Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day Three Blogging the CCAR Convention

Day Three
Today I leave and return home. I have mixed feelings about it. It takes two days to get into the flow of a conference. So I wish I could stay one more day. On the other hand there is much to share and the work of our congregation calls me home. And so we say Heneni- I will be here!
 It is not so difficult to imagine that our conference’s effervescent spirit has been diminished today.  The recent killings in Toulouse, France at the Otzar HaTorah Jewish day school call out to us to stand in solidarity and communal mourning. Sometimes words don’t capture the depth of emotions. For this reason I ask that at noon on Friday that we take one minute out for silent reflection no matter where we are or what we are doing on behalf of these souls who are now, in the words of the Jewish memorial prayer el maleh rachamim, “bound up into the bonds of eternal life.”  I also hope that everyone who reads this blog post will join me at Temple this Shabbat to recite Kaddish for Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two children Arye 8, Gabriel 6, and Miriam Monsonego, 8, who is the school principals’ daughter. If you are an out of town reader of this blog, then I urge us all to attend a temple and say kaddish.
Besides attending morning services at the convention, I went to a session led by the famous and respected Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He is a conservative rabbi and is an expert at interpreting the Torah. For those of us from Conservative backgrounds, Rabbi Kushner edited the recently published Conservative Movement’s Tree of Life Torah.  His topic was what did Moses learn from leading 600,000 unappreciative congregants?
You can just imagine the discussion that ensued with all the colleagues!

Day Two Blogging the CCAR Convention

Day Two-CCAR Convention
We are sitting in the large convention hall praying the morning service. One rabbi leading the service is playing the guitar leading our group in communal prayer. During the Torah service another rabbi officiates standing at the dais donning tephillin as well as talit and kippah. On two sides on the walls behind the service leaders there is a computer generated image of the prayers in Hebrew, English and transliteration of Hebrew. When the Torah is read, we can watch on either of the two large screens the inside of the Torah text as it is being read. Welcome to the Reform Rabbinate of the 21st century. High Technology now is permeating the entire worship experience. Ritual and tradition give us many choices as to how we are going to conduct our public worship as well as develop our own personal spirituality.
One of the highlights of that service was the honoring of the rabbis who are celebrating 50 years in the rabbinate. Four or five rabbis ascended the bimah during the Torah service. One of them Rabbi Ronald Milstein came up with his wife, son who is a rabbi and daughter in –law who is also a rabbi. Just watching them all standing with dignity and pride as the congregation blessed them and they recited the Torah blessings. It was truly a moving experience. Just to survive that many years in the rabbinate is a true blessing.
It is interesting to behold just how diverse reform rabbis are these days. Age, gender, sexual orientation are all issues make our assembly look very different than what we appeared to be two decades ago. It was also a solemn moment when we prepared ourselves to say kaddish and intoned the names of our colleagues who passed away since last year’s convention. It struck me this year when I gazed up to the screens and saw their names. When I read the list I discovered about five of them who I knew quite well. One of the rabbis was my thesis director in rabbinic school. Two others I got to know over the years.
The next major event was listening to a lecture in the same hall to Dr. Arthur Green. He is well known in the rabbinical world as a scholar who reads and teaches Jewish texts from the mystical and Hasidic traditions. He is a liberal Jew but not a Reform Jew. He is professor emeritus from Brandeis University and is president of a Rabbinical Seminary in Boston.
He spoke to the rabbis about cultivating our own personal theology.  He urged us to continue to learn for ourselves about what we believe and not be afraid to share it with the congregation. He said to us that most of our congregants will never think about God and the sacred texts the way we do. But that does not mean that our congregants are not hungry to hear what we are learning and believing.
He urged us to get beyond the ritual or the ethnic part and delve into the mystery of the unfathomable aspect of God as well as balance the journey to the intimate side of God.
The final aspect of the day was sitting down the at the CCAR tech table. This table was staffed all day long with expert rabbis in technology. I sat down for an hour with one expert colleague. He showed me how I can conduct a class in my Google plus- hang out room with 14 others who can listen to my class and to each other at the same time on their computers. This is I believe is cool! High tech strategies for high touch teaching. More to come on expanding our high tech future at Beth Yam. I was taken back to see how many rabbis downloaded an APP for the Reform Movement Prayerbook Mishkan Tephillah onto their IPADs. They were praying with it as their Siddur. Is this the future for us at Beth Yam?

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.