From Generation to Degeneration: Declining American Jewish Kinship with Israel?

 

 

Over the past five years, my wife and I have spent about six weeks each year in Israel. We’re clearly not Israeli citizens, but we’re more than occasional visitors. Like many, we have family and close friends in Israel, and are intentionally deepening those relationships and making new ones. Whenever we return from a visit, we’re asked, “What did you see this time?” While we enjoy museums, concerts, new wineries, restaurants and archaeological findings, we most enjoy being with family and friends and, for me, getting my spiritual fix.

 

With more frequent visits, I’ve become more aware of the differences between the American and Israeli Jewish communities. Yom ha’Atzmaut felt like the right time to share some reflections… and to ask you for your opinions.

 

The modern state of Israel is only 67 years old. Although Israel is the indisputable historic homeland of the Jewish people, in its current iteration, it is young. In fact, my parents are older than the modern State of Israel. Israel is only about 10 years older than my wife and me, over 40 years older than my children, and well over 60 years older for some of my friends who have grandchildren.

 

israel-rabbi-hayim-herring

 

 

Doing this simple, personal math clearly reminds me that within the American Jewish community, there are two generations that can remember the fragility of the State of Israel, and two generations (going on three) that think that Israel is an outsized global powerhouse. Because of such a significant divide, I wonder to what extent the words “from generation to generation,” that imply continuity of values and kinship, apply to the majority of American Jews who are third generation and beyond. They do not have personal living memories of Israel’s vulnerability but are routinely reminded of Israel’s deficiencies. In daily doses of media images and text, they absorb a one-sided, distorted view of Israel, where Israel almost always does wrong and rarely can do right.

 

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Showing Up (Guest Blog Post by Rabbi Jason Weiner)

 

 

“When in doubt, show up.” These simple words are the heart of Rabbi Jason Weiner’s essay, and appear in the online version of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education. Rabbi Weiner shares his experience of the journey he traveled to defining his rabbinate as spiritual caregiver, illustrates what it means to “show up” in people’s lives, and the impact that act can have. As I reread his essay, I began to think more broadly about the power of his message. Even if we’re not suffering from a medical condition, does the relentless pace of life and its attendant turmoil subtract from our spirituality? And with the right training, can rabbis help people reclaim their spiritual selves? Please share your thoughts at https://www.facebook.com/rabbihayimherring. You’ll also find six additional online essays and archived discussions on everything from “disrupting” the rabbinate to the application of “adaptive leadership” theory  (Heifetz and Linksy) to rabbinic education. And please also share your responses to the book, too!

 

 

Showing Up: What I learned but didn’t know during rabbinical school

By Rabbi Jason Weiner, BCC

 

Rabbi WeinerIn rabbinical school, I learned, “if you visit your congregants when they are sick, they will only remember your best sermon, whereas if you don’t visit them, they will only remember your worst sermon.” A mentor of mine disagreed, stating “If you visit them when they are sick, it won’t matter at all what you say in your sermons!”

 

Initially, I found this idea very comforting. Simply being there for people seemed far easier than preparing sophisticated, inspiring, original sermons on a weekly basis. On the other hand, since my pastoral counseling classes taught me to refer complicated cases to professionals, I assumed their more sophisticated interventions would profoundly benefit a congregant’s life.  After all, if all I knew how to do was just to “show up,” I couldn’t help feeling sorely inadequate. Furthermore, I didn’t really understand the “just show up” principle – which runs counter to everything I am as a person and as the professional I wanted to be – and I wondered how I could possibly put it into practice when the occasion arose.  It was only when I became a rabbi and began putting this theory into practice that I started to appreciate its profundity.

 

In one of my first weeks on the job as a congregational assistant rabbi, the senior rabbi was out of town and one of our congregants passed away. I officiated at the funeral in our synagogue, but once it concluded and the family headed to the airport to escort the deceased to Israel for burial, I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to drive to the airport to see them off or had I already done my job? I had to make a decision quickly and had no one to ask. I remembered the principle of “when in doubt, show up” and proceeded to the airport. Once I arrived I simply stood with the family until the deceased was taken away, and then wished them a safe flight.  Some weeks later, the family came to me and expressed their deep appreciation and gratitude for my being there in their time of need. Although I thought I had done nothing, I began to more fully appreciate the wisdom of “showing up.”

 

Similarly, soon after I began working as a hospital chaplain, one of our congregants was admitted as a patient. I made sure to stop by every day. Sometimes we engaged in conversation and even prayer, but the vast majority of days I did nothing more than say hello. A few days later, at our synagogue, I overheard this congregant tell a friend, “That rabbi was wonderful for me in the hospital. He took incredible care of me.” Incredible care?!? Most of our visits lasted less than a minute. Even when the visits lasted longer, I had nothing profound to say. All I did was listen to him talk.  It became clear to me that showing up, listening, and caring, make an enormous difference.  In some cases, it actually makes all the difference.  Especially when you, as clergy, represent holiness, tradition, and God to many people.

 

This teaching is also well-entrenched in traditional rabbinic sources.  The Torah states that Yitro instructed his son-in-law, Moses, to admonish the people to “make known to them the way they shall go and the deeds they shall do.”[1] The Talmud parses out the teachings embedded in every word of this verse. For example, “make known to them” means that the people must have a livelihood, “the way” refers to doing acts of kindness, and “that they shall go” refers to visiting the sick.[2] The Maharsha, one of the classic Talmudic commentaries, expresses surprise that “they shall go” implies visiting the sick, and explains that this teaches us that to “simply go there, without doing any specific action, fulfills the mitzvah.”[3]

 

The great Tzaddik of Jerusalem, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, frequently provided assistance to those suffering from mental illness. Specifically to people who needed support beyond what their physicians could offer.  Rabbi Levin’s good friend, Professor Halperin, head of the neurology department at Hadassah Hospital, would frequently refer mentally ill patients to the rabbi, and time after time Reb Aryeh succeeded in helping them.  On one occasion, Professor Halperin asked the rabbi, “Tell me, what is your secret? What do you say to these people with sick minds and emotions whom I send you?”  “I just listen patiently,” replied Reb Aryeh. Professor Halperin noted, “Listening is a wonderful method of healing. This is an important rule in psychiatry.” Reb Aryeh countered, “But I do not stop at listening alone. I also reveal a touch of empathy, of sharing in their troubles, and these sick people sense it and respond.”[4]

 

As a chaplain, I frequently encounter patients or families who have just suffered a loss, received a devastating diagnosis or experienced a trauma. There is frequently an impulse to reassure them that “everything is going to be okay” and attempt to find a practical way to relieve their pain. However, instead of encouraging false hope or trying to fix things, I have learned that sometimes, people need to grieve, and the best thing I can do is allow them to do so, while offering a non-anxious, compassionate presence. When done sincerely, this approach can communicate the single most important message of caring. Without trite platitudes, we can help people feel that we are with them in their pain, helping them realize that they will ultimately get through it. Although everyone wants to be a hero, “just showing up” and feeling the pain of others takes infinitely more courage and is much more difficult than imposing a “one size fits all” solution on deep wounds that cut directly into peoples’ souls. Giving advice or gifts often provides nothing more than a band aid on something that merits much more meaningful attention.

 

Learning this lesson has allowed me to develop the strength and courage to truly be there for the people I serve – to be with them, by their side, not imposing my goals or insecurities on them.  Although some may think that sitting with people and feeling their pain is inaction, it is often the most empowering intervention we as rabbis can provide.  By letting people recognize they are not alone in their pain, but they have been heard and valued, they can then be empowered to take whatever action is most meaningful to them. There are, of course, times when a rabbi will have to take the lead and be directive, but this is best accomplished only after truly understanding the needs and values of the congregant.  While this can be accomplished through various tools, such as reflective listening and reframing, the ultimate goal is to simply be the best possible listener we can be.

