Posts Tagged ‘High Holy Days’

 

Rabbis Who Declined Call with President Trump Were Faithful to their Calling

Posted on: September 15th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

Unlike the leaders of the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, the rabbinical heads of the Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform Movements declined to participate in a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call with President Trump this morning (JTA, Ron Kampeas, September 14). Clearly, this is a controversial decision, and there are good arguments to be made on both sides for reaching opposite conclusions. But here is why I believe that the movement leaders who decided not to participate acted faithfully.

 

Politically, we shouldn’t take for granted the exceptional relations that we have had with the White House in recent decades. After all, how frequently in Jewish history have we enjoyed such an embrace from the White House, and how different might modern Jewish history be had we possessed those relationships with European leaders before the outbreak of World War II?

 

But history has also shown that we ultimately gain the respect of powerful people when we maintain self-respect. In this case, I believe that means distancing ourselves for now from a President who has relentlessly demeaned and dehumanized a rather diverse group of people through reckless speech—one of those sins for which we ask God’s forgiveness on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. (And you have to admit that insulting such a broad array of individuals, from Senator John McCain to Khizir Kahn, a member of an American “Gold Star” family, whose son died in Iraq, while serving as a captain in the American military, indicates that many have been targets of President Trump’s acts of verbal shaming and insults.) We know from history, too, that verbal abuse sets the stage for physical violence. And we can reach far back into Biblical times for precedents of religious leaders confronting political power (for example, the Biblical prophet, Natan, confronting King David). Religious leaders can cause significant damage when they are seduced by proximity to political power. It can warp the very values that are supposed to guide their moral leadership, and that’s good reason to opt out of this presidential call.

 

In an earlier editorial, in The New York Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt, publisher, wrote that “Rabbis Should Confront Trump Head-On Over Charlottesville. Apply the lessons of Elul and Don’t Hang Up on the President”. He argued that rabbis who declined the call with President Trump were not applying one of the fundamental lessons of these holy days, namely, reproving someone who acts immorally (Leviticus 19:17). The question of when reproof is religiously mandated is complicated for several reasons. First, the general attitude in America about “judging” another is often, “if your behavior personally doesn’t hurt me, even if it offends others, I won’t bother you.” But that is not a Jewish value, and while Jewish textual sources on how and when the commandment to “reprove one’s neighbor” are varied and sometimes contradictory, one can legitimately read Jewish laws of rebuke as relating to situations in which the person at the receiving end is potentially amenable to change.

 

We can never know with certainty if even someone whose personality seems destined to provoke havoc won’t eventually change. But what we can expect is some consistency of steps toward honest efforts of change. When we see consistent, unambiguous efforts toward change, even though they will be imperfect, then we can consider whether a person is really open to engage in difficult dialogue. I won’t psychoanalyze President Trump, but I can ask for consistent indications in changed behavior that reflect modest insight into the hurt that he continues to inflict, even if those attempted changes are imperfect. Instead, what I have observed in the past few weeks is a continuing pattern of President Trump using his “bully pulpit” to verbally bully and shame others.

 

While there is time on these White House calls for some “limited engagement” with the president, this pre-High Holy Day call is designed to use rabbis as channels to communicate presidential good wishes locally before and during the holy days. At its best, it is a heartfelt gesture of good wishes from the president to the Jewish community. At its worst, this call can become a headline that will later be used as a reminder by the president of his support for the American Jewish community at a time when it’s convenient for him to do so.

 

Also, understand that there is disagreement within these movements about any public policy or symbolic statement that their leaders make, and that is true of this decision. A national rabbinic organization resembles a congregation in some ways, where members have different opinions about the wisdom of a decision of its leaders. But that’s what leaders, and especially rabbinic leaders, are called to do: use their best judgment of the facts at hand, distilled through their understanding of Jewish tradition, to make hard decisions.

 

I was not involved in the decision-making processes of those who refused the call, and I’m not acting on anyone’s behalf to defend it. But I do want to thank those rabbis who decided against participating in it. If the president is serious about deeper engagement with rabbis, there will be many opportunities for it in the coming months, and I know that my colleagues will actively seek them out and take the first steps to meet him more than halfway.

 

Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is an author, presenter and organizational futurist, and C.E.O. of HayimHerring.com which “prepares today’s leaders for tomorrow’s organizations.” ™  His latest book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World, co-authored with Dr. Terri Elton, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016.

lished by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016.

Making Emotional Sense of Money

Posted on: September 12th, 2014 by Hayim Herring

 

 

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.

