Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly

 

 

Continuing a series of guest essays related to Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, this piece by Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar was almost like a meditation that relates beautifully to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. Her imagery and urgency for forming a loving relationship with God echo some of the themes of Shavuot, which metaphorically represents a loving marriage between God and the Jewish people.

 

Rabbi Elizabeth BaharBy Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar

 

My challenge as a rabbi is to keep Jews engaged when they are leaving and going somewhere else to find a connection with the Holy, whether it is to a yoga class, a meditation studio, or a Buddhist retreat.  My other challenge comes from my own congregants who graduated from our religious school and are now sending their children to our religious school out of a sense of obligation, yet wonder if there is something wrong with them because they missed how to connect with God. Somehow institutional Judaism has failed them.  We have failed to transmit the message of love, engagement, faith and community.  I was trained intellectually and what I have learned more than anything else from my congregants, who are my teachers, is that religion is the language of the heart reaching out for the Divine.  They have taught me this lesson repeatedly at their bedsides, meeting with them when faced with hardships, or even celebrating with them the joys in life.  I have thanked them and continue to thank them for sharing and teaching me about the language of the Divine.

 

My disconnect stems from my training.  I trained at an academic institution, which is very intellectual.  The more intellectual your work, the more respect you received from both the faculty and your fellow students.  Yet what was absent in that environment is both the questions and the answers around how to nourish our souls and listen to the message of love found in our Sacred Texts and emanating from the Holy.  Our seminary’s focus on the intellect, because it is easy to quantify comprehension, yet it is not what is needed at people’s bedsides.  What is needed there is LOVE.  We were not taught how to find God in our own life.

 

As we struggle with our own connection to God, how are we to lead others to find God in their lives?  It is not enough to find God in our individual lives, the real question is, how are we going to share this knowledge and create a sacred community? How can we build a sacred community when it may be something we never experienced.  When people bring into the board room of our congregations their way of running a business forgetting that running a sacred community is different?   We focus on programing because it is easier to see success or failure from it, than to focus on God and wonder about how to bring God back to the center of what we do. When we have an entire community of people who are religiously illiterate and are unclear about even what it is that is missing in their life.  The problem is twofold 1) we struggle to find God and 2) our communities and therefore our seminaries struggle and are not even sure how to still look for the Holy.

 

The answer to grow a community is to go deep into the heart of life: To be totally present to the mystery of creation by developing an awareness of the Holy. 

 

The longer I am out of seminary, the more I realize that our faith journey and belief is paramount to our ability to succeed at our task. Since finding a connection with the Holy, helps solve one of the problems, I would like to make a few suggestions coming from things that have worked for me on my own journey.

 

We must struggle to live life in the footsteps of God so that we experience the Eternal Truth. 

 

A truth that Rambam points out to us on the High Holidays:

 

“Awake, you sleepers, from your sleep! Rouse yourselves, you slumberers, out of your slumber! Examine your deeds, and turn to God in repentance.  Remember your Creator, you who are caught up in your daily routine, losing sights of eternal truth; you who are wasting your years in pointless activities that neither profit nor save…”[1]

 

We need to wake up to this Eternal TruthThe Eternal Truth is that God is!

 

As we read in the Book of Exodus when Moses meets God at the burning bush and ask who are you, God responds: “I Am that I Am אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה .”  I came to understand my relationship with God is simply a mirror to my relationship with others in my life.  If I am in a right relationship with others, then I am in a right relationship with God.

 

I pray every day! We must practice regularly speaking to God.  To have a spiritual life means to have a spiritual practice, which means to set time aside to open one’s heart and mind to God.  I engage in hitbodedut – a practice first defined by the great Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who said that it is going out into nature, forgoing all of this world’s noise and distractions to become one with our Creator.  To speak out to God as our patriarchs and matriarchs did in the Bible.  Rabbi Nachman taught specifically that it is

 

“inner-directed, unstructured,

 

active self-expression before G-d—

 

is the highest path of all.

