” It most certainly is.

Rabbi Bruce S. Block is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate at the upcoming 2019 CCAR Convention. 


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.



Planning for CCAR Convention 2019 in Cincinnati

Initial planning and brainstorming for a CCAR convention begins 18 months prior to a convention, when the convention committee gathers in the city where the convention is set to take place. When members of the 2019 CCAR Convention Committee gathered in the Queen City and the home of Graeter’s Ice Cream in the fall of 2017, we gathered with excitement because of the prospect of celebrating two significant milestones – Isaac Mayer Wise’s 200th birthday and the 130th anniversary of the CCAR.

A Convention site visit is filled with opportunities to meet with local colleagues and local community leaders as we work to brainstorm the high level learning experiences that we all expect from our annual rabbinic gathering. What would make 2019 in Cincinnati unique? Learning at HUC, prayer at Plum St. and a celebration of our founder, Isaac Mayer Wise, would be memorable moments, but what would the enduring impact be of our learning together? To help us frame our thinking and planning, we reached our to our colleagues, Gary Zola and Jonathan Cohen (former Dean of the HUC’s Cincinnati campus) to teach us about Isaac Mayer Wise and his legacies. Not only did we discover that few of us knew much about his life, aside from founding the major institutions of our movement and his work on Minhag America, but thanks to the wisdom of our wonderful teaches we uncovered Wise’s legacies that we would use as a starting point for our learning goals that helps guide our planning for convention.

Rabbis Zola and Cohen taught us that among Wise’s many contributions to Jewish life in America, four significant legacies include: liturgical innovation, educational expansion, equality of women, and the Americanization of Judaism.

Using these lessons as a guide we created the following five goals:

  1. Build upon the legacy of Isaac Mayer Wise: Where were we? Where are we? Where are we going?: We will explore the following aspects – integration of Judaism into America, the training and education of rabbis, modern understandings of Jewish text and literature and how they apply to contemporary issues, liturgical innovation, Jewish education of adults and children, equality of women and social justice issues.
  2. We will reflect on Mission Driven Transformation:

Isaac Mayer Wise wanted to create an American Rabbinate to lead and serve the emerging Jewish community and to teach Jews who knew how to be Jewish to also be Americans. Today we are in the midst of unique opportunities to engage with Jews who know how to be American but need rabbinic leadership to help them create and live a meaningful Jewish life.

  1. To discover how Cincinnati is a microcosm for some of the challenges we are facing in the rest of the country and its approaches to meet those challenges.
  2. To think deeply about the role Reform Judaism plays in Jewish life in North America and the world.
  3. To mark sacred transitions within the CCAR.

Using these goals as our guide, we will have opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations about innovation. We will engage in study with our esteemed HUC faculty who will respond to key questions and challenges we face in our rabbinate. We will learn to lift up our moral voice and enhance moral leadership as we frame our social justice efforts in Jewish teachings and values. Finally, we will have a special opportunity to have an update from the Task Force on the Women’s Experience in the Rabbinate.

We hope that you will plan to join with colleagues as we reconnect with friends, broaden our rabbinic skills, enhance our rabbinates and celebrate the leadership of Steve Fox and Hara Person. We look forward to seeing you in Cincinnati and enjoying a cup of Graeter’s Black Raspberry chip together. Please register for CCAR Convention at

Rabbi Rick Kellner serves Congregation Beth Tikvah in Columbus, Ohio.  He is also the Chair of the 2019 CCAR Convention Committee. 


Words into Deeds: The New CCAR Task Force on Women’s Experiences in the Rabbinate

Rabbi Sally Priesand once said that, “The Central Conference of American Rabbis has been on record since 1922 as being in favor of the ordination of women, but it took fifty years to change the attitudes of people.”[1] Reform Judaism, a denomination that now accepts female rabbis, did not always hold this perspective. Many fears surrounded the concept of female rabbis—a concept that not only challenged a patriarchal, Jewish tradition but also gender-role stereotypes. As a result of these fears, female rabbis had difficulty obtaining pulpit placements. Therefore, in 1976 the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) organized the Task Force on Women in the Rabbinate, which strived to promote the full acceptance of female rabbis.