 

A most beautiful story about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein has helped me further in internalizing this teaching.  A woman who was sitting shiva was inconsolable. One evening, Reb Moshe showed up to be menachem avel (comfort the mourner). When he arrived, everyone stood up and cleared the room to give him privacy with the distraught woman. A number of minutes later, he exited the room, and all of the visitors returned to find the mourner’s tears dried for the first time during her entire shiva. Everyone was in awe. Did the great sage know the magic words to comfort this woman in desperate need? After a few moments of relief, someone got the nerve to ask the woman what words of wisdom Reb Moshe had shared that brought her such meaningful comfort. The woman looked at the group and explained, “he sat down, didn’t say a word, but tears welled up in his eyes. He continued to sit with me and silently felt my pain.” She went on to explain that Reb Moshe was the first person who didn’t attempt to make her feel better with trite sayings or focus more on his own discomfort than on hers. He then got up and left. Reb Moshe didn’t say a single word to this woman. It was his ability to sit with her and be fully present with her in her pain that brought her the comfort she sought. It can take a lifetime to truly inculcate this lesson, but we are all capable of practicing these behaviors, and our congregants are certainly worthy of this response in their times of need. I learned all about this approach in rabbinical school, but I could only come to know the simple truths, the profundity and transformative capacity of “just showing up,” of presence and of empathic listening, when I had left the classroom and began to experience the profound dramas of our daily lives.

 


[1] Exodus 18:20.

[2] Talmud Bavli, Bava Kama 99b-100a.

[3] Maharsha, Bava Metzia 30b.

[4] Raz, Simcha.  A Tzaddik in our Time:  The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin.  Jerusalem, NY: Feldheim, 1977, p. 138.

 

 

Rabbi Jason Weiner is Senior Rabbi and Manager of Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai medical Center, Los Angeles and a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, 2006.

 

 

The Day After BiBi

 

 

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu spoke in the Halls of Congress yesterday and the world did not end. Full disclosure: I strongly disagree with many of Bibi’s policies, but I think that I understand decision. He made a leadership choice. You can almost reconstruct his internal debate on the wisdom of addressing Congress: “Does my trust in an enduring relationship with the United States override my doubt about breaching diplomatic protocol? Do I risk seriously offending some leaders of my country’s staunchest ally, or am I compelled to use the world’s most far-reaching microphone to broadcast a looming threat to my country and to all Western democracies?”

 

bibi_netanyahu
It’s likely that approaching Israeli political elections played a role in the Prime Minister’s decision to address Congress. But was his choice primarily driven by politics? Not likely, because the cost of alienating Israel’s finest and consistently reliable ally is potentially steep, and it’s not likely that Bibi changed many minds or captured many hearts in the Israeli electorate

 

What I do know is that when you reach a certain stage in life, you are obligated to tell the truth as you see it, as unpopular as it may be, using whatever means you have at your disposal. Hopefully, you do so unequivocally and respectfully (and on this point, both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu crossed some fundamental lines of minimal mutual respect). That’s what leaders do. That’s how they get to ultimately sleep at night, knowing that they did everything within their means to highlight a potentially catastrophic error.

 

I was opposed to Bibi’s speaking to Congress, but I don’t fault him anymore than I would fault President Obama for exercising his right to pursue the truth as he sees it. I also don’t think that either of these two leaders is primarily politically motivated to score points at the other’s expense. They simply have unbridgeable views of the world.

 

 

 

Adding Context to the Diminishing Rabbinical School Enrollment Numbers

By Rabbi Hayim Herring and Rabbi Jason Miller

 
 

In Josh Nathan-Kazis’s recent article in the Jewish Daily Forward, “Where Are All the Non-Orthodox Rabbis?”, he presents the current enrollment trends of the non-Orthodox rabbinical schools. These numbers, showing decline in both the incoming and graduating classes appear to be shocking. What Nathan-Kazis is clearly missing is context.

 
 

While it is true that Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School have all noticed declined enrollment in the past decade, much of the reason for this is a more crowded, and therefore competitive, landscape. More options mean aspiring rabbis no longer feel compelled to matriculate in denominational-specific seminaries. The newly created liberal non-denominational rabbinical program at Hebrew College has experienced increased student enrollment in the past few years and that certainly has impacted the enrollment numbers at the more established seminaries. Yeshivat Chovevi Torah, while Orthodox, has also presented competition to JTS since it opened in the late 1990s.

 
 

Jewish Theological Seminary

The more crowded landscape, which Nathan-Kazis alludes to doesn’t tell the entire story. One might be led to presume that the declining enrollment numbers at these denominational-specific institutions is analogous to a decline in the enrollment at VCR repair classes at a technology school. VCRs might be obsolete in the 21st century, but liberal Judaism is still alive and well and very much in need of rabbis. So, what’s the rest of the story?

 
 

Here are some thoughts that aptly put Nathan-Kazis’s piece in context and provide for what would be a more thoughtful discussion about the future of rabbinical school.

 
 

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Disrupting the Rabbinate (Guest Post: Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu)

 

 

This week’s guest blog post on Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education is about disruption and rabbinical leadership. Some are troubled with the pairing of “disruption” and “rabbis,” but every professional practice is being upended, and the rabbinate is no exception. As our guest, Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, illustrates, rabbis have the power to disrupt how American Jews experience Jewish life. Disruption is the not the end goal, but the means to blow open accessibility to Jewish life and community, as she illustrates below.

 

Disrupting the Rabbinate

 Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu

 

Rabbi_Rebecca_SirbuThe rabbinate is being disrupted. Like many other fields, journalism and healthcare among them, technological and societal changes are disrupting the traditional role of a rabbi. In Hayim Herring’s new book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, Barak Richman and Daniel Libenson compare changes in the healthcare field to changes in the rabbinate. They argue that in both professions there is a mismatch between the education the professionals receive and the real needs of the people they are being trained to serve. Both professions need to reorganize or “disrupt” their delivery methods in order to be accessible and useful to the populations they serve.

 

“Disruptive innovation” is a term coined by Clay Christensen. According to Wikipedia, “a disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.” Wikipedia is itself a disruptive innovation. The creation of a print encyclopedia like The Encyclopedia Britannica is a costly and time consuming endeavor. Thinking that volunteers could create content on the web which can be continually updated for free and available to anyone with an internet hook up at no cost to them disrupted the entire encyclopedia printing industry. Blogs and Twitter feeds are disrupting journalism. WedMD and patient support sites are disrupting the healthcare industry.

 

The easy accessibility of information on the internet about religion, combined with shifting societal and demographic changes are also disrupting the rabbinate. Fewer people are joining congregations which in turn have less money to spend on a highly educated rabbi. Richman and Libenson argue that that the rabbinic profession should embrace the pursuit of “right skilling,” meaning that rabbis should be used only when their particular expertise is necessary. Rabbinic expertise is necessary in certain situations, but in other situations less expensive Jewish educators or professionals should be used, thus saving the user money. In addition, they advocate that rabbis specialize in certain areas, pastoral care or Jewish education for example, and be used when those specific skills are called for. They float a model where rabbis could join in a group practice where each rabbi has his or her own area of expertise. This practice could then contract with a handful of synagogues providing the right rabbi for the right need at any given time. It is an intriguing idea. Instead of one rabbi trying to serve a variety of needs and while trying to be a jack of all trades, a rabbi who is particularly talented in one area could serve in that area. The right skills could be used at the right time. This model would certainly upend the traditional one rabbi per synagogue model that currently exists.

 

Many other disruptive ideas are currently being tried out in the Jewish marketplace. Rabbis Without Borders is a network of creative rabbis who are constantly challenging each other to find innovations in the way we serve the Jewish community. Rabbis representing every denomination, including non-denominational rabbis, join a one year fellowship program which pushes them to go beyond the borders of their rabbinates. By creating a space where rabbis representing the cross section of the American rabbinate from different movements, geographic areas and experiences come together to open their minds to new ideas, we are transforming the rabbinate from the inside. Bringing together diverse groups of people and viewpoints causes creativity to flourish. After the fellowship, the rabbis join the ongoing Rabbis Without Borders network where they continue to support each other in their work. Many new innovations are arising. In fact, ten percent of the organizations featured in the Slingshot Guide to America’s most innovative Jewish programs are staffed by Rabbis Without Borders Fellows.