 

Take it.” [2]

 

I strive to have a personal spiritual life.  This is one example of the types of prayer I pray often:

 

Dear G-d, help me talk to You
About whatever is on my mind,
And especially about my desire to be close to You.

 

Give me time to be alone,
To speak in my own words and language.

 

Let me pour out my heart to You
Sincerely and truthfully,
And build up my spiritual strength
Through my great longing for You.[3]

 

Religion started because someone had an experience with God on a mountain top and came back down the mountain to encourage other people to have a similar experience.  Ritual developed to force us to take a break from the external mindset of everything we have to do and get into the mindset of the Holy without having to trek into the desert and up the mountain to experience God.  Our religious experiences reveal an ultimate eternal truth which we understand deeply: We are enough even in our brokenness.

 

Instead of seeing what is broken with the Jewish community, our congregations or even ourselves, let’s be grateful for what we have.  Let’s take a moment to say thank you to God.

 

Remember the story of Gideon and the winepress.  In the time of Gideon, as described in the book of Judges, the Jewish people would have to thrash their wheat on the floor of a cave out of fear that their enemies would overcome them and steal their food.  While in the cave, Gideon encountered an Angel.  The Angel told him that he would go onto lead the Jewish people out from the hands of the Middianites.  Gideon asked God for a sign.  The sign that Gideon had, was fire that ate up the sacrifice that Gideon placed upon the rock.  Gideon then went out to battle knowing God was with him he had faith and then won.  Additionally that faith was what brought the people with him.

 

Let’s not run into the cave because we are afraid, and cling to our old institutions and isolate ourselves.  We need to have faith in God and trust our communities to share with them our doubts. We need to have an active spiritual life, a life outside the rabbinate, a life with family and friends.

 

By letting people enter the world of the spirit and sharing with them what it means to be emotionally and spiritually present for someone or a community we can share our burden.  By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we are exposing ourselves like Gideon did.  Not only do we need to share this world with our congregants, we need to change the business of the rabbinate starting at seminary and in our congregations.

 

In seminary we need to both write the academic papers and explore the true nature of God in our lives.  True education begins with where the student is, not where the teacher wants them to be. Our congregants don’t want to hear from us what Soloveitchik said on faith unless we can connect it directly back to their lives.  We need to discuss why Judaism is relevant to our lives and be able to make it relevant to the lives of our congregants.  We need to know and love our sacred texts and be able to share that love with our communities. We need to be like Gideon going out and leading the people and not hiding from them.

 

Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar has served as the congregational rabbi at Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville Alabama since being ordained from HUC in 2009. In that time she has received the Rabbi Jeffery L.  Ballon Interfaith Leadership award from Interfaith Mission Service in 2011. And was named by the Forward was one of the most inspiring Rabbis in 2015. She is also on the boards of the South East Region of the CCAR, Interfaith Mission Service and Southeast Clergy Association.

 

[1] Maimonides, Hilkhot Teshuvah III.4

[2] The Empty Chair, p. 91

[3] Between me and You, p. 342

 

 

 

Educating Rabbis for Jews without Borders

 

 

A Generous Community

 

[What goes into the making of a 21st Century rabbinical leader? In this latest series of essays to be published on eJP, we share thoughts from Rabbi David Teutsch, Ph.D., Rabbi Ellen Lewis, Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg and Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D. The first three essays originally appeared in, “Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Educartion,” Avenida Books, December 2014. This final essay is newly written for eJP and looks at how we may respond to the paradigm shift currently underway in the North American Jewish Community.]

*****

Writing an essay for a publication is a generous act, so thank you to the thirty-three contributors – rabbis, lay people and educators of rabbis – to the print volume of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education and the ten essayists whose essays appear online. With all of the changes occurring within the Jewish community, generosity has been a constant.

