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News Reform Judaism Social Justice

Sarah’s Missing Voice: When Women’s Voices Are Silenced

This week’s Torah portion is Vayera, Genesis 18 to 22. It is the same Torah portion that we read on the morning of Rosh Hashanah. As I said then, this Torah portion might be seen as a three-act play.  The story begins with three angels visiting Abraham and Sarah and proclaiming that, even in their old age, Sarah and Abraham would have a son. Hearing this news, Sarah laughed in disbelief and skepticism. But we don’t usually read that part of the story on Rosh Hashanah. In a Reform synagogue, celebrating one day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac, from Genesis 22, the third act of the play. It is as if we walked into the theater after intermission. We looked down at our Playbill and noticed that a central character of Act One was absent in Act Three. Most significantly, that character’s voice was missing, silent.

But Sarah is not here in the Akedah, and I suggest that her absence adds to the tragic nature of this tale of near sacrifice of a child.  The Akedah is a story of action, not emotion.  Abraham displays no introspection or doubt. He is not a skeptic. The fact that Sarah is not in this story is, itself, a tragedy. Who was Sarah in that first act?

“The Eternal One appeared to Abraham while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent. Abraham looked up, he saw three men standing near him. Abraham ran to meet them, to welcome them into his tent, to feed them with the finest of his grain and the choicest of his calves, with yogurt and milk.

They asked, “Where is your wife, Sarah?” God said: “I will return to you when life is due, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years, the way of women had ceased for Sarah. She LAUGHED within herself, saying, “After I have become worn, is there to be pleasure for me? And my husband so old?”

Sarah LAUGHED. She was the skeptic. She doubted the word of God. Sarah questioned God’s promise and laughed at the very idea of a miracle. Sarah laughed at the seeming absurdity of the prophecy from God. She showed no intimidation or fear. But Sarah is not around when God tests Abraham by telling him to take his son, Isaac, and offer him up as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. Abraham answered, “Hineini”—“I am here.” Abraham is commanded to do the unthinkable, to sacrifice his son, and Abraham responds without a question. There was no doubt, no skepticism. Abraham did not laugh.  At the Binding of Isaac, the skeptical voice of Sarah is not heard.

If only Sarah were present in this third act of the play. Perhaps if Sarah had been there, she would have questioned this test as well. The rabbis in the Midrash recognize Sarah’s absence. They look at the text and ask: Why does it say: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning.” Why early in the morning? Because Abraham said to himself, “It may be that Sarah will not give permission for us to go. So, I will get up early while Sarah is still asleep. It is best that no one sees us.”

The rabbis of ancient times recognized that Sarah was missing from the story, so they wrote her back in and acknowledged that she never would have allowed this frightening story to play out as it did. I am also suggesting that the story is a cautionary tale, telling us that Abraham’s blind obedience is an example of what happens when the voice of the woman is silenced. The story seems to cry out for the mitigating presence of the voice of Sarah. I am certainly not saying that there are no women who are blind believers. Not every woman would doubt the voice of God, or be skeptical or laugh, but Sarah is that paradigm. She is the voice of the skeptic. The story of the Akedah reminds us of the danger inherent in not hearing her voice.

A number of recent events have reminded me of the need for the voice of Sarah in our world. We are hearing the voice of women on the college campuses, demanding that they be heard in cases of sexual harassment and violence. Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has been recognized for her performance piece, “Carry That Weight, ” as she has carried her mattress around the campus as a protest against sexual assault on campus and the failure of university officials to adequately address those assaults and punish the perpetrators. Similar voices are being heard on other campuses, in the military, and in other fields.

When the NFL domestic abuse scandals occurred, the New York Times ran a story on the front page of the Sports section, titled: “In coverage of NFL scandals, Female Voices Puncture the Din.” It mentioned ESPN anchor, Hannah Storm, Rachel Nichols of CNN, and Katie Nolan of Fox Sports. The Times pointed out that the domestic abuse story was seen differently through women’s eyes, and their voices helped to define the issue of a culture of violence and misogyny.