 

Disruptions are occurring to the delivery system of Jewish experiences, to the content of those experiences, and to the very essence of what it means to be a community. Rabbi Andrew Jacobs has created Chai Tech to revolutionize the Bar and Bat Mitzvah Experience. “With an internet connection and a computer, tablet or smartphone, bar/bat mitzvah students can prepare for their big day wherever they are, whenever they can. No more schlepping to the synagogue or the tutor. Once you go Chai Tech, bar/bat mitzvah preparation works easily into your busy schedule. Everything is online – including a teacher who monitors your child’s progress and keeps you informed using an advanced, online learning management system.” This new model certainly makes bar mitzvah study accessible to everyone.

 

New Jewish spiritual experiences are being created by Rabbi Shefa Gold who takes phrases from the liturgy and Torah and sets them to music as a chant practice. The texts are not new to Jews, nor is the idea of a chant practice, after all the Torah is chanted. Yet, she creates an innovative spiritual experience that allows the user to enter the tradition in a new way by chanting a single verse over and over.

 

Even the idea of what makes a synagogue community is being rethought. It used to be that a synagogue community was defined by its number of “membership units” who paid “dues” to the synagogues. Rabbi Elan Babchuck among others is rethinking this model. People now join the synagogue “family” and make a “voluntary financial contribution.” No one is turned away for lack of ability to pay dues. The language encourages a model where people will want to support their family. This is turning the traditional membership and dues structure on its head. Under this new structure this synagogue is thriving and others are adopting similar models.

 

This is just a small sample of the many ideas are now being experimented with in the Jewish world. Rabbis must innovate to serve the needs of a changing and more diverse population. We have an amazing resource in the deep wisdom and traditions of our religion. Clinging to old ways of doing things will not make this wisdom accessible to the millions of people who are looking for spiritual guidance and fulfillment. Let’s keep experimenting to find what works for the real needs of people today.

 


Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu is the Director of Rabbis Without Borders at CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

 

 

 

We Need Green Rabbis

 

 

In honor of Tu B’Shevat, I’m pleased to publish a guest blog post on the need for “Green Rabbis,” by David Krantz, president and chairperson of the Aytzim: Ecological Judaism (first posted on aytzim.org). It’s a perfect fit for the online component of Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation about Rabbinical Education. Of the many submissions that I received, this was the only one highlighting the importance of incorporating environmental thought and action into rabbinical education—a case that the author makes convincingly. Do you agree? 

 

By David Krantz

 

NEW YORK (Feb. 3, 2015 / erev Tu B’Shvat, 5775) — Meals served on Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils. Trays of leftover food simply thrown away. And the lights left on all night. From synagogues to Jewish student centers, these are very common Shabbat experiences. Clearly there is a gap between modern Jewish practice and environmental values. But there’s also a large gap between modern Jewish practice and the environmental tenets of Judaism.

 

Judaism is an inherently environmental religion, with so much written about it, by myself[1] and many others — particularly rabbis Ellen Bernstein,[2] Fred Scherlinder Dobb,[3] David Sears,[4] David Seidenberg,[5] Lawrence Troster[6] and Arthur Waskow,[7] and profs. Richard Schwartz,[8] Hava Tirosh-Samuelson[9] and Martin Yaffe[10] — that I don’t need to repeat here the extent of environmental values present in Jewish laws, customs and practice. Still, outside of the nascent Jewish-environmental movement, I rarely meet rabbis who are familiar with Jewish-environmental wisdom. Usually, as a leader of a Jewish-environmental nonprofit, Aytzim: Ecological Judaism, I am asked by rabbis what’s Jewish about environmentalism. It is the extent to which Jewish clergy and, in turn, their communities, are unaware of the environmentalism that flows through Judaism that is troubling. And that lack of knowledge, in part, can be traced to the lack of Jewish-environmental education in rabbinical schools.

 

Yet two new studies indicate that the Jewish community is increasingly drawn to the Jewish environmental movement. A survey by the Green Hevra, a network of Jewish environmental organizations, found across the United States and Canada more than 120 Jewish-environmental initiatives that combine to reach more than 670,000 people annually.[11] And a second study coordinated by Hazon found that more than 80 percent of those who participate in immersive Jewish outdoor, food and environmental education programs report an increased sense of hope for the Jewish people.”[12]

 

While Jews are being attracted to Jewish environmentalism in ever-growing numbers, rabbinical schools are largely failing to prepare their students — our future rabbis — to engage environmentally minded communities. And, perhaps worse, Jews who have not come into contact with the Jewish environmental movement continue to see environmentalism as a solely secular, rather than a Jewish, value. Judaism actually speaks to their values, but they don’t know that because their rabbis don’t know it either.

 

So what can be done? The Jewish social-justice movement provides a good case study.

 

Jews today certainly know about social justice — what we often call tikkun olam, or literally, “repairing the world.” It seems the phrase is everywhere in Jewish life nowadays. But that wasn’t always the case. Historically, the first Jewish social-service organizations in the United States began in the early 1800s[13] — and it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, coined the term “social justice” itself.[14] The modern Jewish social-justice movement, like its secular contemporary, developed in the 1950s and 1960s[15] and today across the country there are hundreds of Jewish social-justice initiatives, including 25 national groups in the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.[16]

 

The growth of the Jewish social-justice movement has paralleled the embracement of Jewish social justice by rabbinical schools. Currently, most major American rabbinical schools include Jewish social justice in their curricula and activities, and several join together to run social-justice workshops. The Orthodox movement’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York regularly sponsors tikkun olam programs. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, in suburban Philadelphia, incorporates a social-justice organizing program. The transdenominational Hebrew College, outside Boston, hosts what it calls a “global social justice beit midrash.” And the New York campus of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College even runs its own soup kitchen for the community.

 

It’s time for rabbinical schools to embrace Jewish environmentalism in the same way. Every rabbinical school should offer, and ideally require, at least one course in Jewish environmentalism. Rabbinical schools should examine and minimize their own environmental footprints. And rabbinical schools should follow the lead of Hebrew College, which recently teamed with Jewish Farm School to offer a for-credit intensive course on sustainable agriculture.

 

Which rabbinical school will lead the way by offering an academic focus in Jewish environmentalism? Which will be the first to eliminate landfill trash and recycle and compost all of its waste? And which will be the first to forsake fossil fuels and go carbon neutral?

 

Jewish clergy should be leading the community with environmental thought and action. That’s why Aytzim has joined forces with GreenFaith to launch Shomrei Breishit: Rabbis and Cantors for the Earth.[17] But that’s not enough. Rabbinical schools need to be more active in Jewish-environmental education. We need Jewish clergy who understand Jewish environmental wisdom as well as they know traditions governing Shabbat. After all, protecting the Earth is one of the first commandments in the Torah.[18] Rabbinical schools would be wise to heed the Torah’s sustainability call. A new generation of green-minded Jews needs the guidance of a new generation of green-minded rabbis.

 


[1] Krantz, David, ed. Jewish Energy Guide. Green Zionist Alliance (now Aytzim) and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, 2014.

 

[2] Author of Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet (2000: Jewish Lights); Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology (2005: Pilgrim Press); and, with Dan Fink, Let the Earth Teach You Torah (1992: Shomrei Adamah).

 

[3] Author of Sustained Sustainability: Eco-Judaism in the Pulpit, Enriched with Interfaith Intersections (2009: Doctoral thesis).

 

[4] Author of The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism (2003: Orot).

