Categories
Rabbis

My Rabbinate at 50 years

The gift of being a Rabbi was not a conscious decision but rather a tender and loving commandment “This is what you will do!”  This “command” came from the unknown, yet illuminated depths of my soul.

My life was not to be in medicine, as I had previously thought, but to be a servant to my people, Israel.

The more I came to know myself,  the more compassion,empathy, honor and respect I had for those I was privileged to serve.  I chose to be an advocate for choice, acceptance and love; an enemy of rejection, authoritarianism and control.

My rabbinate was nurtured by my spiritual father, Ellis Rivkin who opened up worlds to me too numerous to mention; opening my soul to the supernal and material. His understanding of the dynamics of Jewish and human history as an ever changing balance between preservation, adaptation and mutation grounded in the Principle of Unity in Diversity was and remains the leitmotif of my career.

So, my rabbinate from ordination to now was to welcome the different,encourage diversity and encourage and embrace novelty. My commitment to Jewish tomorrows demanded of me to embrace what was repulsed and rejected for decades by our Jewish community.  Thankfully that is changing.

Serving Temple Sholom for 28 years was a gift filled with blessings and love.

But no blessing is greater than my wife, Ann.  Her love, nurture and support have sustained me to today. She is my life! Our children, grandchildren, and great grandsons keep our cup of life filled to the brim.

As I confront the ever present reality of mortality and discover other dimensions of my soul  now coming to light, I say with joy and gratitude my life has been a Shehecheyanu.

Rabbi Mayer Selekman serves as Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Sholom in Broomall, PA.  He is celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate.

Categories
Rabbis

Rabbi Philip Berkowitz – Reflections on 50 years in the Rabbinate

First and foremost, my emphasis in the rabbinate was pastoral. I was blessed to serve two congregations. One in Pontiac, Michigan and the second in the Township of Washington in New Jersey. Early in my tenure in Pontiac (in the 1960’s), I was asked to serve on the Police Trial Board. I was reassured that the need to meet was rare. The first summer we had meetings every evening. Two cases regarding police brutality. The first we found the accused innocent. The second case the officers were found guilty. All of this during civil unrest. On Kol Nidre Eve, Pontiac was under a city wide curfew.  We managed to hold services with the understanding the police not subject us to the curfew. As serviced ended, I asked everyone to go directly home. In event some wished to ride around town, I would not visit them in jail. Such was the tribulations of a young rabbi.

In 1975, we moved to New Jersey where I served Temple Beth Or in the Township of Washington. During my rabbinate there I became involved in helping the homeless. I  also had to deal with a NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue. Temple Beth Or responded to my call. The battle was with local towns to permit congregations to house the homeless. Those battles were also won. In the years that followed, I was elected president of the Inter-religious Fellowship for The Homeless. It was a first for a Jew in Bergen County.

One extraordinary event in New Jersey stands out in my mind. We planned a community program, which had such a large turn out we had to move to a larger location.  We invited Elie Wiesel z’l to address the community. I was honored to introduce him that evening. Prior to the program we sat in a second floor office. We decided to step outside the office a see what was going on. The auditorium was filled. There were hundreds of teenagers there. Many of the came over to greet me. They did not recognize our guest who was nearby.  Elie observed all of this and was impressed with the turnout of young people. He was outstanding that evening. He changed his topic, and spoke to the teenagers. He was at his very best and everyone was moved and inspired.

Looking back on these chapters, they are mild in comparison to events of 2016. I thought I accomplished a great deal, but there is more that must be done. During the span of my rabbinate I prayed from the The Union Prayer Book, Gates Of Prayer, and Mishkan T’filah. So much has changed. Would I conduct worship services today as in 1966? NO! Today I would use more Hebrew and encourage more music. I would recommend the use of live streaming. There is a need that cannot be ignored in order to meet the needs of an aging population.