In my own profession, the American rabbinate has been transformed by the presence of women rabbis. I consider myself fortunate indeed that I became a rabbinic student and then a rabbi at the very beginning of that movement. Sally Priesand had been ordained the first woman rabbi in the Reform movement in 1972. I have spent my entire career working with women rabbis as equal colleagues. I still remember my first CCAR Convention in Pittsburgh in 1980. Reverend William Sloane Coffin spoke and stated that the most important issue in the Women’s Liberation Movement was liberating the female within each male.

The American rabbinate has been profoundly changed for the better by the entrance of women rabbis who have been fully integrated into the leadership of the American Jewish world. That is true for the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements, but it is still not the case within Orthodox Judaism. While some progress is being made in the Open Orthodox group within Orthodoxy, it still does not approach equality in the role of women.

A recent scandal in Washington demonstrates the danger of exclusive male rabbinic authority. Rabbi Barry Freundel, a highly respected Modern Orthodox rabbi, was arrested and charged with setting up cameras in the showers and changing areas of the mikvah, the ritual bath, attached to his synagogue. This was an incredible violation of privacy, trust, and authority. Rabbi Freundel was a leading figure in conversion within the Orthodox community, and it appears that he particularly targeted women studying for conversion, as well as the many Orthodox women who use the mikvah on a monthly basis.

The human impact was enormous. The female victims of his voyeurism were often in their most vulnerable and powerless state. Indeed, the very nature of Orthodox Judaism creates a power imbalance between male rabbis and their female students and congregants. Women studying for traditional conversion are particularly dependent on Orthodox male rabbis who exercise complete control of the process.

Within Orthodox Judaism, women still cannot be rabbis, judicial witnesses, or members of the court determining conversion status. The voice of the woman is largely silent within Orthodoxy. The Freundel case is a result of an all male system of religious authority. Male rabbis maintain exclusive control over the laws of Orthodox conversions, and that power can too often be used capriciously and irrationally. While Orthodox rabbinic authority seldom results in sexual abuse, the power imbalance is very real. It might be possible to argue that Rabbi Freundel was a deeply flawed individual whose alleged sexually exploitative acts have no wider implications. But I would disagree. The absence within Orthodoxy of women rabbis of equal stature and authority to the male rabbis creates a culture where abuse of authority is more likely. When women’s voices are silenced, it can lead to terrible consequences. In contrast, the role of women rabbis in liberal Judaism serves as a counterbalance to an anachronistic patriarchal tradition.

So I return to this week’s Torah portion of Vayera. How might the story have been different had Sarah’s voice been heard? What would the mother of Isaac have answered if she had been the one to be tested by God? Where was her laugh, her doubt, her skepticism? We regret not hearing Sarah’s voice, but we do know the result of that silence. The very next chapter is Chaye Sarah—Sarah’s life. But the story isn’t about Sarah’s life. Genesis, Chapter 24 begins: “The life of Sarah came to 127 years. And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba—Hebron.”

If there were an Act Four to this play, it would be very brief. Sarah died. The curtain descends. The lesson is learned. Sarah’s voice brought life, laughter, skepticism, and doubt.  Without that voice, there was silence; there was death. So it is that we must hear the voice of women and men, of children and the aged, of the native born and the stranger.

Categories
Social Justice

Remembering September 11th

Every day this month, prior to the Jewish High Holy Days, Jews will sound the Shofar, the rams horn, to herald the coming of the Days of Judgement and Atonement. One of the reasons given for the call of the shofar is to remind us of the eternal voiceless cry of the soul.

This thirteenth anniversary of September 11th and the symbolism of the shofar are expressed by this soulful prayer for our time of remembrance this Thursday:

*May the cry of the shofar remind us of the 2,973 lives that were taken that day. May the shofar’s sound echo like the sirens of the firefighters. police officers and first responders whose heroic sacrifices were extraordinary on that day.

*May the shofar’s plaintiff call remind us how fleeting and fragile this life is.

*May the voice of the shofar serve to comfort all who were wounded in body and spirit; those who lost loved ones and friends, and all whose hearts were broken by witnessing the pain of others.

*On this 13th anniversary, may the blast of the shofar drown out the shouts of cruel extremists who threaten us and who would destroy our lives and our freedom.

*On this 13th anniversary, and every day yet to come, may we find hope and strength in a world that is broken and needs healing. And let us pray that all caring and compassionate human beings will not surrender to evil and will summon the courage to repair our fractured world.