 

[5] Author of Ecology and Kabbalah: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World (Forthcoming 2015: Cambridge University Press).

 

[6] Author of Mekor Hayyim: A Source Book on Water and Judaism (2012: United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).

 

[7] Editor of Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought: Biblical Israel and Rabbinic Judaism (2000: Jewish Lights); and co-editor of Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology (2000: Jewish Publication Society).

 

[8] Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism (1982: Lantern Books); Judaism and Global Survival (2002: Lantern Books); and, with Yonassan Gershom, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet (2012: Lulu).

 

[9] Editor of Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed Word (2003: Center for the Study of World Religions).

 

[10] Editor of Judaism and Environmental Ethics (2001: Lexington Books).

 

[11] Gleanings from Our Field: Green Hevra Report 2014. Green Hevra, 2014.

 

[12] Seeds of Opportunity: A National Study of Immersive Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE). Informing Change, 2014.

 

[13] Diner, Hasia R. The Jews of the United States, 1654 — 2000. University of California Press, 2006.

 

[14] Zajda, Joseph I., ed. Globalization, Education and Social Justice, Springer, 2009.

 

[15] Cohen, Steven M., and Fine, Leonard. American Jews and Their Social Justice Involvement: Evidence from a National Survey. Amos – The National Jewish Partnership for Social Justice, 2001.

 

[16] Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, members and allies: http://jewishsocialjustice.org/members

 

[17] Membership for Jewish clergy and rabbinical and cantorial students is free at: http://aytzim.org/rce

 

[18] See Genesis 2:15, which commands us to serve and guard (often mistranslated as “till and tend”) the Earth.

 

David Krantz is the president and chairperson of the Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Rabbi Jonah Rank

 

 

When my co-editor, Ellie Roscher, and I called for essays in our recently published book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, we invited laypeople, rabbis and educators of rabbis to submit essays. We received one submission from a full-time rabbinical student—something that we hadn’t anticipated. However, using some creative Talmudic logic, I suggested to Ellie that he is also a layperson, so why let a technicality prevent a good essay from making it online? This week’s guest post is by Jonah Rank, a layperson who is a fifth year rabbinical student. We invite other rabbinical students to respond to his comments on a desire from a more customized, individualized curriculum designed around students’ needs.

 

 

Seeking 70 Faces In Rabbinic Training

By Jonah Rank

It’s tough to say what it is that makes someone a rabbi since almost anything rabbis do is something someone else can do: officiate at any Jewish life cycle event, lead prayer services, study Torah, teach Torah, or even decide matters of Jewish law. It’s not that rabbinic roles have been usurped by educated Jews, but being a rabbi has never been about just one thing. Rabbis have taken on many shapes throughout history: legalists, mystics, preachers, storytellers, sages, pastoral caregivers, kosher slaughterers, synagogue administrators, teachers, and more.

 

rabbi-jonah-rankWith outstanding scholars founding many of the great rabbinical schools of North America and Western Europe during the past two centuries, the rabbinate has morphed from being less of a personalized response to a spiritual calling and more of a mass-produced, certified, nearly-unionized profession. In an age when professional Jews are accused of stuffiness and being spiritually boring, some might lament that a Jewish community that has grown apathetic has long outgrown the “one-size-fits-all” curricular tendencies of the ivory tower schools built by academics. But, especially in the non-Orthodox Jewish world, it is rare that a brick-and-mortar rabbinical training school can succeed both in providing for the needs of the students and maintaining a stable faculty. If we are therefore to seek models of pedagogy housed in physical buildings that tend to the individualized needs of each student, we must ask ourselves: How could one possibly design an institutionalized rabbinic education that still permits students vast agency in customizing their own trajectory?

 

In recent years, many rabbinical schools (including the one I attend, the Jewish Theological Seminary) have laudably granted increased freedom of choice to students in determining their course of study. In the abstract, I have nonetheless been curious to work out what would be the maximal amount of independence a student can have in a rabbinical school that still met accreditation standards, still had required courses for all students, and still covered “traditional” material that I (along with a smattering of friends, teachers and colleagues) felt would be vital for a rabbinic education.

 

Two years ago, I conducted an informal survey via Facebook, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations, where I spoke with approximately 30 prospective, current and former rabbinical students from several rabbinical schools. I asked my colleagues and colleagues-to-be what they deemed essential to a rabbinic education—course-wise and otherwise. Were I to design a rabbinical school based off of the suggestions I received at that time, it would take over 8 years to become a rabbi. In order to permit that students would be able to graduate within 5 years (a long but arguably reasonable amount of time to be in rabbinical school), I would suggest that some of the narrower interests suggested during my surveying can come in the form of electives that surround a common core curriculum of rabbinic education that all rabbinic students share. Surrounding a rabbinical school’s curricular academic core—the lead melody that all students must sing—students and their mentors must work collaboratively and creatively to arrange a suitable orchestration to accompany the song of a rabbinic education.

 

Certain themes that underlie the resultant curriculum I tried to design for a hypothetical rabbinical school differ significantly from current trends in many rabbinical schools:

 

  • The creation of a non-professional track for rabbinic studies, still resulting in Semikhah (ordination), alongside a professional track granting a degree alongside Semikhah;
  • The rabbinical school offering a variety of curricular paths (e.g., differing curricula for those seeking to highlight social justice in their rabbinate vs. those seeking to highlight academia in their rabbinate vs. those seeking to highlight synagogue-work in their rabbinate, etc.);
  • A requirement that every rabbinical student has, prior to ordination, learned a Jewish “trade” (e.g., a social “trade” such as counseling, a Jewish art “trade” such as Jewish storytelling, a “hand trade” such as building a mikveh, or a knowledge trade such as becoming a mashgi’ach to supervise the kosher status of food);
  • An intense combination of personal theological reflections; academic studies of history and language; contemplating expanding roles for interfaith collaboration; and increased familiarity with Jewish legal and other rabbinic genres of texts.

 

These bullet points yield merely an unpolished outline of this imagined rabbinic education I have referred to as “Shiv’im Panim” (the “70 faces” of a multifaceted Torah-education) in an essay now published on my website. I hope that the fantasy rabbinical school curriculum I have designed and now made public might help others in designing new templates and models of rabbinic education that increasingly nourish the souls of those who walk the halls of our academies.

 

Jonah Rank is a musician, and, as of May 2015, a rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Jonah is currently studying for an M.A. in Jewish mysticism. Since 2006, Jonah has worked on new liturgical projects for the Rabbinical Assembly, most notably as the secretary to Mahzor Lev Shalem (released in 2010) and Siddur Lev Shalem (forthcoming).

 

 

 

What Counts Most in a Rabbinical Search Process

 

 

Rabbis can make or break a congregation. In fact the same rabbi at one stage that helps make a congregation successful can later find himself or herself the source of congregational contention. Dr. Bob Karasov, is a physician with extensive training in adaptive leadership. Bob has spent a lifetime of volunteer service to the Jewish community in Minneapolis and beyond, and is currently a president of a congregation considering a search for a full-time rabbi. As many rabbis are now considering a move to a new congregation, and many congregations are exploring the possibilities of changing rabbis, his insights are especially timely and universally applicable for rabbis, congregational presidents and members of rabbinical search committees. Bob also has an essay in my recently published book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, and you can read his outstanding essay that explores this and other topics in much greater depth.

 

 

Reflections by Dr. Bob Karasov, President of Darchei Noam Congregation, Minneapolis, MN

 

At Darchei Noam Congregation, where I am president, we are trying to decide whether to hire a full time, in town rabbi, or continue with our current model of an out of town rabbi who comes monthly. Members in favor of a full time rabbi are looking for spiritual growth, both as individuals and as a congregation, increased learning opportunities and growth in membership. Members opposed fear losing our lay led feeling, worry that a rabbi could be divisive and worry about hiring someone who is the wrong philosophical fit for our modern Orthodox shul.  We were a breakaway 10 years ago because of rabbinic dissatisfaction at another shul and there is great fear of history repeating itself.

