18 December 2011

Temple Sholom of Scotch Plains/Fanwood, NJ - 8th Grade - L'Atid Lavo Future of Reform Judaism Resolution 2011

We, the next generation of Reform Judaism, in order to build upon our current religious practices realize that we must take the old and turn it into something new and relevant while keeping the general values and ideas of the Reform movement alive.

For our services, we agree we should keep Hebrew due to the overall connection to other Jews and lack of direct translation. But we should incorporate the vernacular language so everyone fully understands our prayers.

As long as our congregation engages in the words of Torah, it doesn't matter how we engage as long as we do because Torah brings forth many of our morals. We support Torah forever being translated differently.

Mitzvot are always going to be a part of Jewish life. As times change, so do mitzvot. As Jews, we feel that it is important to carry on the tradition of mitzvot.


We commit ourselves to continuing our Jewish education.

We are committed to educating younger generations on the traditions and values of Judaism as a whole.

We are committed to using Jewish morals in our everyday lives to set an example for all others to follow.

We are committed to looking for as many mitzvot in our daily lives as possible no matter how big or small.

signed this 18 of December 2011, in class assembled, while participating long-distance in the URJ Biennial plenary:

Ethan Lyte
Jordan Cooke
Tori Sciara
Elizabeth Smith
Isaac Amador
Harry Wachtel
Zachary Fechtner
Cassandra Teschner
Jamie Abar
Dylan Abar
Sydney Brown
Matthew Baker
Eva Isaacs
Alex Frier

12 September 2011

Is there a difference between empowerment and DIY Judaism?

I want to, with 3 cautions, recommend an article by Jay Michaelson in the Jewish Daily Forward ("Don't Call the Rabbi, Make Your Own Rituals" - 9/8/11).  Reform Judaism is based on the idea of informed choice - so the more that you are empowered and educated in your own Judaism the better.   I am proud that we are studying the lifecycle throughout the congregation for this trimester, and the evidence of understanding for our Sunday program students will be to create a lifecycle ritual together as a class.

The first caution is - PLEASE call the Rabbi.  Ask any couple or family with whom I have created a lifecycle ritual.  We work together to create appropriate and meaningful Jewish rituals.  The first thing that I assign is homework - so that we are all on the same page and using the same terminology.  Then we talk about what they would want or need and I make suggestions, based on my experience. I also have certain requirements for my participation - based on my own religious standards and practice.

The second caution is - about most Rabbis the author knows "dreading heading off to another lifecyle event".  I don't think I know him, but, as you hopefully have heard me say on many occasions, that is why I am in this job.  Not that I am happy to have to officiate at funerals, but I appreciate that death is part of our lifecycle and am fulfilled by my part in being able to be there for a family whom I know and can help.  One of my greatest joys this year is that I was able to officiate at the wedding of child of the congregation at whose Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation, I also officiated.  This spring, I look forward to officiating when one of the first children whom I welcomed (with her family) in the covenant with B'rit Bat will become Bat Mitzvah.

Final caution - and most important - the downside of Do-It-Yourself Judaism, as opposed to empowered Judaism is the possible loss of community.  There are parts of Judaism that you can do by yourself - struggle with the Divine, engage in self-reflection, seek challenge to make the world a better place, even pray.  However, there are many parts that can only be done in community - whether it is the family community where you make Shabbat or create a seder, or the congregational community which celebrates with you and, ideally, serves to comfort you in sorrow.  Even if we don't literally count the minyan in Reform Judaism, we still acknowledge the value of meeting regularly as a community to pray together.

 - and, an invitation - Study with us so you, too, can empower your own Judaism.  If you want to study on your own - great.  I am happy to recommend resources and to meet with you, if you want, to discuss them.  But, Pirke Avot tells us to, in study, to find ourselves a chaver - a friend, or comrade to study with us.  Judaism has  always said that the byplay and interaction as two study together is not only better for the learners, but also brings in the Divine Presence.  Shameless plug - we also have plenty of opportunities for you to study with others in our Eitz Chayim program.

DIY?  OK.  But doing it with your community has its benefits too.

30 August 2011

Haimishe - It's All the Rage

TS President Susan Sedwin pointed out this column from the New York Times ("The Haimish Line" by David Brooks - 8/30/11).

To take a moment for some self-congratulatory back-patting - we've known all about being haimishe for years.

22 August 2011

That's What Jewish Looks Like

Also this past Shabbat, thank you to congregant Rita Ferraro for bringing me a copy of the New York Times Article on B'chol Lashon's summer camp (August 12, 2011, "Prayer, and Bug Juice, at a Summer Camp for Jews of Color" by Samuel G. Freedman).  A few of my colleagues  on faculty at URJ Eisner Camp had brought it up as well last week.  The camp is run by Bechol Lashon, an organization that is trying to publicize a fact we tend to forget, not all Jews look the same.