Similarly, in December of 2017, in order to respond to the challenges faced by this century’s female rabbis, the CCAR organized the Task Force on Women’s Experiences in the Rabbinate. While much progress has been made since the last task force, there are still many obstacles to overcome in order to achieve gender equality in the rabbinate. Led by Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus and Vice-Chair Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, the task force has implemented a three-year plan, with this first year dedicated towards inquiry.

On Monday, March 19th at the 2018 CCAR Convention, a special listening session was held to begin the anonymous information gathering and to learn what areas must be addressed. Through the use of virtual, rapid polling, attendees were asked to respond to questions by typing them into a survey site. The questions revolved around female rabbinic experiences with gender bias in the hiring and advancement process, sexual harassment and assault, statements on appearance made by laypeople, speech by male colleagues and gender dynamics in Jewish institutions. A main ballroom was filled by female and male colleagues of all ages for this interactive session that also allowed time for table discussions. Participants shared about their interactions and experiences, which were transcribed by table leaders. Taking part in this process was a unique opportunity and was surely history in the making!

Although I am newly ordained, I too, directly and indirectly, already know of the challenges female rabbis face. The experience of gender-based comments and undermining behavior, as well as the struggle to negotiate a respectable amount of paid maternity leave all form an insensitive reality that can and should be changed. Although this reality is shaped by a combination of a patriarchal, Jewish tradition and secular, societal trends, if anyone can be the trailblazer of institutional gender equality, it is the CCAR—it is the same organization that was the first to ordain women, and it is the same denomination that was the first to promise religious equality for women in synagogue life.

I am proud of the CCAR for starting this difficult but imperative endeavor that will challenge and be challenged by society’s gender norms. I am proud of HUC-JIR for beginning the conversation on gender inequality these past two years by leading workshops on micro-aggressions, power dynamics and sexual harassment. It is vital for students, staff and professors to be aware of these gendered experiences and to understand how they can play a role in changing the culture of our institutions. Last but not least, I am proud of our male colleagues who are not afraid to be allies and advocates in cultivating and upholding gender equality. As Rabbi Weinberg Dreyfus stated, “The outcome we seek is not just a program or a policy but cultural change within the rabbinate and the movement at large.” Through consciousness-raising, policy-making and accountability, we can achieve this cultural change.

Rabbi Sally Priesand, who was in attendance at this session and who received an applause of appreciation, once wrote that the “the best way to assure that our Movement’s recognition of women is more than symbolic is to bring women into leadership roles on the national as well as the congregational level, to turn our resolutions of the past decade into reality, to translate our words into deeds.”[2] She knew that real change did not come by just identifying concerns and setting goals but by implementing a plan and following through with it. May we once again hold our words and intentions accountable so that they are transformed into deeds.

Rabbi Allison B. Cohen serves Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL.



[1] Interview. Interview With First Female Rabbi. ABC News. 25 Nov. 1973. Television.

[2] Priesand, Rabbi Sally. Letter to Rabbi Alexander Schindler. 1979. Print.