 

I had planned to write a chapter for our anthology, but Ellie Roscher, my co-editor, suggested that I wait and follow the conversation before doing so. Indeed, we came to appreciate how much our respective faith communities could benefit from more curiosity and less judgment about the correct “formula” for clergy education, and more shared conversations with those from other faith communities.[1]

 

Having listened to the conversation for about a year, I now offer what I believe is the most significant observation for rabbinical education: It is urgent to explicitly acknowledge that the paradigm of Jewish community that gave birth to how we educate rabbis has ended and respond accordingly. Several essayists alluded to a paradigm shift, and their actual and proposed curricular changes illustrated their keen awareness that it had already occurred. But the emergence of a new paradigm is not synonymous with an innovative curriculum, a new rabbinical program or a novel continuing education program. Rather, it is a map for reading, interpreting, responding to and shaping the community that we aspire to be.[2]

 

What is a Paradigm Shift and How Do You Know When a Paradigm Has Shifted?

 

What is a paradigm and how do you know it has shifted?[3] I think of a paradigm as a set of lenses through which I read my world of experiences. Without these lenses or core assumptions, I would be unable to sort, categorize, analyze and make meaning of my encounters with other individuals and interpret all of the information that I absorb through the media. Absent a paradigm, all actions, changes and behaviors are relatively equal to one another. With a paradigm, I have greater likelihood of living the life that I want and trying to positively shape my future.

 

Joel Barker, renowned for his work in applying the concept of paradigms to organizations, identifies how to recognize a paradigm shift in his definitive video on the topic, “The New Business of Paradigms” (updated 2013 edition): “No matter how tall your skyscrapers, or how big your market share, or how global your organization, when a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero. Your past success guarantees nothing in your future.” Barker did not have the Jewish community in mind when he stated this, but he just as easily could have.

 

How Paradigms of Jewish Community Influence Rabbinical Education

 

The enduring paradigm of the modern Jewish community that gave birth to established and even most new rabbinical programs is disintegrating. It originated in Western Europe in approximately the mid-19th Century, was grafted and took root in the United States toward the end of the 19th Century and reigned through about the last decade of the 20th Century.[4] It rested upon certain givens that included defined boundaries of nations and communities, the subordination of the individual to nation and community, a belief in rational, planned, linear progress, stable bodies of knowledge that needed to be mastered to attain the status of an authority, a dynamic tension between requirements of Judaism and expectations of citizenship, and organizations as self-contained, closed systems.

 

During the early decades of this paradigm, even if Jews did not practice ritual, they established and joined congregations because it was a way of fitting into Protestant America. The informal names of their congregations (e.g., the “Hungarian shul”) reflected their immigrant roots even as they strove to rapidly acculturate their children to America, a process that accelerated as Jews later migrated to the suburbs. The reality of a modern State of Israel was added to the paradigm of Jewish community in the mid-20th Century, but Israel was a fragile entity that was usually portrayed in mythical terms. It was also dependent upon American Jews’ commitment to its survival, using their significant political and financial capital.[5]

 

In the recent past, there was a logical division of labor that grew from the paradigm of linear, self-contained, defined organizational boundaries. The Federation system and its “beneficiaries” were responsible for the secular welfare of local and global Jewish communities, and congregations and related denominational structures tended to the religious and educational needs of Jewish communities. The lines between the federation and congregational systems began to blur soon after Israel’s Six Day War, when federations gradually started to support formal and informal Jewish education, and congregations stepped up their public support for Israel.

 

These are blunt generalizations, as paradigms are more akin to glasses used to perceive the broad contours of the environment. But they also obscure gradual, significant changes that point to a possible paradigm shift. And by the time the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey was released, you could already see fractures in the paradigm of Jewish community: declining levels of Jewish identification, rising rates of intermarriage, disillusionment with the Jewish establishment, and the corresponding rise in “mega” donors and family foundations that challenged existing communal priorities.

 

In the 21st Century, we can now clearly see a new paradigm of a world characterized by human networks that can swell swiftly to upend governments or fund game-changing products; an unbounded start-it-yourself and share-it-with-others ethos; and, heightened influence of lone individuals, ephemeral crowds, and enduring social networks. Individuals have the ability to span cultures, geography and time, and relatively small groups have the means to violently shift national borders.