And let the shofar be like a siren that alerts us to danger and summons us to act.

May there come a day when we, and our children, and our children’s children, will live unafraid in a more tolerant, just, and peaceful world.

Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe has lived a courageous life of involvement and dedication. He led a Unity March against the Ku Klux Klan, rallied to free Soviet Jews, and was a member of the Clergy Delegation who visited the American Hostages in Iran. His participation in the New York City Marathon earned him the nickname, “The Running Rabbi.”

Categories
Immigration Reform Judaism Social Justice

One Big Victory, No Matter How Small: Immigration Reform

Yestel Velasquez is a deeply-rooted member of the New Orleans community who has literally helped rebuild the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Yestel is a community leader fighting against civil rights abuses and racial profiling in New Orleans. He is also an undocumented immigrant who has lived and worked in America for nearly a decade.

On May 13, 2014, Yestel was caught up in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while getting his car fixed at an autoshop frequented by Latino clients. Detained by ICE, Yestel filed a complaint with Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and was soon after granted a three months stay of his deportation.  He was not, however, released from detention.

On Monday, August 4th, Yestel was informed by ICE that his stay would be revoked and he would be deported by the end of the week.

How do I know about Yestel Velasquez?  Because over a year ago, as Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, we pledged as Reform rabbis to work for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. We rejoiced when bipartisan immigration legislation passed the Senate, but did not stop our work once the House of Representatives refused to act.

Instead, led by our intrepid Lead Organizer, Joy Friedman of Just Congregations, we worked to find out how we could make a difference in the lives of undocumented Americans. At our Chicago CCAR convention, we learned about the movement to prevent deportations that would not occur were the bill passed by the Senate to become the law of the land. By the spring meetings of our Commission on Social Action (CSA) in May, we decided the Reform Movement would engage in immigration reform, one human being at a time, by protecting immigrant families from being torn apart through deportations.

It is a long and instructive (but not appropriate for this piece) story about how we worked closely with the CSA to find national partners who would ask us to help in the defense of potential deportees.

Last Tuesday, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) heard of Yestel’s plight and asked us to act quickly. The CSA leadership thoughtfully and quickly vetted the case, and by Wednesday, the 20 rabbi ROR advisory team was authorized to act. We had our phone scripts and were armed with information and the moral high ground. Alongside partners across the country, we were ready to help save Yestel and his family. In just a few hours, ROR made eleven phone calls to ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale, and another eleven to Director David Rivera of the New Orleans ICE office.

We all called to share our concern with the deportation of Mr. Yestel Velazquez. Sometimes we had no choice but to leave voicemail messages; other times we were able to engage in conversation. I made our first phone call to Deputy Director Ragsdale’s office and he didn’t understand why a rabbi from Chicago was calling. By our last call of the day, we had made an impression – “And where are you calling from, Rabbi?” he asked.

By Thursday, we heard great news from our partners at NDLON: ICE released Yestel from detention and granted him a new one-year stay of removal! More importantly, ICE guaranteed Yestel protection from retaliatory deportation.

I do not know if we saved a single life.  But I am glad to have been part of the team that is working, one person at a time, to save the entire world.

Next time the chance comes, do you want to join the team?

Rabbi Seth M. Limmer is rabbi of 
Chicago Sinai Congregation, in Chicago, IL.  

Categories
Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

An Introduction to the Jews of the South: A Good First Impression

The president of the congregation met me at the airport. It was late summer, 2000, my first visit to Hebrew Union Congregation, my new biweekly student pulpit in Greenville, Mississippi. No sooner had we pulled away from the tiny terminal, past the defunct air force base, onto the access road, than we were pulling off again, into a cotton field in full bloom. I had never seen anything like it. Next thing I knew, I stood waist-deep among gently bobbing plants, an undulating field of white stretching to the horizon, the green leaves beneath like a sea obscured by bright foam.

“Have you ever picked cotton?” he asked.

“No.”

He urged me to pull one soft boll for myself. I asked if this was his field. He laughed, knowing from a lifetime of Mississippi autumns that soon, during the harvest, the roads would be paved in white, stray cotton blowing along the lane markers, fields still generously tipped with snowy fibers, as if awaiting gleaners.

“It’s okay to pick one,” he assured me. I hoped he at least knew the field’s owner, and followed his instruction.

