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Rosh Ha-Shana Circa 2015

 

Imagine that you’re the Biblical Abraham. You and your wife, Sarah, are literally the founders of a start-up nation. To ensure its continuity, you ask, “What is one important thing that I can leave for my descendants that they will need 100 years from now?” Perhaps that question stimulated an ancient rabbinic suggestion about how the Israelites were able to build a wooden ark while traveling in the desert. According to this interpretation, Abraham had planted trees in Beersheva. Before his grandson, Jacob, and his clan leave a famine-stricken Israel for bountiful Egypt, he stopped in Beersheva, harvested these trees and brought them with him. When the Israelites were liberated from Egyptian slavery generations later, they had the basic raw material for the ark—the trees that Abraham had planted and Jacob had harvested.

 

Abraham and Jacob knew that they could not create a detailed map of a far off future in which they would not be alive. But, as leaders of the tribe, it was up to them to ensure that their descendants would have timeless raw materials to use in constructing their own Jewish future. So what are the raw materials that we want to accumulate now so that our Jewish heirs will be talking about their Jewish future 100 years from now? And according to some researchers, many children born today are likely to live to 100 or even the Biblical 120 years old so this is not a theoretical question!

 

Recently, my local Jewish newspaper, the American Jewish World, invited me to submit an article on the future of the Jewish community in Minnesota 100 years from now. With Rosh ha-Shanah about a month away, it seemed like a good time to share some broader reflections on the next possible 100 years of American Jewish life. Yes—it’s chutzpadik to do so. At the same time, it can help us consider some essential “materials” that we can be mining and storing for future generations. And the challenge is that I believe that these “materials” are primarily intangibles—they are attitudes and values. (more…)

 

Why a Dead Iranian Deal is Worse Now Than No Deal

 

 

“Iran can keep the deal or Iran can cheat on the deal. Either way it will have the bomb….” That is what Prime Minister Netanyahu said two days ago in a webcast to American Jewish leaders. By his own logic, it therefore makes no sense to lobby Congress against the Iranian accord. The terms of the agreement are vital to the security of Israel and the broader Middle East—in theory. But if you don’t trust the Iranian clerics who run the country, and you believe that they will acquire nuclear weapons at any cost, then a dead deal will likely be worse than no deal for the American-Israeli relationship and for Israel.

 

Switzerland Nuclear Iran

 

If you assume, as I do, that Iran’s clerics will “cheat on the deal,” here are four additional reasons why going toe-to-toe with President Obama is a risky gambit:

 

1. Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently bet on the strength of support from the Republican Party. He publicly displayed his preference for Republican candidate Mitt Romney over President Obama during the last election, and broke protocol in accepting an invitation from the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to address Congress, who had not consulted the White House. This Republican bet has not exactly created a warm, fuzzy feeling between Jerusalem and Washington, D.C. And the odds of a Republican presidency in the next election are questionable: Republicans have lost five of the six last popular votes for the presidency, and the demographics of the United States voting population present challenges for a Republican presidency.

 

2. Generally, American support for Israel has been bipartisan. This latest push by Israel into American politics has the potential to significantly intensify the partisan nature of support for Israel. Additionally, while Israel has not enjoyed total support from the American Jewish community in recent years, a majority of American Jews has been able to rally behind Israel in times of need. Overt Israeli lobbying in American foreign politics has driven a wedge internally between American Jews of different political viewpoints. In politics, ill will has a long shelf life. Regardless of who occupies the White House after the next election, why leave it tainted with negative feelings when it comes to support for Israel? And as the BDS movement heats up on college campuses, and European displeasure with Israel is resulting in increasingly tense trade relations and cultural exchanges, can we really afford more internal fractures?

 

3. “Increase the sanctions, increase the pressure”—another request from Prime Minister Netanyahu. How many deals with some European nations, China and Russia do you think are already under discussion? One can argue about the wisdom of promising to ease economic sanctions already about a year ago, but even our European allies, let alone China and Russia, have abandoned the notion of more economic sanctions.

 

4. On a related note, let’s also remember that Pime Minister Netanyahu has been rolling back legislation requiring more Charedi (religious right wing) young men to serve in the army. If there is another war, it could require American ground troops. How will the optics look when a historic democratic ally, Israel, exempts a significant number of young men from its own military service, if U.S. troops fight in a war that many will claim Israel is responsible for? (I’ve already heard some people raise this issue.)