 

Passions on this issue run high. People fear losing what they love. No one answer will satisfy everyone.

 

This is an example of an adaptive challenge. Adaptive challenges cannot be fixed by authority figures. If I, as president, ram through what I want, the congregation will become polarized and I will become the focus of anger. People look to leaders for guidance and to fix things, but adaptive problems can’t be fixed by leaders.  The leader can only raise the issues, orchestrate the conflict, force people to face the competing values, which all have merit, and collectively reach a conclusion which usually involves some people giving up some of their cherished ideals. Leaders can also provide vision and make it safe for people to express their views.

 

Rabbis and congregations face adaptive challenges all the time.  In fact, new rabbis are often hired because there is dissatisfaction with the status quo. Usually, there are factions left over from the prior rabbi.  New rabbis are often ill-equipped to deal with these issues as rabbinic education typically focuses on the technical aspects of being a rabbi. There are many technical problems that require an expert to fix them. Clearly, rabbis need that expertise, becoming the expert in Halacha, TaNaCh and ritual, to name a few.  Rabbis frequently play the role of sage one the stage and trusted advisor.

 

But in today’s society, people no longer defer to authority the way they once did. For rabbis to be successful, they need training in how to exercise leadership with adaptive problems.  And, the most difficult adaptive challenges leaders must face, are their own internal ones.  Rabbis and all leaders need to develop self-awareness to recognize these internal adaptive challenges and how they contribute to the problem at hand.

 

How are their actions driven by their need for power, control, or the need to be loved? Most people become rabbis because they want to help people and make the world a better place. When congregants come to rabbis for help or to fix things, rabbis can easily be seduced by these drives and set themselves up for failure. Then the rabbi, and what they did wrong, becomes the focus, rather than the problem he/she was trying to fix.

 

You have all lead groups through adaptive challenges. Rabbi Jeffrey Brown describes it in his article about intermarriage (in Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education).  It is somewhat intuitive.  But like everything else, some do it better than others.  I teach adaptive leadership in the Physician Leadership College at St Thomas University to Drs. who are already in leadership roles.  Our goals are to create capacity in them to exercise adaptive leadership, to build an educational framework so that they can better observe what is happening, interpret the situation and intervene successfully, and finally to build resilience because leading through adaptive challenges is hard, and the leader is under a lot of pressure to fix things and lower the stress. This model could work well for rabbis as well.

 

Teaching rabbis to recognize which problems are technical and which are adaptive and learn how to guide their congregations and themselves through adaptive challenges, will lead to happier and more successful rabbis and congregations.

 

 

 

Happy Chanukah

 

 

8 Nights, 8 Questions

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As you light your menorah/chanukiyah, here are a few fun questions for discussion. Chag urim sameach-may your Chanukah be filled with light, warmth and joy!

 

 
1. How do you feel about the lighting of large menorahs in public spaces?
 
2. What advice would you give to individuals in households that include Jewish people and people who identify with another faith tradition, on celebrating the holidays in their homes?
 
3. Would you eat a Chanukah cronut?
 
4. For those who believe that Judaism is supposed to run counter cultural to the dominant culture, at what point does going counter cultural become counter productive?
 
5. For those who believe that Judaism and assimilation are compatible, how do you know when you cross the line from assimilating to losing a distinctive identity?
 
6. What might the Jewish people look like if the Maccabees lost?
 
7. Have you asked your Israeli friends or family what strand of the Chanukah story resonates most: the military victory, the miracle of the oil, or the triumph of spirit over military power?
 
8. Would you be willing to hear me play a few Chanukah songs on my trumpet over Skype (available for the first 5 people who say “yes”-I should be so lucky!)?

 
 

 

Can Rabbinical Schools Teach Entrepreneurial Leadership?

 

 

The purpose of editing my most recent book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, was to spark discussion around significant issues on rabbinical education and leadership. I’d like to thank my colleagues, Rabbi Jason Miller and Rabbi Danny Nevins, Dean, JTS Division of Religious Leadership, for their debate around entrepreneurship and rabbinical education. Thousands of people have viewed this dialogue and I want to encourage them to also share their opinions here.  This is not just an issue that relates to one particular rabbinical program, but to the nature of 21st-century rabbinical education.

 

Now to the question: can rabbinical schools teach entrepreneurship in their curriculum? Rabbinical programs that are structured for 5-6 years are unlikely to be able to produce rabbinical entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is not the same as innovation. Innovation requires creativity but unlike entrepreneurship does not address issues like tolerance for risk, organizational agility, improvisational ability and speed. In fact, as stewards of a tradition, most rabbis are better wired for adaptation and evolution and not entrepreneurship. Rabbinical schools can teach about entrepreneurship, but not everyone is wired as an entrepreneur, and that’s why it’s simply not a realistic goal to expect that one course, or one fellowship will turn rabbinical students into entrepreneurs. However, is it worthwhile to expose students to these kinds of programs? My answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Even if you’re not wired to be entrepreneurial, and even if schools can’t turn students into entrepreneurs, it’s still a topic that they should know about because it’s a part of our zeitgeist and rabbis will interact with entrepreneurs regularly.

 

Entrepreneurship is a disposition. It’s a way of looking at the world that enables you to see opportunities that don’t exist but can. It involves upsetting the way things are done. There are some principles involved that can help you become better and more successful at it, but there’s nothing better than a good seasoned serial entrepreneur who has failed and succeeded repeatedly to help you determine if you’re really an entrepreneur and support you along the way to becoming one.

 

I applaud those schools that have created fellowships for rabbinical students to be exposed to entrepreneurial thinking and practice. I would also recommend that any school offering or thinking of offering such fellowships use people from the business, arts and entertainment worlds who are empathetic and knowledgeable about Jewish community to serve as mentors, along with veteran rabbis and seasoned Jewish professionals. Continuing rabbinical education is really the arena to focus more on these experiences, after rabbis learn more about themselves and their ability to see the possible and learn about how much risk and tension they are able to tolerate and help their communities hold. I also think that if we drew more heavily upon the talent that we have in our volunteer community, we could increase the number of true rabbinical entrepreneurs. But not everyone has this kind of temperament, and while we need more fearless entrepreneurs, we still need people who will help serve as breaks to accelerators of change that don’t always lead us to places that we intend.

 

I hope these comments will continue to spark some fruitful discussion within the Academy, among providers of continuing rabbinical education, and also in the broader Jewish community. We all have a stake in this discussion.

 

 

Rabbi Danny Nevins Responds to Rabbi Jason Miller

 
 

JTS Leads in Leadership Education

 

Rabbi-Danny-Nevins-JTSRabbi Jason Miller, a 2004 graduate of JTS wrote here that while he had wonderful teachers and courses at JTS, he didn’t receive adequate training in entrepreneurial leadership, finding such opportunities only after ordination. I won’t disagree with his memory of his experience, though there were some such leadership training components available here even back then. What I can say is that this depiction does not capture the current situation at JTS. Leadership education is found in many parts of our curriculum, with a new course on rabbinic leadership and new training programs and opportunities for our students to exercise adaptive leadership during their rabbinical education. One exciting recent development is our Myers Rabbinic Fellowship, which teaches students to design grant proposals, and then offers them up to $15,000 in seed money and sustained mentoring to implement their innovative idea. Our students are emerging with new ideas, and in some cases with new organizations that they founded while still students at JTS.

