Posts Tagged ‘Rosh ha’Shanah’

 

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.

Rosh Hashanah 2016

Posted on: September 23rd, 2016 by Hayim Herring No Comments

From “Who shall live and who shall die?” to “How to live and how to die”

What does it mean to be human? It’s a simple question, with unclear and unsettling answers. “Faster than the speed of light” is a phrase that can equally apply to outer space travel as well as to the state of the velocity of change in our lives. Compared to ten years ago, how frequently do you find yourself saying, “I used to understand the world, but these days I longer do?” That’s because we’re headed into new territory: as individuals, as members of particular families and faith communities, and as members of the broader family of humanity. Rosh ha-Shanah celebrates the birthday of humanity. In that spirit of celebration, I offer some questions that transcend current political divides and refocus our attention on some shared assumptions of what it means to be human, how those might be changing, and how we can navigate some of these changes.

kudu_horn_shofar_highlights-e1474138750808

 

Work and worth. Some people strongly dislike their work and curse it as a burden, and Judaism commands us to rest one day each week so that we can maintain some balance in our lives. But in the first half of the verse that mentions Shabbat, we’re also commanded to work: “Six days you shall work…” (Exodus 20: 9). In Judaism, work provides opportunities for us to be a blessing to others and better the world through it. So even if your work sometimes feels like a “curse,” what will happen to our identities and communities when increasingly significant numbers of “white collar” professionals will be automated out of a job? That has already happened to many honorable “blue collar” workers, with devastating effects. If persistent economic volatility continues to be the new norm, what resources do we need to put into place to help many people from all walks of life structure time purposefully, as they will not have the traditional support of the structure of work?

Redefining Reality. What will happen when instead of venturing outside to experience reality, we can snap on inexpensive miniaturized headgear and exchange it for virtual reality? Will we retreat further into our personal spaces and individual selves, diminishing interactions with other people and places, or be stimulated to physically venture forth to new places after visiting them virtually, and open ourselves up to the world?

Algorithms or Spiritual Rhythms? What will it mean when all of our devices, vehicles and appliances are having connected “conversations” with one another behind our backs (that is, without our awareness)? Will digitally generated algorithms that “suggest” choices that are similar to our prior history of shopping, entertainment and web browsing cause our spiritual attributes of curiosity, serendipitous wandering into new interests, and stumbling upon ideas that enliven our spiritual selves to atrophy?

Empathy or Apathy? How will we learn to develop deep relationships with others when we no longer make eye contact, forget how to read their feelings, and intuit the impact of our words and actions on them because we look down at a screen instead of up at the person before us? (Recommended reading on this topic by a leading expert: Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle, whom I credit for this thought.)

Fluid Gender Identity. Today, individuals who need to claim their true gender identity can do so by undergoing the complex process of gender reassignment, and there is growing acceptance of gender as a dynamic, changeable, social construct. In the future, will more people elect to undergo gender reassignment because they want the experience of living multiple-gendered lives? This is a plausible question, too, if we look to the history of other required medical procedures that began as “life-saving,” and were later commercialized for massive profit by designating them as “elective.” For example, cosmetic surgery was initially developed to help soldiers heal from disfiguring gun shot wounds that left them in physical pain and social isolation. Today, a recent Global Cosmetic Surgery and Marketing Report estimates that the industry currently generates “over $20 billion and is set to rise to over $27 billion by 2019.” If gender identity reassignment surgery follows typical paths of rates of adoption of innovations, and significant numbers of individuals elect to have it, what effect will it have on their relationships with family, friends and people in their social and professional networks?

The Fragility of Community. When social media provide everyone with loud, amplified voices, how do we maintain communities in which we are able to listen to one another? As we begin to accept that shouting people down is an acceptable response to disagreement, how can we hold on to the richness of heterogeneous communities? Ask almost any clergy person today to state a major concern about the future, and he or she will soon express anxiety about the fragility of community.

The Exposed Self. How do we maintain our dignity once our digital lives have been hacked, violated, bullied, or exposed to the world in some other way? When someone without authorization has exposed our private lives to the world, how does that feeling of personal violation affect our trust in others for the long-term?

Creating Sustained, Meaningful, Multi-generation Contact. What does community look like when there are already four generations of people alive in large numbers (and in the near-term future, soon to be five if medical scientists are correct in their predictions about aging and longevity)? How do we create places in society where sustained, meaningful, multi-generational relationships can develop, and wisdom and experience can flow up and down, across generations? What are the new supports, structures and organizations that we need, or existing ones that we need to retool, to accommodate this reality?

