26 December 2008

The passing of a liberal lion...

There is no better way to describe Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf than as a lion of liberalism. I remember when I was in Rabbinic School at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Along with Rabbinic students from the other Jewish movements, I was invited to be a delegate at the Religious Action Center's Consulation on Conscience. In addition to the normal programming, we had a few session geared especially to us. One of those was a dinner and a conversation with Al Vorspan and Rabbi Wolf. We sat with mouths agape as these two bastions of the Reform prophetic voice swapped stories about the Civil Rights movement, protests against the VietNam War, anti-nuclear weapon rallies, and on and on. In a way, it was a bit of a mutual admiration society between two of the giants who had never missed a battle for justice.

I still remember not only the conversation, but some of the advice that Rabbi Wolf pushed on us. Never a shrinking violet, he chided us in advance. A Rabbi hadn't given a good enough sermon, he thundered, unless half the congregation was mad enough to come after him or her at the oneg.

In the 1970's, Rabbi Wolf served as the director of Yale Hillel - the days of Rev. Sloane Coffin and the New Haven Black Panter trials. He served from the pulpit of KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago, across the street from the Obamas. I can only imagine what Friday nights were like in that sanctuary.

His loud voice will be missed. His roar will echo.

19 December 2008

Let's see: 8 nights per year, with compound interest...

Tom Smith brought this article on Chanukah and Adam Smith to my attention. Now, although I am a great fan of 18th century philosophers, economic analysis is not my first choice in weighing religious matters. However, the author, Ray Fisman, does make some interesting points about how much time parents spend investing in Judaism for their children. I use the economic terms on purpose. Perhaps, we should consider Judaism an investment and that we need to place more in that Divine 401K not only for our children, but for ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

15 December 2008

Unemployed Mergers & Acquisitions Professional? Apply Here

I just received an interesting phone call from Johanna Ginsberg at the New Jersey Jewish News. It seems Rabbi Eric Yoffie (President of the Union for Reform Judaism) gave a sermon on Friday night at the URJ Board meeting in Tampa. The URJ press office sent out two press releases (1, 2) on Friday afternoon to the local papers - although nothing to me or to URJ members.

The first press release, I think, gives a reasonable summary of the whole sermon, placing concerns about the economy's effect on our Movement and its member congregations in context with realistic expectations of the new Obama administration.

The second, however, seems a bit more alarmist - pulling out of context a statement that I assume was meant by Rabbi Yoffie to reassure URJ lay leadership that member congregations were taking the current economic crisis seriously and looking with an open mind for solutions.
Not surprisingly, the NJ Jewish News picked up on the "Rabbi Yoffie calls on congregations to merge" aspect, rather than the meat of the sermon. That was the gist of Johanna's questions to me. I gave a rather vigorous defence of small synagogues as the place that people need MORE in difficult economic times, not less - and that it was not a case of: If we have a Wal-Mart why do we need a Mom&Pop store? We are certainly not opposed to joint programming and sharing resources - which we have explored in the past - but seek to do so on ideological, rather than economic grounds. The "services" provided at other congregations are certainly not the same as the services we have every Shabbat.

I am suprised that the URJ press office chose to spin things as they did in the "economy" press release. The tone seems a bit defeatist and would only serve to irritate member congregations. I don't blame the NJJN for the tack it decided to take, it seems to have been provided to them by our own press release.

I look forward to reading the article later this week.