Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sharing a little love

Here's a nice article about my colleague and PEER classmate (Cohort 3) Jeremy Winaker reinterpreting the day of Yom Kippur with discussions between classes and services at University of Delaware. As my buddy Dan Plotkin said, it's always nice to see a familiar face in the papers!

And if you're looking for my High Holy Day Sermons: Rosh Hashanah (both evening and morning) have been up; Yom Kippur's sermons should be up soon. Hope you had a meaningful fast and are sealed for blessing in the book of life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sound familiar?

So my old buddy David Nicol, who's also a preacher man AND the son of a preacher man posted this link to his Facebook page. It asks the question whether people who are spiritually dissatisfied with their faith community bear any responsibility for their dissatisfaction. While discussed from a Christian (specifically, Methodist) perspective, a lot of what's described here should sound familiar, especially on the idea of the 'consumer mentality' that many enter religious life with--we come (as the article says) as clients to have our needs met, rather than coming to enter a reciprocal relationship with community (and its constituents) with specific goals (beyond 'having a relationship with God'--would 'giving the kids a Jewish education' be our equivalent?).

Now, this isn't to playa hate; I think a lot of us are 'seekers' who come to community, sometimes to get our 'ticket stamped', sometimes because we're not really sure what we're looking for, and because we don't have the language to articulate our needs or wants, or because the community also doesn't have the vocabulary to share its narrative with its congregants in a meaningful way, people leave faith communities and no one is really sure of why. Reasons are given: cost, kids graduating, no longer active, etc., but at the end of the day, I think the article makes a strong point that for any of this to work, it needs to be like any other healthy relationship--that is, something that is worked at by both parties. We as a congregation (and its professional and lay leadership) must articulate clearly who we are and what we're about, and provide a framework for people (Jews and non-Jews who would choose to be a part of the community) to identify and explore their own spirituality (and I would add, their own sense of commandedness).

So, with Yom Kippur less than 24 hours away, how do you want to take ownership of your half of the relationship? Or, to put it another way, what are your spiritual (or if you prefer, 'mitzvah-dik') goals for this year? Not New Year's resolutions per se; I mean specifically where you'd like your soul/being/personhood to grow and develop?

Something more to think about, and hopefully distract you from images of Five Guys Hamburgers tomorrow night and Monday.

On another note: a big thanks to everyone who helped make Rosh Hashana as wonderful as it was, and those who are going to make Yom Kippur incredible. People have been wonderful generous with me and very loving, which I deeply appreciate, and it's been wonderful to be able to celebrate the holidays with my family in a way we haven't been able to do since the mid-90s. So that's nice.

And easy fast to you all (and yes, I'm going to wish you that, despite what the Reform Movement blog is saying), and may we all find ourselves inscribed for good in the Book of Life.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shana Tova!

OK: the cues are run through, I've proofread my sermons (and will probably miss some typos), and am otherwise ready for these High Holidays.

Rosh Hashanah in a new congregation is very exciting and daunting. For many folks this will be my first time meeting them. It will be different for all of us, and I hope a positive experience. It's a wonderful way to start the new year, but also a lot of responsibility. I've gotten some really terrific feedback in my first couple of months, and I hope this allows us to continue the conversations as we move forward this year.

I'm blessed that I'll get to have my whole family together for the holidays this year, for the first time since I was in High School. At the same time, I'll be missing friends I've made over the years who are celebrating at other communities.

May this year be a good, a healthy and a sweet New Year for all of us; one that realizes its promise and potential.

On a related note: I'll be on The Rabbi Speaks again this Sunday at 9am (ish). Click the link for the live stream the day of. A little sermon on Teshuvah (though less timely than it could have been) for the second day of the holiday (or the day after, if that's your thing).

Shana tova!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Zecher Tzaddik Livracha

Fred Gottschalk was already retired from the presidency of Hebrew Union College when I entered rabbinic school, but it's hard not to feel his legacy in much of the college institute--in scholarship, in its egalitarian values, in its work with the non-Jewish faith community and relationship to Israel. His passing marks the end of an era for the Reform Movement and Judaism as a whole.

May his memory of righteousness be a blessing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th

It's been 8 years since September 11th, and it's still not a normal day. It's become an unofficial memorial day of sorts, but there's no name for it, save the date. While many of us go on with our day 'ka-ragil' (as normal), plenty of us are reflecting today on the lives lost in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC, as well as those that have been lost in the long struggle against extremism since then, those lost in just cause and unjust cause.