We’re certainly not the first generation to feel like vast changes are redefining our most fundamental assumptions of what it means to be human. The projected future convergence of digital technologies, disruptive leaps in biomedical and social sciences, and our willingness to choose behaviors and lifestyles that often wind up owning us, has arrived. Increasingly, wherever I travel, I hear from friends, family and acquaintances that we always seem to be heading into unmapped territory. We’re like the Biblical Israelites on their way out of Egypt, moving toward a promised land, with a big stretch of menacing wilderness that they first had to traverse. In one episode when Pharaoh is considering allowing the enslaved Israelites a limited release from slavery, Moses counters with a response that captures today’s zeitgeist. He explains that he must take everything with him into the wilderness, without conditions, for, “We don’t know what we’re going to need to serve (God) until we get there” (Exodus 10:26).

That’s more than a cagy negotiating tactic. Moses expresses a truth about how to prepare for an unknown future. Because it’s impossible to know what we’ll need for an unprecedented stage of life personally and collectively, the only preparation that can guarantee our future is to commit to travel together as a community. As a part of a community, we contribute our collective caring, insights, intuitions and inspiration that enable us to navigate uncertainty.

Rosh ha-Shanah allows us the time to look back on who we are in order to better see our way forward. If we have understood being created in God’s image as including the capacities to have deep relationships, to contribute productively to the world, to listen and love one another not despite but because of our differences, what is the work that we have to do today to ensure that these traces of Divinity continue to define our humanity? Personally, I’d rather hear sermons on Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur about these kinds of ultimate issues that are not set in some far away galaxy, but have begun to arrive, than conjectures on current politics which, as important as this presidential election is, distract us from much more urgent considerations.

Cross posted to eJewish Philanthropy

Rosh Ha-Shana Circa 2015

Posted on: August 13th, 2015 by Hayim Herring

 

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…)

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.

What Life Holds in Store for Us

Posted on: September 11th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

Have you ever have one of those, “Something must be in the water moments” – you know, those times when independently, a group of people seem to be talking about the same thing? That’s what happened to me right before Rosh Hashanah. I went to see a good friend and colleague of mine, Rabbi Norman Cohen, to wish him a shana tova. Naturally, I asked him what he was planning to speak about on the holidays. Norman said that he was speaking about a line from the liturgy, “Do not cast us out in our old age, at the time when our strength fails us, do not abandon us.”

 

I was astonished because a few days before, I had lunch with my mentor and rabbi, Kass Abelson. He is Rabbi Emeritus of Beth El Congregation in Minneapolis, where I served with him for ten years. He still gives a sermon on Rosh Hashanah (he estimated that he has been doing so for 60 years give or take – certainly an accomplishment that should be in the Guinness Book of Records). He also was speaking on the same line! That’s when I had my first surprise, because I was in the middle of writing a blog post titled, “Don’t confuse old with obsolete,” based on that very prayer!

 

Fast-forward now to my meeting with Rabbi Cohen…That was when I had that, “There must be something in the water that we’re drinking” moment. All three of us, at different ages and stages of life, decided to write about the experience of the increasing number of elderly people in our society, and the difficulties, challenges and blessings of this reality. And that same text informed our thoughts on how we relate both to the relatively well elderly and the more frail elderly.

 

With their permission, I have included Rabbi Abelson’s and Rabbi Cohen’s sermons and my most recent post in one PDF, which is available for you to download. I know that if the three of us are have been thinking about these issues it’s likely that many more people must be as well. You can use these resources:

 

 

Make all of us be sealed in the book of life and good health in this new year.

 

Don’t Mistake Old for Obsolete

Posted on: August 28th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

 

Certain words can evoke powerful emotionally biased images, but our mental perceptions of these words are often far from their realities. For example, not long ago, we thought of people with special needs as “disabled,” thereby justifying how we maintained barriers that distanced ourselves from them. Labeling people as “disabled” masked their abilities, but today because of greater inclusion and a change in language to special needs, we’re all the much richer as a community.

 

Here’s another word than can evoke the kind of dread that often makes us erect emotional walls around people: cancer. Talk with people who have been diagnosed with cancer or some other life threatening disease, and you’ll often hear how their friends cease connecting with them. It’s as if the word “cancer” still conjures up a picture of an imminently terminally ill person lying in a hospital bed, even though that person may live a meaningful life for months and years. Our images of words lag behind their realities because of major changes in technology, medicine and societal values. And that’s equally true of the world “old.”