 

My second point is a different type of response. I am all for innovation, and have found that continuous assessment and “pivoting” to adapt to new realities has been an important part of my rabbinical career, both in the pulpit and in the Seminary. Still, it seems that our culture has become infatuated to a fault with the virtues of change. Stability is an essential component of any system—whether of a family, a religious community, or a country. One thing which many people seek the most in a rabbi is reliability—a person who will convey a consistent message of compassion, integrity, and wisdom. Reliability doesn’t win grants and headlines. There are no awards for the rabbi who “merely” leads a congregation for decades of meaningful prayers, study programs and life cycle events. But that is where the real life of a Jew is lived. Innovative programs are important to expand the circle of involvement, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to keep things exciting. Yet our culture often forgets to pay attention to the structures that sustain identity in a rapidly changing time. Judaism, like God, needs to be “chai v’kayam,” both dynamic and durable.

 

Rabbi Danny Nevins is Dean, JTS Division of Religious Leadership, and
Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School

 
 

 

The Entrepreneurship Education Missing from Seminary Training

 

Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, has just been published. Thanks to our essayists, it’s “#1 new release in Jewish life on Amazon!” I asked Rabbi Jason Miller to share his thoughts on the “entrepreneurial rabbinate.” Some rabbis who work in congregations and other Jewish organizations are clearly innovators, while others have stepped outside of the Jewish organizational world to innovate. Jason’s work keeps one of his feet firmly planted in Jewish world, and the other in the entrepreneurial world. Having a rabbi with a multifaceted rabbinate is a model that is worth exploring as a part of the ongoing conversation on 21st Century rabbinical education and leadership that I hope Keeping Faith in Rabbis will engender.

 

The Entrepreneurship Education Missing from Seminary Training

Rabbi Jason Miller


Rabbi Jason Miller of Detroit, MichiganWhen my teacher and friend Rabbi Hayim Herring asked me to write about how well I think rabbinical programs prepare us rabbis for the rabbinate, I was both honored and flustered. Although I write blog posts and articles frequently with no hesitation, I put this task off for several months. Was it writer’s block? No. So why then have I struggled to flesh out my thoughts on what is missing from today’s seminary training of rabbinical students?

 

Throughout my ten years in the rabbinate I have seen myself as an entrepreneur and marketed myself as such (social media marketing is my niche). It is my strong belief that a successful rabbi (feel free to substitute rabbi with any other faith leader) in the 21st century is as much an entrepreneur as she is an educator, counselor or conduit to God. Today’s seminaries do not adequately train rabbis for a career of entrepreneurship. That’s my simple answer to Rabbi Herring’s question. Why then did I hesitate to simply sit down and articulate that thesis? My hesitation comes from the love and appreciation I have for my rabbinical training.

 

I recall being sent to a large Conservative synagogue during my first year in the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary to speak about the Seminary on behalf of the development department. I delivered a sermon on Shabbat morning extolling the Seminary and its many contributions to Jewish scholarship. I spoke about how the Seminary was training me well to be a successful 21st century rabbi (we were on the eve of the new century at the time). Walking back to the rabbi’s home following Shabbat services, the rabbi suddenly stopped walking and looked me in the eyes. He asked me if I really believed what I said about the Seminary preparing my colleagues and me for the future or if it was just some bullshit that the Seminary told me to say. When I explained that it was from the heart, he told me about his experience at the same institution some twenty years prior. He told me that he and his classmates called the institution “the Cemetery” because it was a spiritually dead place to be everyday. The rabbi told me that despite — not because of — his Seminary experience, he loves being a rabbi today.

 

That rabbi’s experience was certainly not shared by me. I am grateful for my Seminary education and the enjoyable experience I had at the Seminary (1998-2004). I learned a great deal from a talented cadre of professors who influenced me in very positive ways. I also met some wonderful people who have become lifelong friends. In short, I appreciated my rabbinical training while I was a Seminary student and I look back on those years with admiration and appreciation. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the Seminary taught its students everything it should have during my time as a student there.

 

A couple years ago the Jewish Daily Forward published an editorial demonstrating how much the American rabbinate has changed in the 21st century because the economy has made it difficult for many rabbis to find good jobs. The editorial argued that because of the economic downturn at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, rabbis — both young and old — were having to become entrepreneurial in their rabbinate. I would assert that rabbis have always had to be entrepreneurial. Even before the Digital Age when a rabbi can launch a blog and teach Torah to millions around the world, rabbis had to find new and innovative ways to engage. Today, the rabbi has to be even more entrepreneurial and it’s up to the seminaries to shift academic focus and teach more practical business courses.

 

Prof. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University predicted that rabbis in the 21st century would have to become more entrepreneurial based on shifting demographics and the needs of the community. I don’t see this as a crisis in American Jewry, but rather the perfect opportunity for rabbis to become more entrepreneurial– both as a way to be relevant and to make a significant contribution to our people. Rabbis who see this as a chance to reinvent their rabbinate will ultimately be the most successful in the new era of Jewish life and rabbis who come out of their seminary training thinking like entrepreneurs will be ahead of the game. And that holds true not only for American rabbis, but for rabbis throughout the Jewish world who have the entrepreneurial spirit and the business world training.

 

rabbi-jason-miller-social-media

 

There are several programs that work with ordained rabbis to give them practical business skills, but these are all offered several years following the formal training. If the curriculum of these programs (i.e., Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, the American Jewish University, Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders, the former STAR Foundation’s PEER fellowship, etc.) were being taught during the early years of rabbinic training, these rabbis would not have to apply for these continuing educational programs once they were already in the field. They are essentially playing “catch up” in competency areas that are necessary from the first day on the job.

 

Talented rabbis are freelancing their skills more often today and founding new institutions and programs. As the number of Jewish families and singles unaffiliated with a congregation rises, there is an increased need for rabbis to perform life-cycle leadership roles. With the growth of the internet it has become easy for people to identify rabbis to officiate at a baby naming ceremony, wedding, funeral or unveiling. These rabbis must possess the entrepreneurial skills to run their own business. They cannot rely on a support staff at an institution to handle the daily operations. They are the CEO, CFO and COO of “Rabbi, Inc.” and if they cannot run their professional services operation like a business, they will sink despite their best efforts.

 

There is such a need for personal connections in the rabbinate and technology has made it easier for rabbis to extend their reach and influence to spiritual seekers and people in need no matter where they live. Today’s rabbi is more “project oriented” than “job based.” This means that rather than relying on the traditional synagogue job as her only source of income and responsibility, the 21st century rabbi has several projects.

 

Today’s rabbi, like any successful business leader, must be organizing, operating and assuming of the risk of his venture. It is not only young rabbis leading a startup initiative who must take a playbook out of the MBA training manual. All rabbis should feel a sense of the entrepreneurial spirit and have the tutelage to build their enterprise successfully. From the financial responsibilities to the marketing and communication, today’s rabbi must be trained in the critical skills of the successful entrepreneur.

 

Rav Kook famously wrote that we must “make the old new and the new holy.” In order for rabbis to put those wise words into action we must fuel the entrepreneurial fires of our holy projects. The curriculum of our rabbinical training institutions must evolve to include workshops, seminars and retreats focused on entrepreneurship. Business leaders must be retained to teach future rabbis about the essentials of building institutions — from startup synagogues and schools to community centers and camps — and running them successfully. Technology and digital communication must become a focus of rabbinic training. If rabbis only begin to explore the power of 21st century technology after ordination, it is far too late.

 

I am grateful for the education I received in rabbinical school, but that does not mean I can’t look back reflectively and point to certain aspects missing from that training. Today I’m proud to call myself an entrepreneurial rabbi. I also acknowledge that my entrepreneurial skills were developed and honed “post-production.” I know that the rabbinical schools today are in capable hands and being headed by forward thinking leaders who will ensure that entrepreneurship is part of the training.

 

Rabbi Jason Miller is an entrepreneur, educator and writer. He first met Rabbi Hayim Herring through the STAR Foundation’s Synaplex program and was then mentored by Rabbi Herring as a participant in the STAR PEER fellowship. A social media expert, Rabbi Miller is a popular speaker and writer on technology and its effect on the Jewish world. He writes for Time Magazine, the Huffington Post and the monthly “Jews in the Digital Age” column for the Detroit Jewish News. He is the founder of TorahDaily.com, PopJewish.com, JewishTechs.com and CelebrateJewish.com. Rabbi Miller is the president of Access Computer Technology, a computer tech support, web design and social media marketing company in Michigan. He won the 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and is a winner of the Jewish Influencer Award from the National Jewish Outreach Program.

