3/26Just got into the hotel, sadly too late to register. Got to fly down with a ‘certainty’ of rabbis (as Peter Sagal insisted was the technical term for a plurality of rabbis), including William Kuhn, Peter Rigler, Eric Wisnia, Carolyn Bricklin and Andrea Weiss. Looking forward to catching up with more colleagues tomorrow!3/27
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
"“There’s no anti. It’s all pro,” he said. “Nothing Jewish is alien to us. Reform Judaism is an evolving and profound expression of the Jewish tradition. Its essence is to respond to the call of God and to the imperatives of the day.”"“We want to make exciting synagogues the norm,” he said. “Synagogues cannot wait for people to walk into their buildings. The synagogue has to walk into the public square and engage people, particularly Jews in their 20s and 30s. People still crave and need a deep sense of community.”
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Including Jews With Financial ChallengesBy Paul Golin / March 24, 2011
This article originally appeared at E Jewish Philanthropy.
At any given time, the majority of US Jewish households are not affiliated with Jewish institutions like synagogues or JCCs. There are many reasons why, perhaps the most important being that the organized community hasn’t made a strong enough case for the meaning and value of being affiliated. There’s a subset of the unaffiliated, however, who already understand the meaning and value – or who, like most affiliated households, simply want or need the services provided – but do not affiliate because of their own personal financial situations. And the size of this subset has likely grown during the recent Great Recession. What can the Jewish community do to make sure that a financial challenge is not the reason keeping an individual from affiliating?
During the past decade, we at the Jewish Outreach Institute have conducted “environmental scans” of over 500 Jewish institutions in more than a dozen Jewish communities of all sizes, to determine how each looks to potential newcomers. On the issue of financial accessibility, models vary widely but the most common remains a set membership or fee, usually dependent upon household structure, often with accommodations made for age or current lifecycle (for example, most institutions have come to recognize that young adults in their 20s can’t join at the same financial level as their parents).
For others with financial challenges, there is almost universal agreement among Jewish communal professionals that their organizations will make accommodations. However, how that actually works is in no way uniform and in fact represents a serious barrier to participation. In most organizations, those accommodations are not advertised in any way – the impetus is on the financially-challenged to ask for assistance. It is safe to assume that for every individual who does ask, there are many more that don’t, either out of shame or simply because they were unaware it was even an option.
This challenge is currently being addressed by the Big Tent Judaism Coalition, an advocacy initiative coordinated by the Jewish Outreach Institute of over 450 organizations seeking a more inclusive community, in a campaign called, “There’s No Shame In Asking.”
We timed the campaign around Purim because we imagined what the hero of the story, Esther, must have experienced before approaching her husband the king to disclose a piece of her identity that she had previously kept private. She must have feared rejection or being made to feel ashamed. Thankfully for the countless generations of Jews since, she did come forward and she was met with sensitivity and understanding. If there are people today who want to be a part of our community, perhaps to educate their children Jewishly, but doesn’t come forward with their financial challenges because they fear rejection, who knows how many countless future Jews we might lose?
To provide a more uniformed message to those with financial challenges, member organizations in the Big Tent Judaism Coalition are being furnished with large-format cards [PDF version here] that they can distribute to potential new members. The cards provide two key pieces of information: encouragement, including a standard sentence to initiate the conversation, “I’d like to learn more about adjustments offered on your organization’s (membership/tuition/program) fees”; and the name and contact information of a specific individual at the organization that is distributing the cards. The contact person is essential because whoever is on the receiving end of that sentence needs to be able to reply with sensitivity and confidentiality, and to clearly articulate the organization’s policies.
We recognize the many challenges in such an advocacy campaign, and why so many organizations have been hesitant to make public their willingness to accommodate those with financial challenges. Many organizations are hurting financially as well, and this approach seems counterintuitive to their bottom line. Others fear that people might take advantage of an organization’s sensitivity by lying about their financial needs. To address these and other concerns, we’ve initiated a conversation among organizations to share best practices, and additional features of the campaign will include a webinar of what we’ve learned from the field.
But we initiated this campaign, especially during these difficult economic times, because we felt strongly that this was a barrier to participation in Jewish communal life that we could address for those who are currently financially challenged; and that by doing so we could showcase our values as a community. We want people inside our tent. We want to serve those who are struggling. Those of us who may have struggled in the past but are in a better place now and want to give back, want to bring more people with us, and doing so together as a community sends a powerful message that we are extending our hands from a position of moral strength rather than withdrawing due to a fear of economic uncertainty.