 

At this point in the game, as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, the reality is that Iran will find a way to develop nuclear arms. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, that were expected to protest, have accepted this reality. I doubt that they have any more trust in this accord than the Israeli government and public. But their relatively quiet stance indicates that they are thinking further into the future about maintaining good relations with United States in order to combat immediate threats like ISIL and the disintegration of Syria.

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu was elected several times on his promise to do everything that he could to keep Iran from going nuclear. President Obama, already in his first run at the presidency, set forth a goal of re-integrating Iran into the “family of nations” (and perhaps also recalibrating the balance of power between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East). Two sovereign nations, located in different parts of the world, one a super power and the other an embattled regional power, are entitled to see the world differently. Despite vigorous efforts, the time when it might have been possible to exercise other options and bring about a different kind of agreement has passed. I believe that it’s strategically smarter to put efforts now into planning for a reality of a stronger, regional and likely nuclear power that Iran will become, and the implications of that reality both for the United Sates and Israel.

 
 

 

 

Rabbis: Let’s Advocate for Mandatory Professional Therapy

 

 

Only a relatively few rabbis exploit emotionally vulnerable people but their impact is devastating: to individual victims, their families and friends, and the Jewish and broader public. Whether employed by congregations, Jewish camps and day schools, youth and college outreach or other organizations, rabbis who have ongoing access to people, funds, or sensitive information about their constituents should have mandatory, regularly scheduled professional therapy.

 

The Jewish Week, in cooperation with Temple Emanu-El– Skirball Center, recently sponsored a public program titled, “Training Rabbis. Who Will Lead Us Tomorrow?” (It was inspired by Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation on Rabbinical Education, a collection of essays that I co-edited with Ellie Roscher and was published a few months ago.) The forum, which I moderated, included Rabbis David Ellenson, Josh Davidson, Joy Levitt and Dr. Erin Leib Smokler—an exceptionally thoughtful panel. I turned to The Jewish Week first about the possibility of a public program because I trusted that, under its auspices, sensitive issues would not be sensationalized.

 

One of the questions that panelists debated was, “Who is responsible for putting more safeguards in place to prevent rabbis from engaging in unethical behavior? Can rabbinical organizations be trusted to police their own members?” Panelists offered a range of responses. Some were equivocal, others definitive (soon you’ll be able to watch a video archive of the discussion-information to follow later). In the short time since the program, we’ve read yet more allegations, court cases and convictions around rabbinical behavior. On a corresponding note closer to home, the systematic effort by the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul to cover up years of clergy sexual abuse continues to send shockwaves throughout all communities of faith.

 

In light of these incidents, I now believe that rabbis who work under Jewish auspices need professional therapy. It’s one collective way that we can do teshuvah for the damage to our community and calling that a few members of our rabbinical family have caused.

 

In an essay from Keeping Faith in Rabbis, Rabbi Ellen Lewis writes, “In my experience as a rabbi and therapist who works with clergy, clergy are no different from other abusers in motive, just in opportunity. … we possess all the same human weaknesses as everyone else.” She offers a minyan of reasons for the value of rabbis having regular therapy. Among these ten reasons, she writes that it’s important for the rabbi “to get the view from the other side of the couch. It makes you more aware of how your congregants or clients experience coming to you for help”. More importantly, she notes that, “We (rabbis) are surrounded everyday by people who love us for no apparent reason and who hate us for no apparent reason.…talking and supervision and therapy makes people less likely to act out” (pp.205-207).

 

“Awe of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).” Almost all of the rabbis that I know strive to stand in awe of God, and carefully and caringly help others. But we should be wise by now to appreciate the value of therapy. And budgetary constraints can’t be an excuse for inaction. Rabbis and their employers should share the financial cost for regularly scheduled therapy. Otherwise, we collectively continue to risk inflicting incalculable emotional pain to others and injecting generalized doubt about whether rabbis can be trusted. Why wait anymore for rabbinical organizations or seminaries to require action when rabbis and Jewish organizations can take the immediate local lead?

 

 

Disorderly Democracy or Tyrannical Terror: Thoughts About July 4th

 

 

If you’ve ever visited a country with an oppressive government, you know how precious the meaning of July 4th is. Even if you haven’t been in a cruel country, but have watched the news of this past week, you can deeply sense the impact of the absence or presence of freedom.