How do you make a good first impression? Or a powerful one? I’ll never forget my introduction to the Deep South, to the Jews of the south. I got the message loud and clear that cotton was—historically, and still in large part to that day—the lifeblood of the region (and if our “field” trip weren’t enough, my congregational president, a history major in college, had plenty of tales of times past to finish the job). The blood wasn’t pumping as strongly as it once had, and the town was in decline. The synagogue had just said goodbye to their last full-time rabbi. I was their first student rabbi. Nevertheless, in the hearts of many in the Mississippi Delta, cotton was . . . if no longer king, at least a true royal.

Of course, the legacy of cotton is inextricable from the legacy of slavery, which is one of the factors that set the region up, 100 years after abolition, for its troubled relationship with the African-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

We continued on to the synagogue, a gorgeous domed 1906 structure with enormous stained-glass windows and a full-sized pipe organ. The congregation had once claimed the largest synagogue membership in the state, and the sanctuary seated hundreds of worshipers. The synagogue building had all the amenities you might expect: assembly hall, kitchen, classrooms, board room, and a sizable library. The library had recently seen the installation of an impressive historical exhibit, curated by two congregants.

The president led me to a glass-sided display case, filled with some of the more physically vulnerable artifacts: old snapshots and siddurim, yellowing posters, manuscripts. He opened the case, and pulled out two items.

The first was a pamphlet, published by the Association of Citizens’ Councils of Mississippi, titled “A Jewish View on Segregation.” The anonymous author self-identified only as a “Jewish Southerner,” but was presumed by Jewish locals, based on personal details disclosed in the essay, to be a resident of the Delta.

The second was a letter, dated November 1963, from the president of Greenville’s Hebrew Union Congregation to the Board of Trustees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, protesting the arrangements for the banquet speaker at the upcoming Biennial Convention. The letter did not report the details, already well-known by the parties involved, and my guide filled them in for me: The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had been invited to speak at the gathering later that month in Detroit. The record shows that he spoke, Greenville’s protest notwithstanding. The letter, however, received a thoughtful, two-page reply from Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, also on display  in the library; and the congregational board secretary, a Detroit native, in defiance of her board colleagues, attended.

“Why are  you showing me this?” I ventured, hesitantly. The current president did not strike me as the sort who would be proud of this chapter in his congregation’s history. But I wasn’t sure what to expect.

“Can you believe this?” he chortled. “Some folks in the North think this is still who we are. But we’ve changed. It’s pretty amazing how much the South has changed.”

It’s pretty amazing, I thought, that this near-total stranger trusted me to see through the stereotype that the documents present, to perceive whatever reality I might encounter in my own experience here, just now beginning. It reminded me of how we’ve preserved the shame of the golden calf in the Torah, for all to see, like an inoculation, a warning or reminder of what we’ve been, against what we might, but mustn’t, become.

I’m reminded of this now, as we prepare to observe the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, when hundreds of young people, disproportionately Jewish, traveled south to register African-American voters. I’m back in Mississippi, where I have lived full-time for seven of the last fourteen years. The cotton still flourishes in the Delta, and the South is still changing.

"Shabbat Cotton." Photo by Bill Aron. Courtesy Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Do not reprint without permission.
“Shabbat Cotton.” Photo by Bill Aron. Courtesy Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. Do not reprint without permission.

Rabbi Kassoff serves Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville, Mississippi, as rabbi, and Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, Mississippi as Director of Youth Education.

Categories
Books Social Justice

First Encounter with The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality

Here’s a hint that the intersection of Judaism and sexuality is a complex, multi-faceted, and endlessly fascinating topic: the new CCAR anthology, The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality is 810 pages, with over fifty contributions from clergy and thought-leaders from the Reform movement and beyond.

Clearly, there is a lot to say – and I’m both encouraged and excited by the depth and breadth of perspectives put forward by the book’s editor, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, and the many authors included in this book. No one takes the easy way out, as each essayist tackles a wide range of issues head-on, employing new, creative approaches for textual analysis, ritual creation, and contemporary policy debates. From same-sex marriage, to infertility, to creating sacred space in cyberspace, these of-the-moment topics address age-old questions with refreshing honesty and intellectual rigor.

