In the Torah portion this week, the priests of ancient Israel find that their religious responsibilities include a role as a public health official. With ritual and commandment, they help individuals confront a particular disease. Physical health is an important component of spiritual well-being, and the priest has an important role to play in both. Their goal is to help bring into the world health and healing, wholeness and holiness.
I am not a priest of ancient Israel. I am not a doctor or a medical researcher. I can’t cure cancer or heal an ailing child. But I can raise awareness of pediatric cancer and raise money for research into its cures. And I will shave my head tonight, along with so many of my rabbinic colleagues, in order to do so. We stand together in the proud tradition of those seek the spiritual and physical well-being of others. And our goals are the same as our priestly forbearers: to bring into the world health and healing, wholeness and holiness.
I have made lots of jokes about growing my hair out (as best as I could) for this fundraiser for St Baldricks Foundation in honor of a little boy who died this year… A boy whom I have never met. I am only acquaintances with his parents – fellow Reform rabbis. As I see women and men start to shave their heads in solidarity with this family and these children who are fighting their cancers, I am truly in awe.
I am in awe not only for the almost two dozen women who are participating in this “36 Shave for the Brave,” not only because there are 100 rabbis signed up for this, not only because they have raised over $528,000… But because there is an energy around people making a difference and doing something that is holy.
These shavees are walking around with hair longer than they ever would have tolerated before: unkept, hard-to-manage, not so appealing… to emphasize their experience in the shave. I am reminded of the Nazir in the Torah who takes on an oath and separates her/himself, takes on additional burdens, in order to designate her/his life to serving God in a unique way. It wasn’t necessary for these people to choose to do this. But they did it anyway. At the end of their service, they shave their hair that was previously consecrated to God. While they were in this temporary status as a Nazir, they could not shave their heads. Here at the annual conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing Reform Rabbis in North America, I see a whole host of people consecrating their beloved hair to God, preparing to shave it off in order to fight childhood cancer, to honor the spiritual courage of a family who experienced a loss few of us can understand, to remember a little boy who was a superhero to many, and to bring some holiness to our lives when the chaos embedded in Creation strikes.
May Superman Sam’s memory be an enduring blessing to his family and to all of us. May we reach this goal of $540,000. May people be inspired to do their part – through shaving their heads, making acts of tzedakah, and bringing comfort to a family still in pain. And may we bring holiness into our lives and our world by making a difference and showing God we care.
Hopefully, that means that #ccar14 and #whatrabbisdo are about to become Trending Topics on Twitter.
If that above sentence made perfect sense to you, and you responded with a resounded cheer of “yes!” then you probably don’t need to read the rest of this blog post.
If that above sentence made your eyes glaze over with the # symbols and the word Twitter…read on.
How to become a quick-study at Twitter:
1. Go to twitter.com and set up an account. Choose a user name that isn’t too long, isn’t too complicated, and in some way helps to explain who you are. My username is imabima. (Get it?)
On Twitter, users are referred to by the user name, prefaced by the @ symbol. So my username is @imabima. The idea of “tagging” someone in a post actually originated in Twitter but expanded to Facebook. 2. Find at least 10-20 people to “follow.” This isn’t a huge commitment. It’s not like being “friends” on Facebook. It implies no special relationship. You follow other people in order to have something to read and respond to as you use Twitter. Twitter is ideal when there are people having actual conversations back and forth rather than just putting ideas out into the world.
I suggest you start with these rabbis who tend to tweet at the CCAR Conventions (this list is by no means comprehensive):
(There are so many others who tweet….this is just a sample, based on the front page of those tweeting at the CCAR right as I type this post. Also, there are lots of other non-Reform rabbis and other interesting things and people to follow on Twitter. That’s a different post for a different day.)
A single Twitter post is known as a tweet. The verb used to explain what you’re doing when you post on Twitter is tweeting. 3. There are two main kinds of posts in Twitter: your own original tweets and other people’s posts that you re-post, known as re-tweeting. “Re-Tweets” are usually prefaced by the letters RT. Most “good” Twitter users will do a nice balance or combination of their own tweets accompanied by RTs of other people’s stuff.
4. Hashtags: This gets people a little wiggy. It’s really less complicated than it sounds. Hashtags are a way to follow along a certain stream of conversation in Twitter, which can be a vast ocean of stuff. So in order to best follow what’s happening at the CCAR, users will post their tweets with the extra phrase#ccar14. This allows people to follow just this particular stream of information surrounding the CCAR Convention and differentiates our conversation from last year’s convention. You can get by on Twitter with ONLY this hashtag for the convention. You don’t need any other ones. As you get a little more advanced in your tweeting….you can learn more about these things.