 

“Old”-frail, chronically ill, forgetful, dependent, disoriented and declining… sadly, that is experience of some of our elderly population. A line in a prominent prayer recited on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur addresses this portion of the elderly population: “(God), do not cast us out when we are old, do not abandon us when our strength fails.” When you’ve lived a long life, it’s cruel to be metaphorically placed on a shelf and only dusted off from time to time like some museum relic.

 

מפני שיבה תקום

A sign in Israel quoting Leviticus 19:32 stating that one should give up their seat for the elderly.

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The Trial of Abraham on YouTube

Posted on: August 14th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

I’ve enjoyed working with Beth El Congregation in Akron, Ohio as they face some exciting, unprecedented opportunities. They’re worth paying attention to because some very wise leaders in the congregation and at the Federation (Jewish Community Board of Akron) worked to relocate the congregation inside of the JCC. I don’t mean on the campus of the JCC, but literally inside of the JCC –but that’s a story for another day.

 

Today, I highlight Beth El for its creative use of YouTube to build congregational participation on the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah. And if you’ve been in any Conservative synagogue on the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah, you know that you can usually find a choice seat! The reality is that many American Jews outside of the Orthodox community don’t feel the need for a second day of experiencing what they already did the day before.

Beth-El-Synagogue Akron Ohio

Beth El Congregation in Akron

 

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Your Record is Now Permanent

Posted on: February 16th, 2012 by Hayim Herring 1 Comment
Footprint in the sand

Photo by manuel cazzaniga on Fotopedia

The death of Whitney Houston is a very sad event. From scenes of her singing in a gospel choir as a teen to recent television interviews-so much of her life has been laid bare in public. There is an incredible amount about her that is permanently available to the world.

This intense week of coverage made me reconsider a phrase from the Rosh ha-Shanah Musaf prayer: “Under Your gaze, all hidden things come to light…For nothing is forgotten before the throne of Your glory, and nothing is hidden from Your eyes” (Musaf Amidah, Koren Sacks Rosh ha-Shanah Mahzor). This is what we say about God, but now we, too, have the technology to make so much of our lives available to the public for anyone to view.

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Bringing the Torah to Life: A Tale of Technology

Posted on: September 15th, 2009 by Hayim Herring 1 Comment

I recently learned from Elaine Kleinmann, a former STAR consultant, about how her rabbi is using technology in a very simple way to help his congregants prepare for Rosh ha-Shanah.  While this was done for Elul, it could be adapted to work with any holiday.  With thanks to both of them, I’m sharing it with you.

– Rabbi Hayim Herring

Elaine writes:

Rabbi Neil Kurshan of the Huntington Jewish Center in Huntington, Long Island, NY, started a lead up to Shabbat called “Torah Teasers”.  These are emails based on the parasha of the week, and raise questions which elicit responses that do not require additional knowledge of the Torah to answer.  The emails are sent to all those who had requested to be on his listserve, and it is a way to engage people and tie the Torah into personal experience.  Participants can then respond to the entire network. On Shabbat morning, in lieu of a sermon, Rabbi Kurshan gives some background of the parasha, raises the questions again with the congregation, asks for responses, and shares some responses from the listserve.  Following the give and take, he uses that opportunity to share his learning and perspective.

He sent a new request this summer to all those who are on his Torah Teaser listserve. He asked to “be able to share with all of you during the month of Elul some of the experiences that make Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur meaningful for all of us… just a paragraph about a High Holiday experience that was particularly meaningful for you.  It can be an experience from your childhood or from more recent years.  It can be an experience at services, within your family, in your home or from anything else connected with the holidays.  I just want you to describe in some detail the experience–what happened and what it meant to you.  I would then like to share these experiences during the days of Elul with the online community in our shul that makes up our Torah Teasers network.”

As a member of this network, I have been receiving these responses since Elul began.  One is about blowing the shofar, one from someone who underwent a health crisis in the past year, one was about childhood memories of Rosh HaShanah dinner, and one from someone who had moved (with her nuclear family but away from her birth family), and had her first encounter  at our synagogue on the high holidays. Rabbi Kurshan’s request  inspired and motivated me to write about my Russian born father, his ambivalence about Judaism in general and Yom Kippur specifically, and the irony of his death occurring a few hours before Kol Nidre 18 years ago.

Image from Flickr, Alexander Smolianitski