 

This week in America, we saw the incredibly positive culmination of spirited debate, years of litigation and uncommon compassion from everyday people: racism, homophobia, and economic inequality reflected in overpriced healthcare were big losers. Admittedly imperfect and slow, significant progress was made on these key issues. Many challenges that still lie ahead, but this upcoming American holiday gives us a timely opportunity to celebrate these achievements.

 

4th of july jewish

 

But abroad during this week, in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and France to name only a few places, loathsome terrorists killed hundreds of people by using brute lethal force. These individuals are pretenders. They aren’t brave for they are deathly afraid of powerful ideas about what it means to be human that are contrary to their beliefs.

 

Events here and there are connected. The same forces in Western democracies that hearten us here frighten fundamentalists of all stripes and in all places.  Battling over ideas and values leaves a much less certain and often-ambiguous outcome then battling with weaponry.

 

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain moderate political and religious views for a variety of reasons. The value of moderation is that it can bridge views at opposite ends of the spectrum. But, speaking personally, when I watch the utter ugliness of fundamentalists in action, I begin to wonder if moderation is an unintentional friend to extremists. It is incomprehensible to me, as a religious moderate, how “religious ” individuals can torture, brutalize, torment and persecute anyone in the name of religion in this day and age. Sometimes it feels like the numbers are reversed and that we’re living in the 12th Century and not the 21st.

 

So while July 4th is not a holiday found on the Jewish calendar, it still feels very Jewish and especially universal this year. Maybe it’s time for moderates to advocate more vigorously for the right to hold different viewpoints and remain in caring conversations with one another. Holding on to dissent and empathy isn’t easy, but that’s what people who are truly free can do. For a week like this suggests that we are not debating just one particular issue or idea. Rather, the essential argument is about human freedom and how to best augment it in the face of legitimate differences. And that is an ecumenical issue that I’ll be thinking about this July 4th.
 

 

Leadership Succession or Secession?

 

 

Less than a week ago, billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced that he is handing the reins of control to his two sons. Will the transfer of power lead to succession or to secession? Handing over control to a new generation can be messy business, especially when family is involved. Sometimes it goes well, but often it is painful.

 

Some leaders transfer power in name only, but just can’t let go. As a result, they risk bringing themselves down in disgrace. Other times, the next generation loses patience and repeatedly chips away at a leader’s ability to govern. These repeated challenges to authority eventually create an atmosphere of mistrust, where constituents begin to second-guess a leader’s judgment. When this occurs, a kind of community paralysis sets in and it takes a new leader to catalyze forward momentum.

 

Leadership Change Rupert Murdoch

 

The Biblical Book of Numbers is certainly a case study in the complexities of succession. While Moses ultimately passes the torch of leadership to a new generation, there are many acts of attempted secession. First, Moses’s siblings challenge his authority (Numbers 12), then the spies, who are leaders of twelve tribes, seek to undermine his credibility (Numbers 13) and in this week’s Torah reading (Numbers 16), Moses’s cousins mount an insurrection. The first challenge to Moses’s leadership cascades into a chain of additional trials, suggesting that there was general fatigue between the people and their leader. I wonder if either could see the warning signs as they unfolded, or only in retrospect.

 

So here are a few questions for senior and volunteer leaders to consider as they look to the future:

 

• If you are senior clergy of a congregation or a CEO of a nonprofit, what is your exit strategy if your constituents pose a serious leadership challenge? Do you have a plan to put into effect if that happens?
• If you have played a senior professional leadership role for a long time, are you working with board members on a succession plan?
• If you are a senior volunteer leader, and you feel it is time for a professional leadership change, do you have a proactive strategy or will it take a disgruntled community to move you to action?
• Finally, for both senior professional and volunteer leaders: how are you cultivating leadership for upcoming generations? And, given the vast numbers of Boomers who might be interested in volunteer roles, do you also have a plan to engage them?

 

Given the dynamics of any change of leadership, there certainly are no guarantees about how smooth a transition will be. But, there are ways to try and mitigate the risk of clumsy and potentially destructive transitions and limit the likelihood that that succession does not turn into secession.

 

 

 

Rabbinic Education at a Crossroads?

 

 

I’m pleased to present another guest blog post as a part of the Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinic Education series. It’s written by Rabbi David Evan Markus, who addresses the increase in part-time, trans-denominational and low-residency Jewish clergy ordination programs. The author advocates acceleration of these trends to diversify the Jewish pulpit and meet the unique pastoral needs of 21st century Jews in the current era of weakening institutional affiliation. He also urges universal adoption of mandatory spiritual direction for all Jewish seminary students and instructors. While this is the last scheduled guest essay, I’ve already written an essay with my initial response to this rich national conversation on rabbinical education and leadership, and several more are in the works—so stay tuned!