Today isn't a day for politics, but reflection, so I'll point you two the Reform Movement's page recalling that day nearly 3000 days ago, nearly 1 day for each life lost (as President Obama said).

And while we're talking, here's the President at the memorial at the Pentagon today.

Zichronam livracha: may their memories continue as a blessing for us all.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

MASA Interfaith update

Just got this email from my friend Dr. E. Dankner, who's very active (and has been for YEARS) at ARZA, as well as other committees and boards in the Reform Movement:

Not twenty four hours have passed since I sent my e-mail to you all. Somehow my e-mails to you and ARZA Leadership [and those from others more important than I am] got to Alan Hoffman in the Soch'nut, the Jewish Agency, and I have received a personal letter from them. If you go to the MASA website now, the offensive streaming ad and the video are gone so, if you haven't already seen them, you thankfully no longer can.

It is hard to believe that I have spent most of this great weekend attached to a computer and on the phone, but it was worth it.

I guess that "Yes, we can" covers lots of situations.

Here's her previous email as well:

Do you know what MASA is? Their website states: " MASA enables young Jews from all over the world to spend a semester to a year in Israel on any of over 160 programs. " http://www.masaisrael.org/masa/english/. Now look at the streaming picture near the top on this web site. It is MASA's latest very aggressive ad campaign targeting "Jews "abducted' by intermarriage." It shows these people as though they are missing-like putting our missing children posters on milk cartons. "As part of the campaign, similar ‘missing person’ notices will be plastered on walls around the country." The web site on which I originally saw this article is:

Special issue: New MASA Israel ad campaign targets Jews 'abducted' by intermarriage.


In the article the following is buried:

"MASA is a project of the government of Israel, the Jewish Agency of Israel, and made possible through the generous support of the United Jewish Communities, the Federations of North America, and Keren Hayesod - UIA."

This means that your donations through organizations that fund the Jewish Agency for Israel, JAFI, support this campaign. I am outraged at what I perceive as a new attack on Reform and Conservative Judaism (as well as the other streams), not to mention you or your children.

Please read the articles. They are short. If you are outraged as I am after you read them, I urge you to respond to Alan Hoffman at "Hoffmann,Alan" <Alanh@jafi.org>.

And looking at Ha'aretz yesterday, it looks like they've dropped the campaign.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tone Deaf much?

So the Jewish Agency and MASA have a new ad campaign designed to combat intermarriage. Haaretz newspaper calls it a 'scare' tactic working to prevent the 'loss' of assimilated Jews by having Israelis work on their friends from other countries.

Now, I appreciate the idea of getting Israeli Jews to think about what's going on in the greater Jewish world and engage in the work of preserving a strong diaspora, but with a roughly 50% intermarried rate in the United States (at least according to the Jewish Population Survey and subsequent surveys), doesn't the idea of describing intermarried Jews as 'abducted' (again, from the Haaretz article) seem a bit...harsh?

No doubt, the realities of intermarriage are challenging, both on the micro level (how does a nuclear family navigate issues of holidays, life cycle, values, etc. without offending the extended families) and the macro (how do we as a Jewish community engage interfaith couples and families meaningfully and sensitively?). Steven Cohen, in a paper he wrote a few years ago (and presented at the CCAR just before publication) makes it clear that the normal tools used to encourage Jewish affiliation simply don't work for this cohort, but we as rabbis have a very clear opportunity to be 'gateways' into Jewish practice for both the Jewish and non-Jewish partners. These are not 'lost' Jews (as Cohen reports toward the end, most of those who intermarry report positive feelings about being Jewish), and need not only appreciation and attention from the Jewish community but also to be steered toward the resources and tools that will help them to make good choices.

Perhaps I'm making too much out of nothing and this is a good campaign that understands its (largely Israeli) audience, but it seems to me that it's better to engage interfaith families (or as one woman described it to me, "Jewish famililes with a non-Jewish parent"), find points of contact and expanding from there, all the while (as Cohen argues) making sure our youth take advantage of all the resources available to them (day school, camp, Israel trips, youth group, etc.). Yes, it would be fantastic to have Israeli Jewish society engaging in this conversation as well, but I'm not sure I want this to be their starting point.