If I Had a Pulpit… (And You’re Invited to a Webinar!)

Posted on: August 2nd, 2012 by Hayim Herring No Comments

hayim’s new book

Hayim’s New book: Tomorrow Synagogue Today

 

 

Imagine that it’s Rosh ha-Shanah and you’re about to give your sermon. You and your board have been working hard on fundamentally rethinking what it means to be a congregational community in the 21st century. And, now you have the ideal opportunity to share it.

You look confidently at the congregation, and in a tone that reflects your excitement (but masks your nervousness), speak from your heart and say:

I don’t need to spend much time outlining the issues confronting our society. They are many and serious. And one of the most frustrating challenges is that people on one side of an issue always seems more interested in proving that the other side is wrong than finding common ground. Maybe we can’t heal the world, but we can start with our congregational community and learn how to work together and make progress on some of these issues. And after much work, as professional staff and board members, here’s our vision for our congregational community:

Our community aspires to become a model of a perfected world. Drawing upon the Jewish tradition’s optimistic belief in the power of individuals and communities to change the world, every member of our congregation is invited to participate on his or her own terms with others who want to turn this aspiration into a reality. Our congregation is always open to ways to involve young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and secular, learned and just learning, committed and seeking to use their unique gifts to make our community and our world more perfect. By engaging in this work, always guided by our Jewish tradition, we create rewarding, purposeful relationships that remind us why the power of many is so much greater than the power of any one of us alone.

In order to work seriously on this mission, you and the board have concluded that the typical descriptions that apply to a congregation’s missions are inadequate. Worship, study, acts of kindness–tefilah, avodah and gemilut chasadim–these are all essential functions that will happen. After all, you are a synagogue! It’s just that they need to be reinterpreted and refocused in a way that aligns with what is both meaningful for people and still authentic to the Jewish tradition.

You lay out four centers around which your congregation will be reorganized:

  1. Healthy Living, which includes issues like diet, exercise, sustainable food production and cultivating a spiritual dimension to life;
  2. Rich Interpersonal Relationships, which includes teaching people to rediscover the difference between a Facebook connection and a face-to-face friendship, and engaging in learning and work that help deepen relationships with family, friends and fellow congregants;
  3. My Relationship to My Local Community, which focuses on working together to ameliorate significant local issues through the congregation; and,
  4. My Relationship to My Global Community, which encourages a cross-fertilization of learning on how Jewish communities in Israel and across the globe deal with a range of issues like care for the elderly, social justice and Jewish education. These are the kinds of issues that lend themselves to shared learning exchanges and potential joint action.

Without going into great detail, you also explain how, over time, board members, committee and staff will be reorganizing the congregation around these four centers of life. But, you emphasize that everyone has a role and a stake in this new enterprise, because it takes everyone’s talents and time to create a just, compassionate, caring world.

The work that you and the board have done is a bold effort to create a model for re-conceptualizing the purpose of a congregation today. And you, as the rabbi, have shaped the vision from your own theology. God gave us a world that was inherently good and that goodness is now at risk. But you believe in your core self that we have the power and responsibility to act as a community to begin restoring and investing in positive action in the world. We are charged as a Jewish community to use our influence for good and it’s time to step up and act more intentionally on this commandment.

You’ve concluded your sermon and one thing is clear – no one is napping during the sermon. You can almost visualize the thought bubbles above different congregants’ heads. One says, “What’s Jewish about this?” Then there was another one floating nearby that says, “Well, this makes me want to be Jewish so much!” Another one says, “Time to send the rabbi on a permanent vacation,” while the one next to it says, “Better extend the rabbi’s contract for a long time. We can’t afford to lose her!”

At this point, you’re unsure if you should discuss how this re-envisioning the community will affect how the work of the congregation is done. You decide to leave that for another time, but provide a hint: the congregation is no longer just a building. It’s a platform that supports the rapid mobilization of people to organize, explore and express how to claim their Jewish selves within these four centers of Jewish life.

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Prayer on Rosh ha-Shanah: Eternal or Eternally Long?

