Monday, March 28, 2011

Day Two: The Rabbi Conference

The Central Conference of American Rabbis Convention: Day Two
We gathered together again in the morning for a massive shacharit (morning) service of five hundred rabbis. Guitars playing, drums sounding, Torah chanting and visual transformation of prayer scenes to set a mood displayed upon large screens on the bimah (stage). It was all about expanding our horizons in communal worship with new and unconventional means that could enhance the worship experience. Computer technology is used to stimulate our imagination and stretch our hearts and souls.
We watched the transition of new rabbinic leadership in the conference. Rabbi Johnathan Stein, the newly installed President Elect of our Conference, spoke about the visioning our role and impact upon the future of Reform Judaism. He also spoke about youth and why we need to do much more, especially for college kids, if we want to have a movement in the future. Third, Rabbi Stein reaffirmed support for Israel and that despite all the issues that Israel faces in these tenuous times that the Central Conference of American Rabbis will always stand behind Israel.
The next major program was a tour of the World War Two museum. In addition to the regular exhibition about D-Day in Europe, the museum had another major exhibition on Jews in World War Two including D-Day itself. Many video presentations of Jewish soldiers narrated their own experiences during those years. Some told stories of anti-semitic confrontations. Others claimed that they never had any anti-semitic event.
I was taken back by a video of a Rabbi military chaplain, Rabbi Eichorn,who led the first worship service in Dachau concentration camp. The people appeared numb and almost emotionless at his adjurations to encourage their participation. Holding the small Torah in his arms, dressed in his uniform and chanting the Shema, the Rabbi tried to give the people hope.
Artifacts on display were tephillin, prayerbooks, and even a Jewish divorce document (get) that the Conservative Jewish rabbinical authorities asked Jewish servicemen to sign before they went into battle. Why would anyone ask someone to do that? The rabbis knew full well that only a man can give a woman a divorce. If no man exists than the rabbinical court cannot grant her a divorce. This means that technically the woman would be trapped living her life in a limbo status.
It is an odd feeling being inside that museum. I grew up in a time when young people were totally opposed to the Viet Nam war. We rejected serving in the military. Everyone knew it was an unpopular war and one that divided the nation. Young Americans in these times became disillusioned with their parents way of looking at the world. World War Two was something in the recent past but before the time that the children of the veterans could remember. It has been in recent years that we have all begun to open our eyes and comprehend the significance of those years and the miraculous achievement of allied troops and the American people.
Once again this exhibition teaches how Jews did their part in the most critical moment in modern American history. Just think for a moment of the repercussions had the Germans defeated the allied troops. We Jews are always sensitive to perceptions that Jews did not hold their own in American history. This exhibition surely tells the story about how their Judaism impacted their view of the world. It may not matter to us today about what kind of service veterans perform for themselves. But we can see through this special exhibition that their words and deeds earned the respect of so many in America.
Admittedly, I have a special interest in this situation because my father, of blessed memory, participated and survived Day-Day One. He was part of the 4th division which landed upon Utah beach. He made it through Paris and ultimately to the Sigfried Line in the Battle of the Bulge where he sustained a shrapnel wound that took him out of the war and into two years of surgery before he would leave the army. I remember his dog tags which had the letter H inscribed which meant Hebrew.  He most certainly knew what a lot of Jewish GI’s knew which was that if they got captured by Nazis that Jewish soldiers would risk immediate death and execution. One soldier in the video told the story of how an American major encouraged the Jewish soldiers under his command to get the letter P (Protestant) or C (Catholic) superimposed over the letter H. Such choices we cannot fathom today.

1 comment:

Rabbi Arthur Segal said...

Shalom Chaverli R' Brad:

Enjoy NOLA...I've been told, lol, that they know how to make traif taste so good, that one may think that it must be kosher.

The story of your beloved Father, Zikhrono Livrakhah, was very touching . Alav ha shalom. His generation was very special, brave and patriotic and needs to honored and remembered with awe.

And mozel tov to R' Yonaton Stein.

Glad to see you got to spend time with your fellow CCAR alum. This is a great season as we rabbis during this time of year follow the edict of :''Questions are asked and lectures are given on the laws of Passover beginning thirty days before” (Talmud Bavli Tractate Pesachim 6a).

It is a wonderful Tractate especially when we see that our Chazel moved from teaching the Peshat level of our people's physical Exodus from Egypt, to a Sod understand that the Pesach holiday is about our learning to bring ourselves out of our OWN narrowness (Literally Mitzraim), and our own bondage of 'self.' We are to learn to be as humble as a flat piece of Matzah, and to rid the Chumetz , the puffed-up-ness, the ego, from our lives. Learning how to pass over the will of the yetzer ha ra, the Pharaoh inside of us, each day, is a joyous celebration.

Ellen and I wish you and your family and congregants a happy, spiritual and kasher Pesach!

Shalom uvracha! Your chaver:
Rabbi Arthur Segal