We enrich and sanctify these conversations when we convene them within Jewish communities, and this anthology provides us with an incredible tool to do so.

So – where to start? We have synthesized the incredible material included in this volume into a study guide, providing both topic-based tracks and chapter-by-chapter discussion questions.

The tracks, which include Marriage, Social Justice, Sexual Ethics, and more, are appropriate for a variety of adult and young adult education sessions. Each track includes relevant sub-topics and chapters. You could opt to teach the entire track as a longer, multi-part course, or select a particular sub-topic and its associated chapters in the book for a one-time discussion.

We also created tracks that include topics of particular interest for a WRJ/Sisterhood group, MRJ/Brotherhood group, synagogue teen group, or youth workers to discuss together. Synagogue boards may wish to study together using the tracks that include Reform Movement policy perspectives or improving LGBTQ Inclusion. The tracks also serve as a useful topical index – if you’re looking to recommend one chapter for a couple in pre-marital counseling to read, the Marriage track distills sub-topics from sexual intimacy to ritual and legal innovation.

The second part of the study guide includes discussion questions for every chapter of the book. You might use these questions in an adult education course covering one or more of the track-based topics. You could also employ the questions as a starting point for personal reflection after reading a particular chapter. Many of the questions are geared toward how the ideas in a given chapter could be implemented in your synagogue or local Jewish community.

Finally, The Sacred Encounter is full of beautiful personal reflections related to the broader topics in the anthology. Included in many of the tracks in the study guide, these reflections also provide an accessible entry-point to the book as a whole.

We look forward to hearing how you are teaching and discussing the many perspectives included in The Sacred Encounter. How do you plan to teach on any of these topics? Please let us know which tracks, discussion questions, and chapters spark the most exciting debates for you! This is only the beginning of what we know will be an incredible conversation.

Liz Piper-Goldberg, CCAR Press Rabbinic Intern/HUC-JIR ‘15, wrote the study guide for The Sacred Encounter

The study guide for The Sacred Encounter is available for free as a downloadable PDF

Categories
CCAR Convention General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

A Conference of Colleagues, A Blessing of Rabbis

I’m not sure what one calls a large gathering of rabbis. Is it a rabble of rabbis? A den of rabbis? A blessing of rabbis? Whatever the official appellation, there sure were a lot of us at the CCAR convention I just attended in Chicago. In fact there were over 500 rabbonim gathered at the Fairmont Hotel for 4 days of learning, studying, schmoozing, and connecting. As always it is a sweet reunion of old friends, pulling out our iPhones, sharing pictures of our spouses and our kids and now for some of us, our grandchildren. It has also become a chance to meet new colleagues with new ideas about so much of what we senior rabbis have been doing for decades. These encounters can be bracing: the young are so certain about so much… These encounters can also be humbling, because they produce fresh insights into long held views on any number of practices.

We invite young scholars, many of them now teaching at Hebrew Union College, the Reform seminary. And they are so smart! So credentialed from fine universities: Yale, Sorbonne, Hebrew University, and so forth… We learn that there are few eternal verities in Jewish Studies.

We also invite people from the world of business and politics to share their wisdom as it relates to Jewish life and leadership. With them we learn the shifting complexities and expectations of community, whether that be a community of consumers, Congressmen and women, or congregants. It is sobering for all of us to recognize that everyone agrees with the notion that we are living during a transition; we just don’t know to what we’re transitioning. There’s the rub…

untitled-58-2Yet with all the stress on the new and evolving, some things do not change, including the Reform movement’s commitment to social justice. This past Wednesday night Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center reminded us that for 50 years, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (“the RAC”) has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C. The RAC educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on more than 70 different issues, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel and more. He spoke with Jim Wallis, a Christian writer and political activist who is best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine. Together they reminded the rabbis to keep our eyes on the prize.

Congregational life is changing and by definition, so too must the congregational rabbinate. We are less and less called upon to be scholars, experts in Jewish studies. More and more we are called upon to serve our temples through compassionate caring and connection. Adhering to “the way we have always done it” has slowly changed to doing “whatever is new and hip.” We are truly in new digital territory with analog maps. That consensus is shared by the vast majority of rabbis. So many Reform rabbis agreeing about anything en masse is cause to pay attention.

