Monday, March 19, 2012

Blogging the Rabbi Convention -CCAR

Blogging the CCAR convention
I arrived today in Boston to attend the annual Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). The first aspect of the convention that brings me so much joy is being with colleagues. There are about 500 colleagues and spouses attending. We span the age spectrum and we are mostly congregational rabbis. We all went to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion even though we may have studied and received ordination at the HUC-JIR campuses of Cincinnati, New York or Los Angeles. Besides the collegial benefit of going to these kinds of conventions there is the all important networking and discussing issues that we encounter in our rabbinic work as well as learning new ideas or programs that represent best practices in the Reform Movement.
It is great to connect with old friends and classmates. The generation of my colleagues has all grown in different ways. Our children are now in college. We have carved out our niche in the rabbinate.
The congregations we serve know us well enough for our strengths and our areas of growth. We have had our tough times and our glorious moments of knowing that we have made a difference in the lives of our people. We still love to learn and teach.
This afternoon I attended the opening program which was a panel discussion on the future of the American Jewish community. Professor Johnathan Sarna of Brandeis University (formerly of Hebrew Union College and my teacher) is the leading historian of American Jewish history today. Barry Shragge, the director of the Boston Jewish federation is known as the most innovative and progressive visionary for sustaining and growing Jewish communities. Both sat down and discussed how Boston became one of the best examples of how Jewish communities can grow and work together transcending rivalries.
One lesson that spoke to me was talking about strategic planning.  Shragge spoke about the idea that communities and congregations needed to take the attitude that the entire fate of Judaism depends upon what that community does for its future.  That idea of planning as if world Jewry depends on what we do in Hilton Head is exactly what we need to imagine when we are imagining Beth Yam for the future. We are starting a new strategic planning process and it should inspire us to take the approach that what we will be doing is really setting the pathway for the entire Jewish community in the low country. That’s some imagination!
The two panelists talked about the longstanding challenges of trying to deal with financial support for congregations and Jewish communal institutions. Based upon Dr. Sarna’s history lesson he made an observation about the perennial issue of paying to pray on the High Holy Days. There are always complainers who say temple leaders should never charge unaffiliated folks to pray on the High Holy Days. And his response was, “This is the price we pay for the separation of church and state in America.” If the government paid for our services and our clergy then we would not have to charge anyone anything. But we would have to sacrifice some very important values in our country. So this is one of the consequences that we bear upon ourselves and fellow Jews for freedom of religion in our country.
Each community is ultimately responsible for its own survival.
Mr. Shragge was critical of the Reform Movements’ decision to close down so much of its infrastructure in its recent restructuring. One of the consequences was pulling away resources from Reform’s Outreach Movement. In fact the future is Outreach (Shragge is a modern Orthodox Jew). If we can reach out to the interfaith families and get them to affiliate and send their kids to camp they will raise Jewish children.
There was a lot more that the panelists discussed but  it is time to go now. Have a great day everyone.

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