In 2001 we found a retirement home on the beach in Kennebunk, Maine. We moved there in 2003, the day I retired. In 2004, I became a conductor and volunteer operator at The Seashore Trolley Museum. Shortly thereafter, a president of NAORRR called me and asked if I was alright. Did I have to work to survive financially?  The answer was all was well. I had learned to operate old street cars from all over the world.  I went on to become Assistant Superintendent of Railway operations, a Board trustee, and its vice chairman. Never did envision that kind of retirement.  I have now retired from the Railway, and enjoy life at the beach. From our porch we have seen our 41st president skydive twice, as well as his boat stranded on the sand in front of our home. Such is the joy of retirement that Nancy and I share in beautiful Maine. It is here that our children and our grandchildren join us to enjoy the pleasure of retirement and share the way life is in vacation land.

Rabbi Philip Berkowitz is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Or, Township of Washington, New Jersey.

Categories
Reform Judaism Social Justice

Beyond Colorful Socks and a New Outfit

“I like Rabbi Prosnit’s colorful socks,” said a congregant during last week’s synagogue program. This comment was a response to one of our panelist’s statements that whenever she wears the color pink or has a new outfit, a congregant usually remarks on her clothing, yet rarely do her male colleagues receive comments about their attire. She is absolutely right. Rarely does anyone say anything about my ties, shoes, or sweaters, though occasionally, I do get comments about my colorful socks.

Last week, our congregation organized a program titled The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate in anticipation of the release of the new book with the same title from the CCAR Press. We were privileged to welcome co-editor of the book, Rabbi Rebecca Einstein-Schorr, who facilitated a dialogue with three rabbis from our Temple community, Rabbis Ellen Lewis, Mary Zamore, and Sarah Smiley. The four rabbis took part in a candid conversation, sharing reflections about their education at HUC-JIR, the challenges they have faced as leaders of congregations, and the continued work that synagogues and our Movement need to undertake for women rabbis.

During the conversation, I discovered that the language on my smicha is different than my female colleagues. (Rabbi Mary Zamore has written an article about this in the forthcoming book.) My appreciation deepened for my Temple Emanu-El predecessors’ hard work to create a strong family leave policy at our congregation. I became more aware of the uncomfortable, funny, and challenging conversations that my colleagues have, and continue to have, because of their gender.

Yet, the biggest takeaway for me was the importance of this conversation for our congregants. For many in attendance, particularly our younger Temple members, they never knew the struggle that women rabbis had to go through to establish themselves in their careers. It was an eye-opening conversation as well as an opportunity for self-reflection for our congregants on how they may treat their rabbis differently depending on their gender. People were so drawn in by the stories from our rabbis that they did not want to leave.

I am extremely excited for the release of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate and look forward to using the book in our adult education, confirmation, and b’nai mitzvah programs. This book will be a great tool to share the legacy and history of our first women rabbis and also a way to spark conversations with our congregants. I hope that our discussions will transcend colorful socks and a new outfit and will help to create a rabbinate that is fair and equitable for all.

Rabbi Ethan Prosnit serves Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, NJ.

To pre-order your copy of The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate visit our website.

Categories
spirituality

Spirituality in the Rabbinate

I was ordained in 2007, and accepted the position as the solo rabbi in a very small, extremely remote congregation in southeast Alabama.  My nearest colleague (Rabbi Elliot Stevens) is a two hour drive away.  Mine is the only synagogue in 100 mile radius, and we are located in the buckle of the Bible Belt where it is assumed if you walk and breathe, you must be a Christian.  My congregation is wonderful, and I have really enjoyed my 8 1/2 years here.

However, I should tell you that while I learned so much at HUC, I was not prepared spiritually at all.  We never talked about our relationships with God, we never prayed, except at services. Every meeting here in the south begins with a prayer, and I swear I was a deer in the headlights the first time I was asked to begin a meeting with a spontaneous prayer.

I think the lack of spiritual training hurts us and it hurts our congregations.  I have never once been asked to translate Talmud; in fact, most of my congregants only have a vague idea what Talmud is.  But when I do sermons or adult education on prayer or God, I am overwhelmed by the response. There is such a hunger among our congregants for a relationship with God, to learn about God and prayer.  And it is the area where I seem to have the least expertise.  Thank goodness for good books!

And I have so felt so empty spiritually myself so much of the time.  I cannot pray during services.  I have no cantor, so it is just me leading services and the music.  How can I do all that and focus on God?  It just doesn’t happen. I tried praying on my own using the prayer book.  That did not work at all.  And I am so busy because I am the only rabbi around.  It is truly a 24/7 job. Finding time to enhance my spirituality falls on the back burner.