5. In real life: Add your twitter username (known as your “handle”) to your name tag at the convention. Talk to other people about how they’re using Twitter. Don’t be afraid to follow people and to see that others are following you.
Twitter is worth exploring. There’s a lot to be learned and gleaned from the vastness of its information stream. It does seem a bit overwhelming and daunting when you merely look at how many tweets there are per day, per hour, all over the world. For specific uses and purposes, it can be a really useful and educational tool.
I look forward to reading all the #ccar14 tweets!
Rabbi Phyllis Sommer serves as associate rabbi at Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL. This post originally appeared on her blog: Ima on (and off) the Bima.
I must admit it’s more than a little embarrassing to receive an e-mail from a classmate (and Jerusalem roommate!) telling me I was the first colleague to register for our upcoming CCAR Convention in Chicago. It’s one thing to be an enthusiastic member of our Conference (which I am), but it’s another matter entirely to be the loudest guy cheering at the pep rally.
But I’m glad Joui Hessel reached out to let me know I was the very first registrant, because it’s given me a chance to reflect on why I rushed to make sure that I would be a part of yet another meaningful, productive, and refreshing CCAR convention. And I can boil all that down to two things: learning with colleagues, and doing with colleagues.
The learning at Convention is always top-notch. Be it the speakers (Michael Chabon last year was a highlight for me) or the smaller sessions, there’s always something new to think about, a new perspective provided, and thoughtful friends (unfortunately scattered across North America) with whom to discuss. And then there is the incredibly important informal education: catching up with colleagues in the hallways, restaurants and [let’s admit it] bars, to see what’s happening in their lives, and to talk about common challenges we face. There’s no better course of professional development than conversing with colleagues of all ages to help orient me before I return back home.
Learning is good, but doing is more important. (That’s in Pirkei Avot, I’m pretty sure, but this isn’t a scholarly article.) And the “doing” that we rabbis get to work on together changed profoundly for me last year in Long Beach. There we launched the first campaign of Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, which has led to a massive year of continued effort and focus on helping Comprehensive Immigration Reform pass through Congress. The Convention not only allows our strategy team to meet face-to-face (in place of bi-weekly conference calls), but it more importantly allowed all of us to connect to colleagues who soon became comrades-in-arms in this crusade. It was incredibly energizing to see a room full of rabbis engaged in an issue; it’s more encouraging, many months later, to see how many of those rabbis have found meaningful ways to remain connected to and involved in the work since Long Beach.
I find that time away from home and hearth and study allows me time to get better perspective on my life and career. For thirteen straight years, I find no better partners in finding that perspective than my friends who share CCAR Convention with me. Because these times are so precious to me, I’m proud I was the first to register.
And I hope you’re the next one to do so! See you in Chicago!
Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is rabbi of Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk, New York.
Last week, I was given a wonderfully challenging task as the CCAR rabbinic staff member at the NFTY Convention: Take fifty participants from the Youth Engagement Conference and a two-hour prayer lab session, and plan multiple services for about 900 NFTY Convention participants. While seemingly impossible, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, we produce Visual T’filah and all the prayer books for the Reform Movement – I could do this!
Working with my colleague Rabbi Noam Katz and Jewish musician Dan Nichols, (and joined by Rabbis Erin Mason and Ana Bonheim) we were tempted to provide a handful of creative service examples (e.g. drumming, yoga, Visual T’filah) and to plan the services as quickly as possible.
But the conference was on youth engagement and simply presenting options and saying “pick one and go plan a service” did not seem to be an appropriate fit – and not consistent with CCAR’s current approach toward engaging people in prayer with many different Visual T’filah options. It was a lab, after all; we did not want to focus too much on product, but rather the service experience by the NFTYites.
We initiated the YEC prayer lab by asking the participants “what makes for great prayer?”
This conversation was modeled upon a version of Open Space, one of the frameworks for intentional conversations guiding the CCAR convention beginning just a few weeks after NFTY Convention.
YEC participants stood up one at a time and offered to host conversations around a topic of prayer particularly interesting or exciting to them. Topics included Hebrew in prayer, who is the service leader, using apps & cellphones in services, engaging through multiple intelligences, and more. Rather than utilizing the moment to plan a service, we spent our time talking about great prayer. The prayer lab participants were fully engaged, far more than if we had simply given them pre-determined service options, and we provided an amazing model for them to bring back to their youth groups.
And it worked! YEC prayer lab participants exclaimed that this was one of the highlights of the conference for them. One even said, “This is exactly what I needed.” Even more, the prayer experiences they crafted were some of the best moments of NFTY convention for the participants. One teenager said in reflection, “This was my first real moment of transcendent prayer.”