 

The American Jewish community has naturally been affected by this new zeitgeist. For many Jews today, the beliefs, behaviors and values that animated the Jewish community have lost their former power. Beliefs don’t hold people. Rather, people hold beliefs – and may discard them when they no longer “work,” customize “new traditions,” or design Jewish rituals drawn from multiple faith traditions. As a result, we might call the Jewish community of the United States, “Jews Without Borders.” Here are a few examples to illustrate the porous, fluid nature of much of the Jewish community in the United States:

 

Increasingly, well-established professional pipelines through which senior organizational leaders were hired are being bypassed. In fact, the 92nd St. Y hired a C.E.O. who is not Jewish.
Decades ago, Israel generally tended to galvanize more than polarize; today, it appears that the opposite is increasingly true.

 

Not long ago, intermarriage was perceived as a taboo; today, outside of the Orthodox community, speaking against intermarriage is often considered a taboo, and rabbinical school faculty and students debate the merits of admitting future students who are married/partnered to those who are not Jewish.

 

Organizations like federations and Jewish Community Centers may still describe themselves as the “central address” of the Jewish community, but in today’s highly decentralized Jewish community, “boutique” organizations compete with “legacy” institutions.

 

Eighty-one percent of Jewish Boomers identify as Jewish on the basis of religion, and 19% describe themselves as having no religion; among Millenials, 68% identify as Jewish on the basis of religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture (Pew Research, “A Portrait of American Jews,” October 2013).

 

Synagogue budgeting and programming implied that a “normal” Jewish family was a heterosexual married couple with children; today, LGBTQ families, individuals who are living with or married to non-Jews, have asserted an equal place in congregations and broadened the definition of a “Jewish” household.

 

It’s no longer possible to say, “Not in my lifetime” to prospects of female Orthodox rabbis. By title or by function, they are now a reality. Through the early 1990’s, the major funding stream for Jewish programs and infrastructure was the national federation system. In the early 1990’s, “mega” and family foundations began to provide a massive infusion of funds into new and established organizations that better reflected their interests. Crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and more recently, Jewish Giving Circles supported by Amplifier, may soon provide alternatives and challenges to these current primary options.

 

Money, power, knowledge, organizing, influencing, communications and inverted attitudes on major social and religious issues – these discrete changes have converged into a paradigm shift that has disrupted much of the old order of the Jewish community and ushered us into a new one. This new paradigm is characterized by instability, surprise sometimes bordering on chaos, improvisation, divergent thinking, emergent grassroots mobilization and ownership, irreverence and entrepreneurship. Who gets to decide what is authentically Jewish in this new paradigm? For Gen X’ers, Millenials and increasingly, Boomers, not Jewish authorities, but basically, anyone.[6]

 

The paradigm of Jewish community that existed until recently generated beliefs about the “right” kind of rabbinical student profile, fixed canons of knowledge that students needed to master (curricula), the structure of relationships between “lay people” and rabbis, the nature of religious authority and decision-making, and rabbinical career choices and trajectories. The in-print and online essayists in Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education have supplied us with ideas, questions and observations about the adequacy of rabbinical education and leadership. They point toward the issue of a paradigm shift that we need to make explicit. Without being explicit, we may convince ourselves that new strategies and tactics for rabbinical education are moving us into the future, while in reality they only affirm the old paradigm of Jewish community.

 

Those who have dedicated significant years in the Jewish community are entitled to linger and feel sad over what we have lost. By pausing, we may then be better able to perceive new opportunities that were unimaginable and lead with optimism. As we internalize a new paradigm of Jewish community, I conclude with several questions emanating from this new paradigm:

 

Even if seminaries retain denominational identity, could administrations make it easier for students to cross-register for some courses if they are living in the same city, or take one another’s online courses?