We invite all Jewish organizations to participate in this campaign by joining the Big Tent Judaism Coalition, which is free and only requires that the organization aspires to the “Ten Principles of Big Tent Judaism”; learn more and sign up here.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won't even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
a circle with no end and no God.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
So it's pretty clear that the Reform Movement's institutions are at a crossroads. Reform has never been more relevant as a practice, but what should be the priority (or priorities), the direction, of the Reform Movement as practiced by her institutions? Where should Reform go as a movement? How should it be structured? Who should lead the way? What do you think?
Toward a more assertive liberal Judaism
The orthodox narrative about Judaism must be confronted, challenged, refuted: vocally, diligently, persistently; may this be the first step.By Alex Sinclair Tags: Jewish World US Israel news
The pluralist agenda of the liberal Jewish movements, while admirable in principle, can sometimes lead us to be less vocal about why we differ from Orthodox Judaism, and why that difference is important.
Liberal Judaism makes a powerful claim, and the claim is that Orthodox Judaism is, at its core, wrong. Orthodox Judaism is built around a narrative that contains a foundational error: “The Torah was written by God and given to Moses on Mount Sinai”. This statement, and the orthodox religious narrative that emerges from it, has been disproven by generations of Biblical scholars, archaeologists, sociologists of religion, and historians. These scholars have demonstrated “beyond a reasonable doubt,” in the late Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ words, that the traditional, orthodox understanding of Jewish history is false. The origins of Judaism are much more complicated than that.
Why, then, do we still allow that discredited understanding to remain the dominant and default narrative in the Jewish world? Why do we allow it to be repeated in the public marketplace without censure? Why do we stay silent before those who believe it, rather than make clear the untenability of their position?
I want to suggest three reasons: complacency about the narrative’s danger; fear of disunity; and concern about assimilation.
We are complacent about the Orthodox narrative because our eyes are blinkered to the damage that it has already done, and the dangers that it holds.
The Orthodox narrative is the main rationale and driving force behind Israel’s mistaken settlement enterprise of the past 40 years. This is obvious when one thinks about the national religious movement (“God gave us this land”), but it’s also true, if less obvious, when one examines the tacit consent given by the non-orthodox majority to this ill-starred experiment. Many non-observant Jews believe the Orthodox narrative, and therefore have a grudging respect for those who live their lives by it. This Jewish guilt is particularly prevalent in the Sephardi community, where vast numbers of non-observant Jews vote for Shas because, in part, of a belief that they keep the flame of “real Judaism” burning. But it’s not confined to Sephardim.
Large sections of the Jewish people, particularly in Israel, have tolerated the right-wing settlement agenda because they respect the beliefs of orthodox settlers. The time has come to challenge those beliefs more assertively. Fundamentalist orthodox ideology is based on historically incorrect claims and dubious assumptions about Jewish history. It’s time we said so.
To be clear: I’m not denying the Jewish people’s historical connection with the land of Israel, nor am I questioning our right to political self-determination on part of that land.
What I am denying is the fundamentalist narrative that sees the connection as divinely ordained, and the subsequent use of that divine narrative to justify political actions.
Israel is increasingly controlled by those who are guided by the orthodox narrative. It’s not just the settlements, but also the place of non-Jews in Israeli society, the legitimacy of non-orthodox Jewish streams, the rights of minorities, educational subsidies, and a dozen other issues. Israel’s current government is a terrifying coalition of those who believe and live by the orthodox narrative (the ultra-orthodox and national orthodox), and what I call the “orthophiles”: non-observant Jews who may not live by the practices of orthodoxy, but nevertheless believe or respect the orthodox narrative (Shas’s voters, the Likud party, and even much of the supposedly secular Yisrael Beiteinu party). This coalition of the orthodox and the orthophiles is leading Israel towards several abysses at once.
Liberal Jews in both Israel and the Diaspora must try to stop this cultural and political coalition before it is too late, and one way we can do that is by challenging the core claims of the orthodox narrative.