Convention Israel

Listen to This: Israel is Still A Fragile Dialogue

My wife, Sarah, grew up going to Jewish day school. When I talk about the work I do, she has a very familiar reference point. She has lived it, more or less. I don’t have to explain Jewish ritual to her; more often, she causes me to question and dive deeper into the work that I do. It is a rare opportunity, though, when I get to bring her work into what I do.
A few years ago, she and her colleagues at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC, published a paper about what happens in the brain when people with strongly held political believes are presented with challenges to those believes. The paper was eventually turned into an episode of the web comic, “The Oatmeal,” titled, “You’re Not Going To Believe What I’m About To Tell You.” The basic premise, as it relates to this topic, is that when people are presented with a challenge to a belief that is connected to one’s core identity, people tend to dismiss this alternative perspective and dig their heels in deeper to their previously strongly held belief.
One of the reasons why CCAR Press’ recent publication, The Fragile Dialogue: New Voices of Liberal Zionism is so poignant is because the Zionist stakes are high. The new voices of liberal Zionism are teaching us that digging into previously held beliefs and narratives sets up a recipe for disaster, or more realistically, disengagement with Israel. At the workshop featuring chapter authors from The Fragile Dialogue, Michael Marmur, Liya Rechtman, and Eric Rosenstein presented diverging narratives of even what it means to be a liberal Zionist today.
Marmur opened with an implicit nod to how we deal with differing narratives, noting, “We create our own myths, which become our facts.” He continued his observation that we try to squeeze each other’s facts into our myths. “Most of us spend a lot of time doing myth preserving, making sure that our myths are neither strengthened nor weakened. This quells creativity around our myths.” This caused me to wonder: the rabbis who created Midrash had no problem getting creative around our foundational myths (Marmur even noted that our tradition has established for us a foundation where “we’re meant to be creatively uncomfortable”) – specifically when it comes to Zionism, why have we shifted so drastically against creativity?
Because it’s a fragile dialogue.
Liya Rechtman presented a narrative which was important for this room to hear, specifically because it was so challenging. “When you have red lines of who you will hear from, you inherently cut people out of the conversation,” she offered. And she’s right. How many times have we not invited — or worse, disinvited — speakers purely because their views crossed a red line for someone in our community? One of my rabbinic mentors has noted, “We spent 2000 years dreaming of having a Jewish parliament, and one of the members of that Jewish parliament wants to speak to us, and we’re saying ‘no’?”
Because it’s a fragile dialogue.
I feared going into this session that if we were to hear, as we did from Liya and Eric, that 21st century Israel narratives are based on the accepting the diversity in our narratives and finding places of mutuality and common ground, whereas 20th century Israel narratives were about the preservation of Jewish life, participants would backfire — digging their heels in, not believing what they were hearing. What gave me hope is that the opposite happened. Yes, assumptions were challenged. Yes, there were disagreements in perspectives. And yes, looking into a mirror of the generational divide on even what it means to be a liberal Zionist was difficult. But we heard each other.
Because we all know it’s a fragile dialogue.
If learning happens through failure, growing at a moment when a premise is challenged, this workshop showed that the future of our leadership and our approach to liberal Zionism is no exception.
Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishk’notecha Yisrael – How wonderful are your sessions O Jacob, your dwellings of fragile dialogue, O Israel!
Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel serves Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego, CA.


What does a rabbi look like? Do you envision the rabbi of your childhood when you picture a rabbi? Is it an iteration of Tevye, the lead character from Fiddler on the Roof? At the annual convention for the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) this question was posed in a myriad of ways, especially as the work of the Task Force on Women in the Rabbinate led a program on creating cultural change. 45 years after the ordination of the first female rabbi in North America, too many people struggle to break that old image. One way Reform Rabbis and the CCAR are changing the narrative is the hashtag and amazing photos, #ThisIsWhatARabbiLooksLike (I encourage you to search for this hashtag on your favorite social media platform).

By elevating the voice of the Reform rabbinate in the press, on social media, in the coffee shop, in the classroom, in the hospital room, and in the communal organization, Reform Rabbis are changing the perception of what a rabbi looks like.

A rabbi is tall. A rabbi is short. A rabbi is strong. A rabbi is differently able. A rabbi is a woman. A rabbi is a man. A rabbi is trans. This is what a rabbi looks like. Rabbis reflect the beautiful tapestry of humanity.

As I’ve been thinking and reflecting at the annual convention about these issues my amazing colleague at Temple Beth Hillel sent me the following photo and text.

“Ariela says, ‘this is Rabbi Ellie in the front.’”

As part of young Ariela’s imaginary play, one of her rabbis participates! This too is what a rabbi looks like.

And the next day this arrived:

“Today you are the top doll. She also said you like zebras.”

Thank God, children with the their profound imagination really understand what rabbis look like. May we continue to learn from them.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is the Director of Religious Education at Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village, CA. This blog was originally posted  at