 

How much seminary real estate is actually necessary for rabbinical education? Do rabbis have to be in residence for a total of five years at two different locations (the States and Israel), amassing significant debt, or could more schools adopt a learner-centered approach, and customize educational requirements and programs around the knowledge and experience of the learner?
What role does Israel play in rabbinical education and expectations of rabbinical leadership? Many American Jews find meaning in Judaism’s call for social justice and perceive Israel to be the powerful Goliath against a pitiful Palestinian David. West Bank Palestinians lack sovereignty – an undignified reality for which Israeli and Palestinian leaders are responsible. What are the implications for the relationship between Jewish communities in Israel and the United States? In Keeping Faith in Rabbis, there was no discussion of Israel – not completely surprising but ominous.[7]

 

In the 21st Century, what is it that rabbinical education uniquely qualifies rabbis to do? Rabbinical chaplains seem to have a clear answer: provide spiritual care. With that exception, some of these essays reflected realities of role displacement and ambiguity. Are curricular options for rabbis who plan to operate outside of congregations and established organizations sufficient?
Many young Jews are now fourth and even fifth generation Americans and deeply assimilated. As a result, how should rabbis-in-formation think about Jewish peoplehood today?

 

In past epochs, periods of social and technological turmoil were followed by times of stability: for example, transitioning from agriculture to manufacturing. Today, with powerful technologies that are becoming universally accessible, stability is elusive and disruption is the norm. Can and should rabbis be trained as pioneers into an unknown Jewish future, yet still remain knowledgeable and caring guardians of Tradition?

 

Should theological education encompass mixed multi-faith clergy ordination programs that allow for shared experience and learning across different faiths for some courses, even as students focus intensively on the fundamentals of their own religious civilizations?

 

Many Millenials are experiencing downward economic mobility because of forces beyond their control. Combined with some of these other factors, from where will the financial and human capital come to support the array of old and new Jewish organizations that exist today?

 

The questions that I find the most fruitful don’t have immediate answers, require a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to incubating responses, and validation through research and practice. The contributors to Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education are well attuned to the need for change and continue to respond to it. Will we make a wider space for conversation together to explore these and other questions that emerge from a new paradigm of Jewish community?

 

[1] See Ellie Roscher, Keeping the Faith in Seminary (Minneapolis, MN: Avenida Books, 2012). The series of essays that she edited on Protestant theological education inspired Keeping Faith in Rabbis.
[2] The one program that seems to have acknowledged this is Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
[3] Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions published in 1962, originated the concept of paradigm in the scientific world. Joel Barker, a preeminent business process futurist, was the first to grasp that despite Kuhn’s claim to the contrary, it applied far beyond the world of science. But the concept of paradigms is not new and features prominently in learning theory and psychology already in the 1920’s, although it is more often labeled “schema,” “scripts” or “mental models.”
[4] See Windmueller, Steven (2007). “The Second American Jewish Revolution,” Journal of Jewish Communal Service, Volume 82 (No. 3), pp. 252-260, for a comprehensive review of the organizational paradigm and its value set from the last century.
[5] See Jonathan Woocher, Sacred Survival: The Civil Religion of American Jews. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986
[6] See, for example, Stephanie Grob Plante, “The Challenge of Planning an Interfaith Wedding,” November 13, 2014, http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/186563/challenge-interfaith-wedding
[7] See Steven M. Cohen and Rabbi Jason Gitlin, “Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel Among American Rabbis,” A Report of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (October 8, 2013), http://www.jewishdatabank.org/studies/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=3075.

 

Cross-posted to eJewish Philanthropy and the Huffington Post

 

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, presenter and organizational futurist. He thanks Dr. Steven Windmueller for reviewing an earlier draft of this article.