A second reason that we allow the orthodox narrative to hold center stage is our own fear of Jewish disunity. We tread on eggshells for fear of saying that others’ opinions might be “wrong” or “false”. We nod our heads when we hear absurd and historically ridiculous statements spouted by orthodox friends, because we believe in everyone’s right to their own opinion, and because we want to be nice. We think it’s important to be united as a people, so we swallow our pride and allow the orthodox narrative to become the default Jewish position.
Ironically, it is Orthodox Judaism that is the main force leading to the destruction of the Jewish people’s unity. Liberal Jews are like, l’havdil, abused spouses. For decades, orthodox Jews have ignored our concerns, discriminated against our converts, insulted our rabbis, and used our money against us; yet we still smile weakly at them and cling to the hope that they’ll make nice. No. This is not about the unity of the Jewish people any more; it’s about the vision of the Jewish people. No longer can we allow that vision to be sacrificed on the altar of unity.
The third reason we tolerate the orthodox narrative as default is because we are concerned about assimilation, and deep down we wonder if the narrative, even if it’s false, might help stem the tide of Jews leaving the Jewish people. We are right to be concerned about assimilation, and we need to roll up our sleeves and develop passionate but liberal arguments for why Jewishness is a wonderful and enriching prism through which to live life. The fight against assimilation is certainly harder without the orthodox narrative, but we dare not sacrifice truth for Jewish continuity.
All this is not to say that we should cease being pluralist. Liberal Jews must continue to talk with and learn from each other, wherever they are on the denominational spectrum.
We must also talk with and learn from thinking orthodox Jews who are open to such dialogues, and there are many. But pluralism, dialogue, and mutual learning must no longer be allowed to obscure the genuine disputes about history and ideology that separate us, and we liberal Jews must be more prepared to dispute the fundamentalist orthodox position in our dialogues with orthodox friends and colleagues.
A new world Jewish movement is needed: a movement of Jews who are no longer prepared to remain quiet and cede Jewishness to a fundamentalist, incorrect orthodox narrative. This orthodox narrative must be confronted, challenged, refuted: vocally, diligently, persistently. May this be the first step.
Dr Alex Sinclair is the director of programs in Israel Education for the Jewish Theological Seminary. He lives In Modiin, Israel.
Toward a more assertive liberal Judaism - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
Thursday, March 17, 2011
These days, everyone seems to have something to say about what they think is wrong with Reform Judaism.
We have heard that the Reform movement is, at best, in stasis and, at worst, facing a significant decline in its membership rolls. Some argue that Reform institutions are insufficiently nimble and overly bureaucratic. Others point to what they see as an underlying ideological or theological malaise, suggesting that Reform Judaism does not galvanize Reform Jews to acknowledge and act upon their covenantal obligations.
Many of the critiques come from within our movement, others from outside it. Most are offered as constructive criticism, while a few are mean-spirited polemics. (Glenn Beck has even got in on the act!)
Amid this wave of criticism and consternation, we should not lose sight of the great strengths that Reform Judaism displays. As I travel throughout the United States and Canada, I see synagogues where attendance at services is significant and worship is spiritually inspiring. I see thriving Reform day and afternoon religious schools, and summer camps where Judaism is a richly lived experience. I also see countless numbers of Reform Jews engaged in meaningful Torah study, acts of social justice and the forging of inclusive communities. Still, one need not ignore these triumphs to recognize that there is more than a modicum of truth in many of the expressions of concern and the critiques that we are hearing.
The organizational structures of the Reform movement often do not act in purposeful and coordinated ways to address the many challenges confronting the Jewish people. Too seldom is there an overarching vision of liberal Judaism present to guide the Reform movement as we attempt to address the great demographic and religious issues of our day.
To be sure, the fuller context of North American Jewish life as a whole must be taken into account if the challenges that the Reform movement faces are to be properly assessed and appreciated. After all, the unprecedented opportunities that Jews on this continent enjoy have resulted in ever-increasing assimilation and indifference among millions of North American Jews. This is the communal price exacted for living in an open and accepting society.
In such a setting of individualism, where traditional kinship and associational patterns among Jews have been eroded by mobility and acculturation, each Jew is now a “sovereign self,” and it is not easy to “command” Jewish participation. These forces that challenge the continuity and relevance of Judaism for so many Jews constitute a sociological storm with which the Reform movement has had to cope.
