Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Azkara - In Remembrance For Jonathan Plaut
I am at the CCAR convention in Long Beach, Ca and today we prayed the morning (Shachrit) services. At the end of the service right before reciting the kaddish, there was a big screen where there appeared the names of the colleagues and spouses of colleagues who died over the passed year. Rabbi Lewis Barth of Hebrew Union College arose to speak in general terms of remembrance about our colleagues and their spouses. At first it reminded me of the same practice that we see today at the Academy Awards but there is no Barbara Streisand coming out to sing "Memories" as she did in this most recent televised performance. Furthermore in the old days of the CCAR there was the custom to write small but oh so intimate and respectful vignettes of those colleagues published in the yearbook. Some were longer than others but there was a record about the rabbis who lived and breathed the rabbinate and passed away and their memories were inscribed in the pages of our communal record-the CCAR Yearbook. Alas, the changes time has wrought and that technology has brought for us. Now we are just a minute or two on a screen and then we are gone. Sounds like a Psalm.
I shall remember one man on this year's list a little more than a mention on a large auditorium size screen. Jonathan Plaut buried his father the famous and revered Rabbi Gunther Plaut and several months later died due to Lou Gehrig's disease. It was tragic and profoundly sad to lose this man at a young age and especially so close after he delivered the eulogy at his own father's funeral.
It must not have been easy for Johnathan to grow up with such a giant in the rabbinate as his father. I always admired how he protected his father's interests and cared for him in his later years in so many ways. He exemplified the miitzvah of "honor thy father and thy mother."
Jonathan was a wonderful rabbi and a great guy. He taught me a lot about being a rabbi and he knew well the practical side and especially the business side of the rabbinate. He was fiercely loyal to his friends. He was a congregational rabbi and had a powerful presence. I loved his laugh and his humor. He could be boisterous in one moment and incredibly sensitive and attentive in another. I have many fun loving memories about him. He was blessed by his wife Carol who is an amazing woman and his son and daughter as well as grandchildren. I have all the respect in the world for Carol who supported him, steadied him and counseled me as well as my wife when I was an assistant rabbi in Palo Alto just beginning my Rabbinate. Jonathan installed me two times; in Champaign, Illinois and Naples, Florida. I am honored that he came to my help on several occasions and introduced me to a man named George Lane who is now a life long friend. George and I will always cherish Johnathan, each in our own way and I am so glad we can share our memories of him together. It is comforting for me.
Johnathan Plaut deserves to be honored in the CCAR for having served honorably and been a mentor to colleagues like me and for bringing joy and humor to life. A year has gone by since his passing and I am still saddened and still think about him regularly.
I could not leave this Convention without having written this piece in utmost respect to my colleague and friend and pray that all who read this blog and tribute to him will remember that Johnathan Plaut served the God of Israel with complete faith and dedication. He loved his family and his people. He was a scholar with an earned Doctorate from HUC and embodied the qualities rabbis should all value and aspire to in their lives. Y'chi Zichro Baruch May His Memory be Blessed
Monday Blog at the CCAR Convention
First let me begin by confirming my suspicion that hotel convention dinners are bad. Nothing has changed.
Monday morning we had the worship service and just imagine 450 Rabbis gathered together. Men and women. Kippot, Talitot Tephillin are all part of the prayer garb that one would see at our services. Also one would see many using their Ipads which have the reform siddur MIshkan Tephillah. There we are in the 21st century in California with rabbis praying using their Ipads in hand. Technology!
The main part of the service was the installation of new CCAR president Rabbi Rick Block from Tifferet Israel in Cleveland, Ohio. I have known Rick for almost 30 years. He is most capable and delivered a stirring and pragmatic speech about the challenges rabbis face today. They are not only theological challenges in terms of what we and our congregants believe. But there are real issues that rabbis face that are professional concerns which deal with economics as well as employment and gender especially for women rabbis. He also spoke about the importance of our being involved in Israel. He urged us all to continue to lead our congregations to Israel and advocate for Israel with our national and state wide leaders to do our part to protect Israel's security.
I must say that it is a delightful change to be part of a large group of rabbis, just part of the crowd, praying or davening to the sounds of rabbis leading us in prayer. We are not on display trying our best to inspire the congregants. We are simply praying to God. We are praying with friends, old classmates, seminary teachers and spouses of colleagues. It is a refreshing sense of renewal and connectedness that only a convention can provide.
The large screens next to the stage had the hebrew text of the Siddur and beautiful imagery behind the words to enhance our singing. This is a new phenomena that congregations are starting to experiment with in communal worship. Maybe we should give it at try at Bet Yam?
After services concluded there was a program called Rabbis organizing Rabbis. This was sponsored by the CCAR Justice and Peace Committee. The main theme was Immigration. Noting that the US Senate is taking up and will be voting on legislation for an Immigration Bill, this session was a kick off to jump start a new movement to inspire Reform Rabbis to get involved and show the moral leadership again in pursuing the prophetic values that distinguished Reform Judaism in its history. Immigration Reform is a hot topic today and we heard from a 23 year old undocumented college speaker who told her story about coming to the US at age five. She shared some of the typical stories that these 11 million people go through every day. She definitely captured the hearts, souls and the conscience of the rabbis to get involved and find a fair solution to this perennial problem.
The next bit of information I learned concerns the future publication of a new High Holy Day Prayer Book (Mahzor). It is planned to be published for 2015. This will have a great impact upon all of us and we will have more to learn about this new development in the future. Tonight the program will focus on the High Holy Day Prayerbook where the panel will discuss how to find the right kinds of metaphors that will fit for a high holy day prayerbook in our time and for the future. Rest assured this will not be an easy task.
Oh by the way I stopped by the technology bar again today and am picking up new information, and today Jewish resources for my Ipad, that I can share with you my congregation in many way both on and off the bimah.
I think that is enough for now.
God bless you my congregation.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Rabbi Bloom's Blog at the CCAR Conference in Long Beach, Ca.
Good Afternoon to all my friends and congregants. Yes I have arrived in Long Beach to attend the annual CCAR convention. And as you know it is my practice to share with you my experience attending the convention. Since you are generous to enable to attend it is my feeling that you should have a sense that I am actually getting some really important insights that enhance my professional growth. Of course I enjoy the interaction with many colleagues especially when we have so few rabbis in our region. It is a real m'chayah!
Today we can connect over the internet and skype but there is no substituting for the face to face contact between us all. we have lots of issues to discuss that are critical to Reform Judaism. There is also great value in enjoying the opportunity to study with a great teacher whether it is in the area of Talmud, Bible or History. Just to sit in a conference room and learn together is a a beautiful thing and rejuvenates the soul.
The theme of this year's Conference is "Rabbis Leading the Shift: Jewish Possibility in a Rapidly Changing World" This morning there was a session called Justice in the City: Acting Like God not Like Pharaoh. and Changing World: Two Talmudic Models.
We will have the opening program of the Convention including the Opening Night Dinner (We are staying at the Westin and I am not a big fan of hotel banquet food.). But tonight we will be watching a film called Connected by Tiffany Shlain. I'll find out more about that.