 

 

 

The Old Jewish Neighborhood – Daniel Cotzin Burg

 

 

rabbi-daniel-cotzin-burgBy Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg

 

The Old Jewish Neighborhood

 

I live in a Jewish neighborhood called Reservoir Hill. It used to be two communities: Eutaw Place, the grand boulevard with its elegant town homes and Lake Drive, which included several blocks east of Eutaw with still beautiful, but more modest row houses. For a number of reasons, Jews moved away from Reservoir Hill toward Baltimore County. By the 1970’s, the neighborhood was now predominantly African American and increasingly poor. By the 80’s, crime had become endemic and sidewalks abutting the former Jewish shops played host to open-air drug markets. By the 90’s, the entire commercial center of the neighborhood was demolished. Reservoir Hill resembled a bagel with a gaping hole in the middle.

 

The New Jewish Neighborhood

 

In recent years, Reservoir Hill has enjoyed a general resurgence and modest Jewish renaissance: young Jewish singles, couples and families have begun to move back. Crime is down, and vacant properties are at their lowest numbers in decades. A team of 350 volunteers built a new playground in 2011 – the community’s first clean, safe play space in years. Whitelock boasts an urban farm and farm stand, a community garden and a new park – the community’s core, empty lots now an emerging as green space. The school, remembered fondly by numerous congregants, is again on the upswing and slated for a total redesign next year. Druid Hill Park across the street, Baltimore’s grand Central Park, once filled with shul-goers from dozens of nearby synagogues on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, boasts a refurbished zoo and conservatory, a new playground and swimming pool, a farmers market and weekend festivals from art fairs to dog-walkers and various ethnic celebrations.

(more…)

 

Preventing Clergy Sexual Abuse – Rabbi Ellen Lewis

 
 

By Rabbi Ellen Lewis

 

This essay originally appeared in, “Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Educartion,” Avenida Books, December 2014.

 

Rabbi-Ellen-LewisClergy sexual abuse is a problem that will not go away. The news media inform us that Vatican officials failed to report sex abuse charges properly, moving priests rather than disciplining them. A rabbi allegedly took nearly half a million dollars from synagogue funds and congregants to hide an illicit relationship with a teenage boy. Clergy committing sexual abuse crosses denominations, geography and social class. The Rev. Marie Fortune reports:

 

“Research on sexual involvement between clergy and congregants is sparse, but research and media reports of charges and civil or criminal actions suggest that between 10 and 20 percent of clergy violate sexual boundaries in their professional relationships. Although the vast majority of pastoral offenders in reported cases are heterosexual males and the vast majority of victims are heterosexual females, neither gender nor sexual orientation excludes anyone from the risk of offending (clergy) or from the possibility of being taken advantage of (congregants/clients) in the pastoral or counseling relationship.”[1]

 

We respond with surprise and revulsion, expressing shock that someone in a position of religious authority can violate the trust we place in him or her. We rightly call for swift exposure, condemnation and punishment, but all after the fact. While there are no quick fixes, there are steps we can take to make clergy safe for those they serve.

 

What makes clergy unsafe? In my experience as a rabbi and therapist who works with clergy, clergy are no different from other abusers in motive, just in opportunity. Although we might resist admitting it, we possess all the same human weaknesses as everyone else. We are insecure, desirous of being loved, anxious about doing the right thing, depressed about the state of the world, over-worked, confused about power and unclear about personal and professional boundaries. It isn’t that we don’t possess intellectual knowledge of the difference between right and wrong. What we often lack is emotional self-awareness and the usual outlets for talking.

 

It’s counterintuitive to think of clergy as people with no opportunity to talk. Clergy talk all the time: from the pulpit, in the classroom, on television, in boardrooms and in hospital rooms. We speak as experts in those contexts. People look to us for words of truth and solace. But whom can we trust with our own deepest fears and doubts? We know we need to share our personal stories, but if we confide in a board member, we can’t be sure our intimate details won’t become grist for the congregational mill. And how can we be sure that that very act of confidence does not, in itself, constitute a boundary violation? We face the challenge of where to find friends if not within the community to which we are devoted day and night.

 

(more…)

 

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.

 

(more…)

 

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.

 
 

(more…)

 

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

200248233-001

 

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.