It is only fair to remember that this is a challenge for all Jews, not just for the Reform movement. However, the Reform movement is committed to outreach and inclusion, to not neglecting any Jew. Our hope is that we can inspire and motivate those persons on the periphery of our community and bring them back to a center. Reform Judaism calls upon itself to address Jews of “thin” Jewish culture, i.e., those who lack a strong background of Jewish education and involvement, while not neglecting those who were raised in an environment of “thick” Jewish commitments and affiliations. Of course, this is no easy task.
There is no magic bullet to resolve the challenges we face. Organizational reform is surely desirable, but institutional reorganization cannot accomplish the task of making Reform Judaism relevant to all Jews. Similarly, theology and vision are crucial. Nevertheless, we should not be naïve and assume that a commanding and compelling theology will inspire all Jews to participate meaningfully in Jewish life.
Here we must recognize that Judaism is an adult religion. We must acknowledge that the complexity and plurality that mark modern life do not allow for simple answers to multivalent and textured problems. Indeed, I harbor no illusions that there are any quick fixes to the problems that confront North American Judaism.
The recognition of the enormity of the tasks that confront the Reform movement does not excuse us from our responsibilities. If anything, this knowledge requires us to ask with urgency how the movement can best be organized and act. Our goal must be to inspire modern Jews to affirm traditional Jewish commitments to God, Torah and Israel while simultaneously insisting upon an open and honest engagement with the modern world.
Rabbi Leo Baeck once wrote, “An inheritance cannot be fabricated, let alone forced. It can only be assumed by a freedom that has the ability to build on it. When a man forms his life, he begins to create community. He is not only born into community as if by fate, but he has now been called to the task of molding it.” We who are his heirs must live up to this call.
Rabbi David Ellenson is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
David Ellenson: Reform Judaism Isn’t an Island – Forward.com
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I try not to get political, but this is, for me, a Human Rights issue, rather than a political one, though it's manifesting itself politically.
I have recently added my name to a list of clergy (Jewish and Christian) supporting an initiative by State Senator David Sokola and Representative Melanie George to introduce Civil Partnership in the State of Delaware. This bill will create a recognized legal relationship for same-sex couples, with all benefits and obligations. This is fully in accordance with the values espoused by the Reform Movement (both the URJ and the CCAR), and are not new issues for our movement (Gay marriage has been endorsed since at least the 1990s).
The bill is supposed to be filed on March 22nd. I'm not sure I'll be able to be in Dover for the formal filing, but I sincerely hope it succeeds and will do what I can to support it. If you are a Delaware Resident, I encourage you to voice your support for this bill by contacting your representative and State Senator.
For more information, please go to www.equalitydelaware.org
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
the URJ: http://urj.org/socialaction/issues/relief/
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
I truly believe that any family can impart a sense of love for being Jewish and tidbits of Jewish and Hebrew learning in their home if they are even a little bit determined. It takes hard work, yes:I think we in the organizational world think that day schools are some kind of magic bullet, but the reality is that families who send their kids to day schools are also more likely to make shabbat, engage in Jewish art and cultural activities, keep kosher, use Jewish language, celebrate holidays in the home and go to shul. And just about any educational or parenting expert will tell you, kids learn by having their experiences reinforced at home. That's as true for helping with Math homework as it is with Jewish identity. This isn't to discourage from us as parents sending our kids to day schools--far from it! Rather it's a good reminder that we can't simply entrust outside 'experts'--synagogues, day schools, camp, etc.--to make our kids Jewish. That's something that only we as parents can do. And as one congregant reminded me this past week when I did some God Talk (and thanks Jeff for the reminder): parents have as much responsibility--if not more--than any rabbi or synagogue to teach their kids to value their Jewishness and maintain it.
- You have to to celebrate Shabbat - every week.
- You have to read Jewish books and listen to Jewish music - all the time.
- You have to take your kids to shul, and not just for their friends' bnei mitzvah.
- If you keep kosher, you have to pack lunch for them - every day.
- Jewish values language has to become part of your everyday vocabulary.
- You have to make a big deal about preparing for and celebrating the holidays - every holiday.
- You have to prepare yourself to answer your kids' questions about Judaism and God, or at least know how to find the answers with them.
- When you send your children to Hebrew school, you have to make it a priority, take it seriously, review/reinforce at home, and make sure they attend - every class.
Anyway, check out the whole posting as it's quite relevant.