One of the most important aspects of my rabbinate is continuing education. I firmly believe that in order for me to be able to teach and serve as rabbi to my congregants, I must first model the behavior. While I do try very hard to read and study as often as possible, I am so delighted and blessed to be able to spend these precious days together with my friends and colleagues from around the world. I attend the CCAR Convention to learn, pray and reconnect (or in some cases connect for the first time) with friends and colleagues.
As this was the first full day of the CCAR Convention 2018, I knew it would be a very full and fulfilling day. Shacharit services this morning were inspirational and spiritual. Being present while we recognized and honored our 50 year colleagues was awesome. Seeing a full bimah of colleagues attending this convention for the first time was definitely exciting. And of course, listening to the rousing and stirring words of President Stern opened our eyes to the possibilities and wonder of the coming year.
This year, the CCAR Convention intended to focus our efforts on being engaged in our communities throughout the world in renewing our dedication to the rights of all – whether they be civil, religious, political, etc. As such, the opening session entitled “Rabbis and Civic Engagement” was intriguing and challenging at the same time. California Comptroller Betty T. Yee and Mayors Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento taught us about some of the challenges and successes facing California. I believe that the challenges facing California are not a California problem. These challenges are facing many if not all of our communities.
Civil discourse in the United States – and abroad – is vital. We cannot turn our backs or close our eyes to the problems that so many of our congregants, friends and neighbors are facing. As we are constantly reminded in our Liturgy, we must remember we were strangers in a strange land and God took care of us. We have a tremendous obligation to face these problems with our neighbors head on.
I had the opportunity in the afternoon to attend two truly educational sessions. The first session was “Freehof Institute: The Jewish-Christian Dialogue in an Age of Sharp Divisions.” Rabbis Mark Washofsky and Denise Eger taught us of their own experiences with the Halacha regarding the Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Rabbi Eger explained that the process of Halacha is a process of arguing and discussing legal/ethical issues for understanding and to continue the living tradition of Halacha. Rabbi Washofsky helped us to understand the necessity of translating Halachic sources to make sense for our time, as our rabbis have been doing for centuries.
The second session was “Problematic Texts and the Religious Other in Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue.” In this session, we studied some of the texts from the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran. For me, the tremendous take away was that while it is absolutely possible to misinterpret or misread our sacred texts, the more challenging option (and perhaps the one that is most often not attempted) is to read, reread and then reread again our texts with the sincere attempt at understanding. If we are unable to understand the “true meanings” of our texts, then it is incumbent for us to know that we have not tried hard enough to understand. We should open our eyes to the “other” in attempting to understand our own sacred texts.
Dinner out with our colleagues was a great way to wrap up a very full day. It was nice to kick back and enjoy good food and great company. I am sure that the next days of our convention will bring many more occasions for spirituality, study and fun!
Rabbi Erin Boxt serves Temple Beth El in Knoxville, TN. This is his 5th CCAR Convention.