 

Seminary and Soul:  Spiritual Education for the 21st Century

 

Rabbi David Evan MarkusWhile this guest blog post is the last scheduled in the online dimension of Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation on Rabbinic Education, there’s so much yet to say about how best to uplift Jewish spiritual leaders, starting with the proposition that this conversation must never end.  That is why I am heartened to know that Rabbi Hayim Herring and Ellie Roscher, co-editors of this series, will help ensure that it never does.

 

This year’s inquiry about rabbinic education has underscored the truth that professional education is organic and thus must continuously evolve.  Experience hones best practices in pedagogy, and the needs of students and professions are in constant flux.  Legal educators learned this lesson the hard way.  The legal education “case method” that Christopher Columbus Langdell developed in late 1800s birthed generations of lawyers able to refine abstruse points of law for adversarial litigations and transactions, making Langdell a towering figure in the history of professional education.  In the 2000s, however, legal educators awoke to discover that many of Langdell’s innovations – once reforms in their day – had become shackles that bind lawyers to formal conflict (and bad lawyer jokes), poorly preparing them for the creative problem-solving and public-service contexts of a 21st century legal profession.  To realign with the new legal profession now emerging, legal education has needed to change accordingly – and this process is now sweeping across the nation’s law schools.

 

This proposition holds all the more for spiritual leaders: clergy education must serve the evolving needs of the profession that clergy will enter.  As change sweeps across Jewish life, rabbinic education must change with it.  The 2013 Pew Study depicts a Jewish polity becoming more diverse, resisting affiliation labels, and striving for relevance both within and beyond traditional Jewish structures of synagogue and school – and rabbinic education must evolve likewise.  Even more, rabbinic education must leap ahead of the change unfolding across Jewish life, so that new cohorts of Jewish leaders can wisely shape change rather than merely respond or race to catch up after falling behind.  Change in rabbinic education mustn’t be for its own sake, but to prepare each generation of Jewish leaders to heed their moment’s call to spiritual service.

 

 

So the question is, what is this moment’s call to spiritual service?  What is the leap that rabbinic education must make?  This year of introspection about rabbinic education has begun to envision a rabbinate called to become more pastoral, entrepreneurial and communitarian.  The implications for forward-thinking rabbinic education are provocative and transformative:

 

The pastoral rabbinate.  An effective rabbi navigates the heart and soul, journeying with (not above) congregation and community as an authentic seeker, equipped with a range of finely honed pastoral tools suitable for the breadth of Jewish spiritual life.  Pastoral skills are mimetic and experiential: no amount of book learning alone can teach them.  At minimum, they require expert-guided consistent dialogue within a student’s own spiritual life so that the student, in turn, can become a guide for others: after all, where a guide hasn’t gone, the guide can’t lead anyone.  This kind of authentic spiritual formation requires a seminary environment of exquisite trust and safety – where life’s inevitable triumphs and tumbles, intellectual doubts and emotional detritus, all are fodder for spiritual growth – so that clergy can become adept (and unafraid) at traversing these landscapes.  To that end, and to help teach how to discern the flow of holiness through the totality of life, all rabbinical students – and all seminary educators, as models – must be in mandatory, monthly, confidential and expert hashpa’ah (spiritual direction).  Seminaries also must integrate an applied pastoral focus into all other elements of the rabbinic curriculum – from liturgy to codes and everything in between.  Because an effective pastoral rabbinate depends on a wise heart, admissions criteria must privilege experience and capacity for applied spiritual leadership – not just proven love for Jewish tradition, intellectual capacity for scholarship and commitment to service.  If so, then seminaries must better welcome and even preference second-career and part-time students, who bring a wealth of emotional and spiritual intelligence to their studies – as ALEPH and Academy for Jewish Religion have done.  In turn, seminary schedules and teaching styles must better match adult schedules and learning skills, compatibly with the needs of rigorous seminary education, and better integrate online learning while maintaining effective mimetic environments.  In short, a pastoral rabbinate for the 21st century asks us to rethink the seminary itself – educational models, delivery systems, admissions criteria, curricula and all the rest – all to put spiritual transformation first.