I have been fortunate to be involved with a group of Christian clergy women, all seminary ordained. We meet once a month to study, or to let our hair down and complain about how the robes never fit right, or why dresses and slacks don’t have pockets to put your portable mike in, or most importantly to share serious problems we are having. There are many people down here who don’t think women should be leading a congregation, so we are a support group for each other.

I was surprised when I found out that all of the other clergy in my group are REQUIRED to have spiritual direction.  Required!!  The nun from the Catholic Church is REQUIRED to go to a spirituality retreat every year.  I wondered why we Reform Rabbis do not have anything like that.  I thought about it for a very long time, and finally approached one of the women ministers to ask about spiritual direction.  Of course, a Jewish spiritual director is out of the question here in Alabama, but I have a director who is Methodist. I have been seeing her once a month, driving two hours each way.  I’m slowly but surely getting my head straight and reestablishing the relationship I had with God before I started HUC.  I find it ironic that I lost the relationship I had with God which helped propel me into HUC while I was at HUC.  In any event, I look forward to seeing Lesley each month, and think I am becoming a better rabbi because of the explorations I am doing with her.

So I want to ask, why do we not have any training in this most important aspect of our rabbinate?  I took four required classes in Talmud, yet never talked to anyone about God, except theoretically as part of a Bible class or Philosophy.  I know now that the Institute for Jewish Spirituality does very good work in this field.  I am also aware that some inroads for spirituality training have been made on the LA and NY campuses of HUC, but I have not heard anything about Cincinnati.  And Rabbi Rex Perlmeter wrote a blog post around the High Holy Days about spirituality programs he is doing through the CCAR.  We are becoming more aware of the need to talk and teach about spirituality and our relationship with God.  I hope it continues and becomes an integral part of training for future rabbis.

Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith serves Temple Emanu-El of Dothan, Alabama

Categories
CCAR on the Road Israel

CCAR Start Up Israel Trip: Learn What Makes the Impossible Possible

Walking through the late afternoon in Maktesh Ramon, breathing in air that is simultaneously warm and cool the way air in the desert in the late afternoon tends to be (but not at all the way the air in New Jersey tends to be), I overheard a colleague say: “if I’m not enjoying it, I’m doing the wrong thing”. I wasn’t really part of his conversation, more wandering alongside lost in my own moment, so I’m not entirely sure what “it” was. But whatever he meant, he got me thinking.

It is easy to throw around sentences like that one when you are on vacation and the only decision to be made is which of two equally gorgeous hikes to take through the desert. We can love either. But what about loving to do what we’re about the rest of the time: when the sun is not setting over the crater and the sky turning to colors we’ll never see in Princeton, or Joliet or wherever.

I don’t know well the rabbi who was speaking but from what I can tell he certainly seems passionate about the work of his rabbinate. And another rabbi on our trip told me today that she actually was prepared to hate the form her rabbinate had taken until she discovered that she loved her work with the people with whom she engaged day by day. The CEO of Friends by Nature, Nir, got involved in the Ethiopian community when in his post army wanderings he fell in love with an area, met the people there and loved those people even more than the surroundings themselves. He has dedicated his life to that love. Miri Eisen started our day talking to us about the geopolitical reality of Israel given the world in which it exists. She is a woman whose passion for the people of Israel, her love for them and the need to protect them is evident in all she says. In other words, what struck me today was the power of love.

When you love what you do and who you do it with, the impossible sometimes becomes less so. I know we don’t live our lives on vacation where loving what you’re about is easy. I understand that there are plenty of things that all the love in the world is not going to make possible. But I came here to Israel with the CCAR Start Up Israel trip to learn what makes the impossible possible. A MARAM colleague who met with us for lunch and is building in Caesaria one of the newest congregations in Israel — a place where she herself declared there could never be a reform community — told us that she didn’t let herself focus on what couldn’t be. She focused on what she knew in her heart there needed to be. And she shared that love with others. Guess what? They had 100 plus people at the high holidays last year.

My questions then: how do we make the impossible happen? And what’s love got to do with it?

Rabbi Carolyn Bricklin-Small serves Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction, NJ.