Posted on: July 21st, 2010 by Hayim Herring No Comments
They are only about seven weeks before Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish new year. We might refer to a synagogue during Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as a house of perpetual prayer. Imagine yourself sitting in the pews on parts of these days, for at least a few hours at a time. Overall, what has that experience felt like for you? Did you feel God’s presence or at least a sense of being part of something larger, more purposeful?  Did these experiences open up new insights into dimensions of your life that you don’t usually think about?
These aren’t only asked by those involved in the synagogue community ask; they are also questions that people of other faith traditions ask.  Just go to a recent blog post on The Alban Institute’s website, authored by Graham Standish, who asks: “Why Do We Worship The Way We Always Have Worshiped When People Keep Changing?” For many Americans raised and educated in our primarily secular culture, prayer is tough, regardless of your their faith tradition.
I encourage you to read the Standish’s full post and the comments on it. Here are some thought-provoking excerpts:
•“…what I think is paramount in a worship service [(is)]: encountering and experiencing God in a way that transforms us, even if just a little bit.
•Most generations approach worship differently from previous ones. They are not always looking to reinvent worship, but they are seeking a renewed sense of relevance to their context.
•Ultimately, the problem isn’t that each generation keeps changing. The problem is that as time passes congregations and their leaders forget to keep the focus of worship on the encounter with the Holy.
•Being intentional means…asking whether what we are offering actually connects members of each generation with the Holy. It means asking a simple question: Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?
Prayer, as currently presented, works for some people. And we know that good music, participation, less Hebrew or more Hebrew (depending upon the makeup of the congregation), a little meditation, teaching the meaning and the melodies—these tactics can enrich prayer, but they mask Standish’s question, “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?”
While we have some time before Rosh ha-Shanah, please answer Standish’s question: “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?” And more importantly, what can you do so that your congregation can answer this question with a resounding “yes”?
Thanks, in advance, for your reflections,
Rabbi Hayim Herring

There are only about seven weeks before Rosh ha-Shanah, the Jewish new year. We might refer to a synagogue during Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur as a house of perpetual prayer. Imagine yourself sitting in the pews on parts of these days, for at least a few hours at a time. Overall, what has that experience felt like for you? Did you feel God’s presence or at least a sense of being part of something larger, more purposeful?  Did these experiences bring insights into dimensions of your life that you don’t usually think about?

These aren’t only asked by those involved in the synagogue community; they are also questions people of other faith traditions ask.  Just go to a recent blog post on The Alban Institute’s website, authored by Graham Standish, who asks: “Why Do We Worship The Way We Always Have Worshiped When People Keep Changing?” For many Americans raised and educated in our primarily secular culture, prayer is tough, regardless of your their faith tradition.

I encourage you to read the Standish’s full post and the comments on it. Here are some thought-provoking excerpts:

Prayer, as currently presented, works for some people. And we know that good music, participation, less Hebrew or more Hebrew (depending upon the makeup of the congregation), a little meditation, teaching the meaning and the melodies—these tactics can enrich prayer, but they mask Standish’s question, “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?”

While we have some time before Rosh ha-Shanah, please answer: “Do people encounter the Holy in our worship services?” What can you do so that your congregation can answer this question with a resounding “Yes”?

Thanks, in advance, for your reflections,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

flickr.com trodel

And the Results Are…Your Suggestions for High Holy Day Sermon Topics

Posted on: August 26th, 2009 by Hayim Herring 14 Comments

I promised that I would report back on the recommended sermon topics for this Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. In no special order and with a little editing, here they are:

Additionally, here are a few other ideas I’ve seen floating around various list serves:

And, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky suggests that rabbis should avoid speaking about:

I hope that the words you hear (or speak) will have the power to help close the gap between our current actions and our aspirations for the new year.

L’shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Hayim Herring

What’s the most important sermon for rabbis to give this new year? Add your opinion!

Posted on: August 20th, 2009 by Hayim Herring 3 Comments

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the beginning of a month-long, intensive period of spiritual preparation for Rosh ha-Shanah. If you’re a rabbi, you probably have some good ideas by now about what your sermon ideas will be on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. But, speaking from experience, there’s still time for one or two more to make it into your sermon. If you’re a congregant, in a few weeks, you might be asking, “What is the rabbi going to speak about this year?”

The sanctuary or chapel may not be so full during weekly Shabbat services, but it’s packed on these holidays. Rabbis have an annual opportunity to reach large numbers of their congregants during these days. One message may not change a life, but it can draw people into greater Jewish involvement—or, it can move them further from it. So, rabbis especially feel the weight of the responsibility and opportunity to reach for deep impact with their sermons at this time, and congregants who primarily come to services infrequently hope for words that are meaningful and relevant for them.

So, here are two timely questions for readers of Tools for Shuls:

  1. What issues are most important for rabbis to address this year in their Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur sermons?
  2. What topics should they avoid?

Whether you’re a rabbi or a congregant, please contribute your ideas. I’ll share the responses in the next post, which will appear this coming Monday.

Thanks!

Rabbi Herring