 

The entrepreneurial rabbinate.  An effective rabbi not only surfs the tide but also steers the boat.  Many of this year’s contributors wisely reflected on social networking, collaborative management and disruptive innovation as important tools for the 21st century rabbinate.  What few seminaries do well, however, is teach rabbis how to innovate.  Rabbis who for centuries understood themselves as purveyors and guardians of tradition now also must mindfully cultivate innovation and the fertile conditions for innovation.  Innovation, however, is risky – and few rabbis (especially ones with contracts to keep or renew) were reared with inclination or skill to take effective risks in their spiritual roles.  At the same time, innovation must balance with continuity: change must connect smoothly to what came before, lest innovations be too much more revolution than evolution.  We must learn again to see all of Jewish tradition and halachah as developmental – always changing, backwards compatible with what came before, but leaning into present and future socioeconomic and psycho-spiritual experience.  In turn, seminaries must learn to teach halachah and tradition in ways that inculcate mastery of this evolutionary process, so that rabbis can steer through the tides of change rather than swim behind or get carried away in the current.  It follows that we must teach rabbis not less halachah but more – and more deeply, taught through this evolutionary lens.  Only then can tomorrow’s rabbis have the skill, knowledge and temperament to direct the flow of Jewish life compatibly with our enduring values.

 

 

The community rabbinate.  An effective rabbi in the 21st century is not limited to full-time jobs in synagogue, school or seminary.  Today we see rabbis serving in community centers, social justice advocacy, client services and industry – reflecting a yawning need for rabbinic tools in diverse social contexts, and thus a broadening of rabbinic roles to serve those needs.  Some of these roles are full-time with salaries comparable to synagogue compensation, but many are not.  At the same time, the 2013 Pew study shows quickening disaffiliation from Judaism’s non-Orthodox branches but simultaneous deepening of the private market for rabbinical services. These market shifts challenge today’s socioeconomics of becoming and serving as a rabbi.  The economic truth is that an increasing number of rabbis either want to serve part-time or need to serve part-time.  Thus, if rabbinic education is to remain sustainable for this growing cohort of rabbis, we must find ways not to shackle rabbis to educational debts too large to repay on the salaries they will earn.  The rabbinic path of student debt is all seminary and little soul, and is unsustainable for a profession already shifting on its foundations.  In this moment, we’d do well to remember that “rabbi” is first a calling, not a career: only in the 14th century did the rabbinic “career” begin to emerge.  In their day, Hillel was a woodchopper, Yochanan ben Zakkai was a businessman, Huna was a farmer who raised cattle, Chisda and Pappa were brewers, and Rambam was a physician.  When Talmud’s rabbis told us to “go out and see how the people are accustomed to act” (B.T. Berakhot 45a; Eruvin 14b), it was because they immersed themselves in the daily routines of community, having regular jobs and often struggling to make ends meet.  It may be time to go back to the future: we must not only make a fundraising priority of reducing the cost of rabbinic education, but also use technology and build inter-seminary alliances to scale teaching and cut costs.  These steps will not be easy, and they are not without risk, but the market will not allow seminaries to cling to the economic status quo for long.

 

 

Rabbinic education has reached a crossroads.  If we’re deeply honest, rabbis and seminarians must admit that we don’t really know where any path will lead.  Our future is so uncertain: Jewish and rabbinic life is changing under our feet.  The question is not whether we’ll do different: of course we will, because ultimately Jews always have.  Rather, the question is how we’ll do different.  We can either do different early, with enthusiasm and experimentation, leaping ahead of today’s shifts to vision tomorrow’s opportunities.  Or, we can do different late, kicking and screaming, dragged by the market and Jews voting with their feet, following rather than leading.  Let’s choose wisely – and soon – lest the choice be made for us.

 

Rabbi David Evan Markus is co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, co-rabbi of Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York, New York), and member of the Rabbinics and Spiritual Direction faculties of the ALEPH Ordination Programs.  He is a longtime public servant and serves on the faculties of Fordham and Pace Universities. He presently presides as Judicial Referee in New York Supreme Court, Ninth Judicial District.  He received dual smicha (ordination) as rabbi and mashpia ruchani (spiritual director) from ALEPH, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.P.P. from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a B.A. from Williams College.  Contact David at davidevanmarkus@gmail.com.

This post excerpts the author’s longer writing, “Seminary and Soul,” available here.

 

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.]

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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.

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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.

 

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©2016 Hayim Herring
 
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