Thursday, March 18, 2010

We're so sad to see you go.

Hadn't done any maintenance in a while (not that this little corner of the interwebs requires much maintenance), but I noticed that the Co-Stars blog had been essentially turned off, its content removed. I'm really sorry to see it go; STAR was an amazing organization filled with really committed people and while the programs they ran (Synaplex, PEER, Good to Great) are either gone or transformed, I suspect what they were promoting will have long lasting influences on my generation of rabbis and volunteers.

In the meantime, I've added a new blog, my friend Ilan Emmanuel as the Sci-Fi Rabbi. As a pretty hardcore sci-fi nerd (friend 1: "Kirk was the first captain of the Enterprise, right?" Friend 2: "no, it was Christopher Pike." Me:"...actually, it was Robert April." Yes, I know these things.) and as someone interested in how good science fiction intersects with Jewish tradition viz. storytelling, I'm curious to see how this all unfolds.

On a totally different note, I shlepped back up to Shir Ami in Newtown today to bring a convert to Mikveh. It's one of my favorite rituals and it's always a joy to welcome someone into Jewish tradition (he had already completed beit din and hatafat dam brit, or the drop of blood required for those who are already circumcised) but it was an added bonus to be able to say hello and catch up, even briefly, with the people I worked with--and still consider my friends. I was glad to see what was the same and glad to see what was different (I still can't get over the new carpet in the religious school wing, though. Nice), and just left happy (albeit rushed to make my next appointment) and with a sense of really being blessed to do amazing work with such amazing people. And then I hit Philadelphia traffic. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tweet the Exodus

Okay, so my friends Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, Rabbi Jon Blake and Rabbi Oren Hayon (among others) are Tweeting the Exodus. About a month late, but really, would you rather they tweet Leviticus? ("#getthisbloodoffmyrobe") You should be checking it out. So there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The end of the tour

So last week I was at the CCAR conference in San Francisco. I LOVE these things (I've only missed one--last year's--since my ordination in 2003, and that was because of my transition and my senior rabbi's sabbatical. And laziness). I love the study, the camaraderie of being with colleagues, catching up with friends, and seeing the city (it helped that my wife was able to come to this one--thank God for inlaws!).

It was neat meeting the new ordainees (last year's class) and spending some time with them. The new colleagues I met had a very positive vibe and terrific energy, and there were probably as many of them as my class. It was wonderful being with classmates (both from the Israel year and who were ordained with me), especially with many of us either in our first year in a new place or about to transition to one. I even enjoy the plenaries (I know, right?). And, frankly, it was great seeing colleagues I don't necessarily plan on connecting with. First day of a conference is a lot like Trafalgar Square; stand in one place long enough and you'll see EVERYONE.

Not much of this conference was particularly controversial. Study, obviously (or maybe not). We rewrote our governance rules and revised our ethics code (which either will make a difference or was the rearranging of the deck chairs, depending on who you talked to), talked about the future of placement and the conference within the larger context of the Reform Movement. Oh, and we talked a little about intermarriage.

The report from the Taskforce on Intermarriage was a long time coming. A little history; while the conference essentially discouraged the practice of reform rabbis officiating at a ceremony of a Jew and a non-Jew in 1973, there have been voices to mitigate that stricture, including a reaffirmation in the 1980s that still put out guidelines for those rabbis who would choose to officiate, resolutions embracing converts, non-Jews, the children of 'mixed' marriages (to use the old term) etc. When the Taskforce was formed, there was a concern in the Conference that its mission was to rescind the previous resolutions and open up the possibility for (or even require) officiation.

Instead, recognizing that to decide such a personal choice so aggressively would alienate one or the other half the Conference, they chose to build consensus. For some, that means they didn't go far enough. For others, I'm sure, there is a sense that they went too far. In my case, they were just right.

I'm not going to discuss the issue of officiation now (yeah, I know, I'm chicken). Suffice to say in this moment that it's something I'm always struggling with and I have enormous respect both for colleagues who don't and colleagues who do under certain circumstances, and have come to their positions with thoughtfulness and a sense of kedusha. What's more important, for me, is the sense of creating a welcoming atmosphere. To embrace and bless couples on the bimah regardless of religious orientation (or any kind of orientation, for that matter), to open up the possibility for conversion at any time for those who would choose to affiliate, creating opportunities to celebrate those non-Jews who raise their children in Jewish community and create Jewish households, providing programming and education for those who would want it, both for those in so-called 'interfaith' relationships and those whose children are in those relationships, are not only paramount and critical for a congregation, to me at least, they're no brainers. Not because they'll boost membership, but because ethically and spiritually they're the right thing to do.