 

 

Keeping Faith in Rabbis is Available

 

Now Available: Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education

 

Ellie Roscher and I are excited to let you know that you can now order your copy of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education. It takes a triad to make a rabbi: educators of rabbis, caring laypeople and individuals who want to become rabbis. Keeping Faith in Rabbis is the only volume that brings these three groups of stakeholders together to explore how rabbis might reshape and cultivate a more robust, outward-looking, inclusive 21st Century American Jewish community. Although I’ve been working on this volume for about a year, it still engages me as I listen to authors’ ideas about new potential pathways for rabbinical education and read about redefined roles for rabbis. And yes—contrary to all studies on contemporary Jewish life–it stills surprises me that some essays assume that tomorrow’s Jewish future will essentially be a reiteration of today’s status quo.

 Hayim-Book

In times of disruption and transition, it’s critical to act. But first it’s important to listen, to share ideas, to debate possibilities and to pilot alternatives. That’s why we also have an online component to expand the conversation: https://www.facebook.com/rabbihayimherring. Just scroll through the page and you can already comment on a video interview with Rabbi Lauren Berkun of Shalom Hartman about the length of rabbinical school, and essays from Rabbi Ellen Lewis a rabbi/psychologist and Lisa Colton and Lianna Levine Reisner, mavens on social media and congregations. In addition, we already have plans or are developing them for public programs in Minneapolis, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, FL and a few other cities. If you’re able to join us for any of these programs, we would love to have you and we’ll keep you posted about program details.

 

Our goal, which our publisher Avenida Books made happen, was to have the book available to you before Chanukah. The Hebrew root meaning of Chanuka is related both to education and dedication—two themes that resonate well with the holiday and the book. Rabbis have been in the news lately, unfortunately involving their ethical violations (in fact there’s an incredibly timely essay in the book on how to address ethical boundary violations). But Keeping Faith in Rabbis is a reminder of the broader need for forward looking and change-oriented discussions on rabbinical education and leadership—reflecting more on its positive aspects, and critiquing and re-conceptualizing 21st Century rabbinical education and leadership. So enjoy the book and please join us in the conversation!

 

 

Rabbi Lauren Berkun on Keeping Faith in Rabbis

 

 

Dear Readers,

 

Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation about Rabbinical Educationwill be released on December 1, just a few weeks from now. As a part of the community conversation on rabbinical education and leadership, I’m posting a series of online essays (in case you missed two earlier posts, you can read Rabbi Ellen Lewis’s thoughts on Making Emotional Sense of Money and a post on Network Organizing: Rethinking Communal Leadership for Rabbis by Lisa Colton and Lianna Levine Reisner).

 

I recently interviewed Rabbi Lauren Berkun, Director of Rabbinic and Synagogue Programs for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America on her vision of a rabbi’s role today. You might be intrigued by our exchange about how much formal rabbinical education is enough—so enjoy the interview and share your comments!

 

 

 

 

Keeping the Faith – Network Organizing

 

 

Introduction
Social media platforms and tools affect leadership in congregations and organizations. Yes—there are skills involved in using social media but beyond the skills, they have significant implications for how leadership roles need to evolve. Understanding the relationship between social media and leadership is new territory. That’s why I grateful to Lianna Levine Reisner and Lisa Colton, two pioneers in social media and their place in congregations, who explore this issue in their essay below as part of the Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education project.

 

Network Organizing: Rethinking Communal Leadership for Rabbis
By Lianna Levine Reisner and Lisa Colton

 

Today we are witnessing massive shifts in demographics, culture, and behavior. Our young people are global citizens, individually empowered through rapidly evolving technologies, and increasingly capable of designing and customizing their own experiences. As NYU professor and author Clay Shirky states, all of this means that “organizations no longer have a monopoly on organizing.” As the Pew Research Center’s 2013 report “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” illuminated, so many Jews today are proud to be Jewish while simultaneously rejecting the institutions of Jewish life.

 

Lianna Reisner and Lisa ColtonAs representatives of the Gen X and Millennial generations, committed both personally and professionally to Judaism and to strengthening Jewish communal life, we see a need for rabbis to understand, embrace, and become skilled at leading networked communities. Working on the ground in both Jewish and secular settings, we have seen and experienced how a networked approach to community leaves a profound impact on people as they find purpose and become strengthened through trusting relationships and collaboration.

 

As those in our generations (as well as those who are older and younger) seek to create meaning and build connections, Jewish leaders must question longstanding values and basic assumptions about how we lead, manage, and relate to individuals and families within our communities. To remain relevant centers of Jewish life, we believe organizations and their leaders will need to embrace contemporary values such as openness/connections (vs. privacy/distance), collaboration (vs. competition), and subjectivity (vs. objectivity). They must also recognize that their job is not simply to maintain institutions, but instead to lead and strengthen communities with shared mission and purpose. This will require reinterpreting the models we have inherited from the past, building new professional skills, and experimenting with new approaches. We invite rabbis to see our current moment in time as a phenomenal opportunity for regeneration and empowerment of our communities.

 

Unlike the spiritual leaders of many other faiths, rabbis are not considered to have special intermediary powers between God and the people, but rather to be communal leaders working among the people with divine lessons and wisdom. What does it mean to lead a community, and what skills does one need to do so effectively today? Community leadership does not stem from a graduate degree, a job title, or assigned responsibility. Leadership is not about power or authority alone; it requires vision, goal setting, collaboration, and the ability to inspire and guide a group of people toward shared goals and purpose. What exactly those goals and purpose are may vary from one community to another, across denominations, or based on the organizational setting in which one works. But a common thread across all of these is the ability to create connection, cohesion, and momentum among a group of people. This is neither pushing from behind nor pulling from the front, but rather organizing from within. (more…)

 

Making Emotional Sense of Money

 

 

Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation about Rabbinical Education, will be published at the end of November. Every few weeks, I’ll be featuring guest bloggers who are a part of the online version of this project. We’re kicking off the conversation with a post from Rabbi Ellen Lewis, a congregational rabbi and therapist. Her post takes you inside the minds of some congregational rabbis and congregants this time of year, and offers helpful advice on how to distinguish between feelings of self-worth and financial compensation—issues that may begin to creep into conversations shortly after the holidays. A more comprehensive discussion of these issues that Ellen prepared will be available as a free download in October 2014.

 

Making Emotional Sense of Money

 

Rabbi Ellen LewisThis time of year before the high holy days is a stressful one for rabbis. In a usually hopeless attempt to find time to work on sermons, many rabbis try not to answer the phone or make appointments. When the congregational president calls, however, the rabbi always takes he call. “Rabbi, how are you? Listen, I’d like to sit down with you and start talking about your next contract. What’s good for you?” The rabbi, feeling a clutching sensation in her gut, responds, ” I know we need to talk about this, but I was hoping it could wait until after the holidays.” The president, thinking aloud and practically, says, “Well, the thing is that we would need to be done by December in case it didn’t work out and we would have to put together a Search Committee. I don’t know if that would give us enough time.”

 

Thus begins the disconnect between rabbi and president. Whatever the resolution to the president’s initial request, the rabbi is now sure her job is in jeopardy. And she still has those High Holy Day sermons to write. What the president intends as a routine conversation, the rabbi experiences as a threat. The needs of the rabbi and the congregation seem to conflict even before a word has been uttered about salary, benefits or other contractual items.