As the Youth Engagement professionals gathered at the end of the conference for a debrief and wrap-up, I was asked to summarize our learning and said: “We often hear that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ If you build a great service or program, the youth with come. But we learned through this prayer experience that ‘if you build it with them, they’ll already be there!”
I wonder how many CCAR conventions I have been to over the years. I remember the first. It was in Pittsburgh and I had just been ordained. As I walked up to the L-Z registration line, I was scared and excited until a lovely volunteer pulled me aside. “The registration line for the wives is over there,” she said kindly while pointing across the room. This memory surfaced recently when I told a friend I was going to the CCAR conference and she asked if I enjoy it. I do now, I said.
Those early conventions are pretty much lost in the haze of the years, but I remember moments like that. Since there weren’t many female rabbis, we all ended up being cycled and recycled through the various committees. In those years, there would only ever be one woman on any given committee. I remember once being on the Nominating Committee and suggesting two female names. We already have a woman, I was told.
All that seems like ancient history now although it was a mere 30+ years ago. For all that we wonder at times whether anything has changed, it turns out that much has changed, at least when it comes to the CCAR. We now come together with intention, defined by what we do as rabbis, not by our gender or sexual orientation. We take for granted that two of the five rabbinic members of our senior CCAR staff are women. Our immediate past president is a woman. Women have chaired our convention planning. The WRN is an ex-officio member of the CCAR board. The brochure for this next conference calls the CCAR “the organization for every Reform rabbi, retired, community-based, congregational, part-time, portfolio and full-time.”
The year I was directed to the wives’ registration line at that Pittsburgh Conference, the overwhelming membership of the Conference held congregational positions. My friends in Hillel simply didn’t bother coming since there was nothing there for them in the program (as well as a feeling of being invisible in contrast to the pulpit rabbis). The part-time rabbinate existed only for retired rabbis who still wanted to keep a hand in pulpit life. The rabbinate was a much narrower place.
And, in a not-so-well-kept secret, it turns out that not all male colleagues enjoyed CCAR conventions. Many of my friends joked about the “how big is yours” syndrome. They complained that the very convention that should allow us to relax and be ourselves often turned out to be a bastion of judgment and competition. They also wanted to talk about their personal doubts, their professional conflicts, and the challenges of balancing the rabbinate with family. They, too, yearned for a different, more truly collegial experience.
For many years after I left the full-time congregational rabbinate, I stopped coming to CCAR conventions. All kinds of considerations came into play. I served a part-time congregation without the financial resources to send me to conferences. I would have had to cancel patients in my private practice, which had both economic and psychological consequences. Since I was self-employed and funded my own vacations, I needed to be selective about how much time I spent away. If the choice came down to going to the CCAR convention versus going to visit my children, my children won.
While all of the above reasons seemed valid at the time, I also confess that I wasn’t as drawn to going to the convention as I am now. For many years, the CCAR didn’t feel like the organization for every Reform rabbi, or at least not the organization for this Reform rabbi. The happy confluence of women’s entering the rabbinate and society’s undergoing parallel shifts has sparked many positive changes in the rabbinate and in our conference. We all know that there are changes yet to come, as acknowledged by the title of this conference (Rabbis Leading the Shift: Jewish Possibility in a Rapidly Changing World). I am happy about returning to these conferences. I am excited about seeing old and new friends. And yes, I plan to enjoy it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or in her NJ office 908 766 7586.
Pre-Convention Programming, Sunday March 3rd 9:00 AM-3:00 PM
Convention will kick-off Sunday, March 3rd @ 4:00 PM and conclude Wednesday, March 6, 2013 @ 10:30 PM
In the past year, the Convention Committee listened to hundreds of our colleagues in face-to-face conversations and in small groups. We heard stories of shifting economic priorities, concerns about the relevance of synagogues and the Reform Movement, and questions about technology changing the nature of human interaction. We also heard stories of optimism, hope, and possibility – a desire for our colleagues to work together to shift focus, skills, and intentions so that we are ready to lead our communities through an ear of rapid shifts and change. Based on this input, the Convention theme has developed into Rabbis Leading the Shift: Jewish Possibility in a Rapidly Changing World.
As at Conventions past, you will have an opportunity to reconnect with friends, pray, and engage with some of the finest scholars, teachers, and learning opportunities in Southern California. We will also create opportunities for colleagues to listen, reflect, and meaningfully discuss the issues, concerns, and interests about which the CCAR members are most passionate. The Torah Lishmah and Professional Development learning will be integrated in three main areas: “finding my way through the shift,” “leading the shift in my workplace,” and “leading the shift in the larger world.” We hope that you will join us.