When I was growing up, every Jew was Ashkenazi (descended from Jews living in Eastern and Central Europe). Everyone had relatives that came from Russia or Poland, with maybe a few strange ones (like myself) with a great-grandparent or two of German descent.  That made it easy to tell the Jews - they looked similar and they all had names that sounded the same.  I was very surprised to discover, as I got older, that not only were Sephardim (Jews who trace themselves back to the 1492 Expulsion from Spain - later settling in Italy, Turkey, Amsterdam, and other far-flung places) the first and largest population of Jews in North America until the 19th century, but that there were still Sephardic Jews and even Sephardic congregations in the US.  Now, of course, with Jews marrying people with all different ethnic backgrounds, you can no longer tell who is Jewish by last name or by hair color (if you ever could).  Add to that the prevalence of Jewish overseas adoptions and we have a stereotype that we need to overcome.  Sometimes Jews can feel like they are "of color" even in their own synagogue.  Be'chol Lashon (which means "in every tongue/language") exists to overturn that stereotype and, equally as important, provide a place where Jews who might look different find a supportive community.  Hence their camp.

The rest of the job is up to us.  Kol hakavod to Be'chol Lashon for coming to fill this need.  Now we need to make Jews of every ancestry, accent, background, color (or sexual orientation) feel that they are just as welcome as anyone else.

Where Do Jews Have It the Worst?

Ellen Wolff sent me Roger Cohen's latest Op-Ed in the New York Times (August 20, 2011), entitled "Jews in a Whisper".  The piece is interesting - a reflection via Philip Roth's Deception on the latent anti-Semitism still prevalent in Great Britain.  I would argue that current anti-Israel sentiment in Great Britain may be a product of former prejudices, but it has a new virulence all its own - but that's for another day.  What intrigues me is a comparison of Cohen's article from 2009 ("What Do Iran's Jews Say"), in which he argues that life for Jews in Iran is not so bad.  Is it worse to be Jewish in Great Britain than in Iran?  I can't think so.

07 July 2011

Memory and the Nazi Legacy: Modern Germany from a Jewish Perspective

Take a look at this note from Andi Milens. It resonates with some of what I have seen in our trips to Germany and Poland over the last few years. The good news is that things are starting to change in Poland.

23 March 2011

We live in exciting times.... hopefully a blessing for the Reform Movement

Mazal tov and chazak v'ameitz (strength and courage) to Rabbi Rick Jacobs of Westchester Reform Temple, who was officially nominated yesterday to be the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism.  Rick is a gifted and creative rabbi - of one of the original ECE congregations; passionate for social justice - a long-time board member of the American Jewish World Service; and a visionary leader - a former board member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Synagogue3000.  (Not to mention his time with the Avodah Dance Ensemble)  It will not be an easy job.  I hope that he takes radical steps to re-orient the Reform movement's congregational arm to be a bottom-up, congregant-driven, and congregationally responsive organization.

On the challenges that await, Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College, published an interesting Op-Ed in the Forward this week.  Here's a quote about their not being any "magic bullets" and how any solutions need to be fairly sophisticated and nuanced:

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.

Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazeik

These three words are traditionally recited when finishing the reading of one book of the Torah. "Strength, strength and may you be strengthened", as we finish one chapter of American Reform Judaism and move on to the next.

14 March 2011

And the Jewish Vote is?

TS congregant Leslie Klieger suggested that I post a link to the new National Jewish Political Survey, which is being conducted by HUC professor Steven Windmuller.  You can follow the link above to an HUC article about the survey, which includes a link to the survey itself.

Are American Jews becoming more politically conservative?  Or are more religiously conservative Jews becoming more political?  We'll find out soon....

14 February 2011

It Seems the Kiddush Cup is Half Empty...

Why is it that all of the press and surveys of Jewish life always seem to begin with pessimism and doom and gloom?  The Jewish Daily Forward, while a great (re)new(ed) meeting place for American Judaism, seems to be doing its best to "disrespect" all the established American Jewish institutions.  Following up on its series of comparisons of how they are more expensive than comparative Christian organizations, and gratuitous slams on rabbinic and professional salaries, this past week brought an article on the crisis in "liberal denominations". (Maybe it's just reporter Josh Nathan-Kazis.)  First of all, the article mainly talks about what the Conservative movement is DOING to reverse a trend of decreased membership.  There is mention of a group of Reform rabbis (the "RVI" - more on this some other time) who are trying to influence where the Reform movement is going, and a passing reference to the Reconstructionist movement.  Even acknowledging that the focus of the article is on the United States - and can therefore ignore the growing appeal of progressive Judaism overseas - especially in the Former Soviet Union, Europe, and Israel - it seems unfair to focus on the problems when the incidence for the story is what the movements are doing in terms of self-reflection and change.  Now, I am reserving opinion as to whether the reorganization of the URJ means the strengthening of our congregational Reform arm, but I am not ready to abandon ship before I attempt to patch the holes and turn on the bilge pumps.    It seems to me that we should focus on what are the new insights and how we are repositioning and re-imagining to meet current and future challenges.

I am sure that much more on this subject will follow...