This past week we celebrated a bat mitzvah of a girl who's great-grandmother (thank God, still living), grandmother, and father all grew up at Beth Emeth. Four generations of this family stood on the bimah together, passing the Torah from generation to generation. But something else happened as well; the mother of this girl, herself not Jewish but active in the Jewish upbringing of both her daughters, who knows the service probably as well as anyone in the congregation, stood on that bimah as well. She participated in that ritual of passing the Torah to her daughter. She read the parents' prayer that she and her husband had written. She stood proudly next to her daughter as she read from Torah, a smile full of pride and emotion beaming from her face. Perhaps those are controversial choices, to have her participate in this service. For me as a rabbi, as a Jew, as a parent, it was a no-brainer.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Been a long time since I rock & rolled

Sorry for the delay in posting. I've had a lot on my mind, and while I know the whole point behind these intranets-type things is to just SAY what's on my mind, I wanted to kind of chew on it for a while.

One of the things that's been on my mind lately is last Tuesday's adventure. Last week, Rabbi Beals from Beth Shalom and I hopped in his car and took a spin down to Dover, along with most of the other rabbis and lay-leaders of the Jewish community of Delaware. Why? Because Jack Markell, the first Jewish governor of the First State, was hanging a mezuzah at Woodburn (see the press release here). I've been trying to process the experience ever since.

First, let me explain that, as official state events go, this was pretty low-key, even intimate. Woodburn is a lovely colonial home right on the King's Highway, and while I'm sure there was security present, we basically parked the car on the street and walked right in. It feels as historical as you might imagine, with the official silver on display, portraits of all the first ladies of the state, a fire burning in the fireplace, and most everything having some kind of plaque on it. And despite that fact, the space itself was really quite warm. It helped that we all knew each other (more on that in a minute) but there really was this sense that we were hanging a mezuzah at someone's home, not at an official event.

Of course, part of that was because this was meant to be a low-key, quasi-official event. Governor Markell is as authentic a person as you can have, an appropriate governor for a state where, as Delaware magazine put it, you don't have six degrees of separation, but more like two or three. He's thoughtful, friendly, at ease and really very much himself. Though some of that might have been from being in a room full of friends (he and his family have been active in the Jewish community in Wilmington for decades) I'd like to think that's really just who he is. He talked about what it meant for the people's house to become a home for him and his family, what it meant to hang a mezuzah on the door (and an outside door to boot), and how he wished his dad were there to share in the achievement (he had passed away in recent memory).

For me, what really contributed to that sense of intimacy was the fact that the ENTIRE Jewish community of the state was represented. Not just the rabbi from Dover, or Governor Markell's rabbi (though it was Rabbi Grumbacher's privilege to officiate) or the head of Federation or of the Rabbinic Association; nearly every rabbi was present, as well as most of the lay leadership of the whole state. It is truly an amazing thing to be able to stand in a room with the entirety of a community represented, and know (with a great deal of pride) that we all get along. Certainly, we have our differences, but we really have none of the strive or divisiveness that can come from being in such close quarters. The rabbis get along, the synagogues get along, and we talk to each other. The fact that all the shuls in Delaware go dark so we can worship together in one place once a year speaks volumes of the values of this community, as did our being there in Woodburn last week on a rainy afternoon.

I know I keep harping on that sense of intimacy, but it really was striking, especially considering where we were. Delaware's anti-semitic history isn't so far in the past as to be forgotten; plenty of people remember the days when Jews weren't allowed in the country clubs, to hold high positions either in government or at the more prestigious places of employment. I've been shown deeds to homes (built in the 20th century mind you) that explicitly state that no Jews should ever own them. Even when we were house hunting, we came upon an older ranch that I was sure had been owned by Jews. Sure enough, we found the mezuzah--on the back door, hidden from view. So to be standing there in a house where, not too long ago, the idea of a Jew occupying it (never mind both the governorship and the lieutenant-governorship) was beyond imagination, and watch as that governor affixes a mezuzah to his own front doorpost was truly an awesome moment, in the literal sense of the word.

Rabbi Steve Saks from Adas Kodesh said it best when he remarked that to hang a mezuzah on one's door was an act of courage; it is a sign to other Jews that this is a place of familiarity and safety, but also exposes the Jew to whatever bigotry might be present in that community. To hang such an object on the People's House one week before Purim, a holiday where we commemorate our triumph over ancient hatreds and suspicions, is an act of audacity and courage. What's more it makes this mansion for the Governor truly a home, and a House for ALL the people. I'm still amazed and in wonder that I got to be present for this piece of history.