Rabbis are opinionated people with a deep sense of obligation to our congregations. We know that we will be called upon for unimaginably wonderful moments. We also know that we will be called upon to be present, to hold the center in the midst of devastating loss. We are not prophets yet we are often expected to fill that role – as well as the role of priest. Being at a conference of colleagues reminds us all that we are all human. We lack super powers. We are lonely sometimes. We are blessed to be present in the most sacred moments of life. Thirty years after my ordination and a day after the CCAR annual convention, I feel more blessed, luckier every day, to be a congregational rabbi.

Rabbi Keith Stern serves Temple Beth Avodah in Newton, MA.

Categories
CCAR Convention Gun Control

Gun Violence in America: Moving from Helpless to Hopeful

Today I attended a fascinating session on Gun Violence, titled “Gun Violence in America: Moving from Helpless to Hopeful,” here at the convention led by Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, 5th year HUC-JIR student Adena Kemper Blum, Diane Boese, and Alec Harris. Two local Chicago people working on this gun violence prevention modeled locally. In short, the approach is to go after the purchasing power of the military and law enforcement who purchase 40% of the guns in this country and with that purchasing power, require that the gun manufacturers utilize rapidly improving technology that promotes gun safety.

Does this seem a little bit unclear? Think of the emissions standards my home state of California passed. In essence, because of these regulations all car manufacturers must produce cars that will pass the strictest emissions standards in the state. This organizing effort is trying to do something similar with gun safety technology.

The presenters shared the experiences of traveling to a European gun show (many of the top gun brands are produced by European companies) to speak with the gun enthusiasts about the safety issues. We also heard how Chicago-based organizing efforts have been effective, as Cook County is in the process of making changes.

If you would like to find out more about this effort, please visit Do Not Stand Idly By.

Rabbi Eleanor Steinman is the Director of Programs and Fund Development at A Wider Bridge, the pro-Israel organization that builds bridges between Israelis, LGBTQ North Americans, and allies. 

Categories
Ethics News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

What Drives You to Do Social Justice?

The question was so simple.  “What drives you to do social justice?”  But the answer was so complex and varied.  The themes were similar: family role models, personal experiences of injustice, a sense of responsibility and moral obligation.  But each one of us had a story to tell, a piece to uncover, a truth to reveal.  After 15 months of knowing the people in the room with me, I realized that maybe I didn’t really know them that well at all.  And all it takes, to really get to know a person, is to ask a simple question and let their story unfold.

I just returned from the Religious Action Center’s Consultation on Conscience. As a 2012-2013 Brickner Rabbinic Fellow, this was the culminating event to months of study, prayer, and exploration on social advocacy, as it pertains to being a rabbi. But it was more than that.  It was the culmination of months of being in relationship with a great group that helped me realize what it means to be passionate about social justice, to rely on one another professionally to help better our world, and to live with holy intention in the work that we do.

And yet, there was something so powerful, so organically raw and moving in the room as we closed out our final moments together as a group.  Rabbi Steve Fox, Chief Executive of the CCAR, invited us to reflect for a moment.  In most cases, you would expect us to reflect back on the last 15 months and the experiences shared in the program.  But we didn’t do that.  We did something much more sacred, much more meaningful and much more useful.  We shared words with one another about our own personal journeys and lives in relation to changing, healing, and helping our broken world.  It had all the potential to be go wrong and be self-serving and egotistical.  But it wasn’t.  It was beautiful. In that moment, our group took the trust that had been building in those 15 months and we unleashed our stories – painful, funny, heartfelt – and we created sacred space to continue connecting our lives with one another.

That moment continued to teach us about social advocacy, about the holiness that comes from hearing and sharing stories and recognizing the beauty of the human spirit and the power of community.  Social advocacy is nothing without recognizing that we are all human beings, with complex stories and histories and lives, and that we are all in this world together, trying to create a better world so that all may live with dignity and freedom.  But it begins by listening and by sharing.

The question was so very simple.  But I am grateful that it was asked.  Because with it, I was able to understand what the last 15 months truly were about – making sacred connections so that I can be empowered to continue partnering with God and with my fellow human beings in order to help create a more perfect world through social advocacy, social justice and tikkun olam.

Rabbi Liz Wood is the Associate Rabbi Educator at the Reform Temple of Forest Hills, NY.