 

This conversation gives us just a hint of the complexity of rabbinic contractual negotiations. Why is it so complicated? How can we make sure these conversations don’t go wrong? It is easy to forget that the contract talks don’t occur independently of the relationship between rabbi and congregation. They are a part of the relationship and therefore need to be conducted with the usual mutual consideration and sensitivity of any conversation. Having some psychological grasp of the emotional power of money can help keep these conversations on track. Here are just a few points to keep in mind:

 

• What starts as a seemingly simple phone call can quickly set an adversarial tone for future negotiations. How can you set the right tone in preparation for a complex interaction?

 

• The better you understand yourself, whether rabbi or congregant , the better equipped you will be to handle contract negotiations. Do whatever you can to increase your emotional insights around money and what it symbolizes.

 

• If you are a rabbi, keep yourself talking in therapy and supervision. It will do you good, and what’s good for the rabbi is good for the congregation.

 

• If you are a congregant negotiating the rabbi’s contract, be aware that you are in a different role. You are not the recipient of the rabbi’s pastoral attention so much as the rabbi is the recipient of yours. Start by telling the rabbi what you appreciate about him or her.

 

• Take the emotional temperature of the relationship before you begin to discuss specifics. Ask each other basic questions before you ever get to money; what would make this conversation go well? What do you want?

 

This is the time of year we take stock of our lives (heshbon hanefesh). If both rabbi and congregant take their relationship seriously, that personal awareness will benefit their relationship and elevate even the most challenging conversations.

 

Rabbi Ellen Lewis, rabbi emerita at the Jewish Center of Northwest, N.J., and a practicing clinical psychotherapist, has a particular interest in the integration of religious and psychoanalytical concepts and has worked at developing models of clinical supervision for rabbis, cantors, and other religious professionals. In her private practice, she works with rabbis and cantors in therapy and supervision.

 

Update: Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education

 
 
This past January, with my co-editor, Ellie Roscher, we put out a call for submissions to a book tentatively titled, Keeping the Faith in Rabbinical Education. Our call was inspired by Ellie’s prior collection of edited essays on Protestant Seminary education, Keeping the Faith in Seminary. In our new volume, we wanted to explore the question, “How well does rabbinical school prepare rabbis for an ever-changing Jewish religious landscape?” We also hoped to share insights about seminary education from our respective religious communities. Ten months later, because of incredibly caring and dedicated contributors, we’re thrilled to let you know that we have:

 

 

The change in title reflects the number of responses that we received: we realized that we had triggered not just a book, but also an opportunity for a high-quality, constructive conversation.

 

Here’s a small sample of only a few themes from the book:

 

  • Gen Xer’s and Millennials: within reach of rabbis or out of reach?
  • Particular vs. distinctive: does fitting in mean blending in?
  • Can two rabbis share one role?
  • Rabbinical education: keep it at five years or reform it so that it’s not just shorter, but different and better?
  • What kind of rabbi do you want: a spiritual emcee or a contemporary prophet?

hayim-herring-rabbis-bookIn addition to essays that we selected for the project, we’ll soon be opening the invitation to anyone who wishes to share beneficial ideas on the Keeping Faith in Rabbis web page (to be announced soon!), and we’ll be adding video interviews, online hangouts and additional blog posts for about a year.

 

We’re also taking this conversation to the streets. Our inaugural book launch event will take place in the Minneapolis Metro area on the evening of December 2nd at Bet Shalom Congregation (more details to follow), and we’re planning events for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, the Miami Metro area and a few other selected cities. As Ellie has experience in Protestant theological education and its challenges, some of these events will include experts from the Church world. What also excites us is that we’ll be able to feature some of the essayists who contributed to this book as presenters, and other professionals in the field of rabbinical education and higher education in general. If you’re interested in having a community conversation about this topic, please contact me at hayim@hayimherring.com.

 

The “High Holidays” (Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur) are just a few weeks away, and we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the release of the Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans. It’s timely to think about the kind of spiritual tomorrows we want to have, and the role that rabbis, rabbinical educators and lay leaders can play in achieving it. We encourage you to pre-order the book now at http://ktfrabbi.avenidabooks.com. And, given how high the stakes are, we hope that you’ll join the ongoing conversation.

 

 

 

Wars Against Israel: Beyond the Gaza Operation

 

Intertwined Lives Once Again

 

This past Shabbat, we completed reading the Book of Numbers in the annual Torah cycle. The close of that book sets the stage for the Jewish people’s next steps, from wanderers to returnees to their ancestral land. But two tribes, Reuven and Gad, and one half of the tribe of Manasseh, remain on the other side of the Jordan and do not enter the land. Interestingly, while Reuven and Gad directly ask Moses for permission to remain in Transjordan, Moses is the one to designate half of the tribe of Manasseh’s portion in Israel and half in Transjordan (Numbers 32:33) Moses creates an intentional Diaspora, and causes the exile of one part of a family from another. Why?
 

Perhaps Moses foresaw the need to create a reality where Jewish people inside and outside of the land of Israel had a shared a past. The severing of direct family connections might better ensure their chances for a shared future. If only two whole tribes separated from the other ten, it would have been much easier for each side to forget about the other. But by splitting a single tribe in half, Moses increased the odds that caring would transcend geography and time, and that a family that was literally divided would better remember that a shared past meant an intertwined future, one in which each half would help the other in times of need.
 
And that is the contemporary situation of worldwide Jewry again. We share not just a past, but also a present in which many of us have immediate family members and some of our closest friends in Israel. We are both obligated and personally motivated to secure a shared, peaceful future for the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.
 

 israel-gaza
 
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A Tale of Two Pictures: Before and After an Iron Dome Alert

 

(This post is about my recent 3 week visit to Israel, where I spent most of my time in Jerusalem.)

 

Words just don’t cut it when describing what it’s like to be caught outdoors when an incoming missile alert siren sounds. Especially the part that news reporters don’t record—the ten minutes after the siren goes silent. So here are two pictures: one showing an Iron Dome interceptor hitting four incoming rockets near my Jerusalem neighborhood when I was visiting, and the other showing two cars decorated for a wedding ten minutes later.

 

And here’s the connection…

 

Israel - Iron Dome and Wedding

 

It was about 5:45 pm a week ago this past Tuesday, and my wife, Terri, and I were taking a walk in our neighborhood. We were on a very popular path, and it was crowded with families with young children, an elderly person being pushed in a wheel chair, joggers, and middle-aged couples like us. At about 5:55 pm, the siren sounded. We were nowhere within the approximately 30 seconds that we had to find a bomb shelter. Terri turned to me and said, “What do we do?” to which I said, “Run like everyone else around us and drop to the ground. And that’s what we did, along with an older woman near us, and a family with three young children under the age of five.

 

Then I looked up and saw the awesome power of the life-saving Iron Dome missile defense system. And Iron Dome does not just save Jewish lives. It saves the lives of all Israeli citizens: Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews. And it also saves the lives of more Palestinians in Gaza, for without Iron Dome, Israel would have needed to undertake ground operations in Gaza many times to destroy its massive arsenal of missiles that are hidden under deep tunnels, sometimes near schools and hospitals.

 

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Fanatic Focus vs. Distraction Disorder

 

I recently read an article, “Feeling More Antsy and Irritable Lately? Blame Your Smartphone.” One of its authors, Nicholas Carr, noted: “Back in 2006, a famous study of online retailing found that a large percentage of online shoppers would abandon a retailing site if its pages took four seconds or longer to load. In the years since then, the so-called Four Second Rule has been repealed and replaced by the Quarter of a Second Rule. Studies by companies like Google and Microsoft now find it takes a delay of just 250 milliseconds in page-loading for people to start abandoning a site. ‘Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,’ a top Microsoft engineer said in 2012. To put that into perspective, it takes about the same amount of time for you to blink an eye.”

 

If he’s right that means many of us have attention spans about as long as the blink of an eye!

 

I’m not sure if the American Psychological Association has come up with a name for our collective impatience and inability to focus, so let me suggest Distraction Disorder.

 

OSTILL/Thinkstock

OSTILL/Thinkstock

 

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