A Union for Reform Judaism Publication Summer 2012/5772 $ 5 . 0 0
GOD BELIEFS REVEALED Engaging Membership:
SOCIAL MEDIA SOLUTIONS Respectful Dissent:
CIVILITY AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE Shabbat Opportunity:
Catalyst for Change A CONVERSATION WITH THE NEW UR J PRESIDENT
Rabbi Rick Jacobs
4/26/12 6:18 AM
_RJ fp copy.indd A3
5/2/12 5:37:05 AM
A BENEF IT OF YOU R MEMBER SHIP IN A U RJ CONGR EGAT ION
24 Catalyst for Change The Union for Reform Judaism’s new president Rabbi Rick Jacobs reflects on his formative experiences, the lessons he has learned about personal and synagogue transformation, his vision for the future of the URJ and the Reform Movement, and his determination to surmount the monumental challenges on the road ahead.
Above: Image courtesy of NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. A rizona) et al.
34 The God Survey by Mark Dov Shapiro / Does God exist? What does God do or not do? Last Yom Kippur I sent a survey to my congregants to find out what they believe. The results surprised me. IN THE BEGINNING 2 Dear Reader: When God is Trivialized / Rick Jacobs 3 Letters reform judaism
JEWISH LIFE 5 Portrait: Jackie Curtis Silverman, Congregation Gates of Prayer, Metairie, Louisiana 6 Books: A Change in Perspective / Bonny V. Fetterman 8 Synagogue: Strengthening Community with Social Media / Lisa Colton 11 Judaica: Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show / Jonathan Greenstein 14 Medical Ethics: The Morality of Marijuana— 2 Views / Donald I. Abrams and Jim Hornstein 18 Israel: Transcending Walls in Tel Aviv / interview with Rabbi Meir Azari 22 Lifecycle: A Home Dismantled with Devotion / Jack Riemer FOCUS: CIVILITY 40 Conviction with Compassion / Arnold S. Gluck 42 The Insult That Destroyed Jerusalem… / Hayyim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Iana Rawnitzki 43 …And Who Is to Blame / Arnold S. Gluck 44 Civility as a Spiritual Practice / Alan Morinis 45 R.E.S.P.E.C.T. / a conversation with Edythe Mencher and Dale Atkins NEWS & VIEWS OF REFORM JEWS 50 Feature Story: How To Build Community on Shabbat— Congregations’ innovative approaches to strengthening member involvement on the Day of Rest / Ryan E. Smith ALSO 49 Chairman’s Perspective: Engaging Our Youth / Stephen M. Sacks 49 Quotable: In Print 51 Quotable: The Blogs 52 Noteworthy 54 What Works: A Torah Class That Lasts 80 Farewell: Remembering Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, 1912–2012
4/24/12 6:12 AM
d e a r
Official Publication of the Union for Reform Judaism Serving Reform Congregations in North America Summer 2012, Vol. 40, No. 4
* Before dialing, be ready to write down the questions that the hotline will ask you. Also be sure to tell your temple about the address change.
Subscriptions: 212-650-4240 Congregational Family Records: reformjudaismmag.org/subscribe/records
On-Line Home Page: reformjudaismmag.org with RJpedia article search by subject Reform Judaism (ISSN 0482-0819) is published quarterly (fall, winter, spring, summer) by the Union for Reform Judaism. Circulation Offices: 633 Third Ave, New York, NY 10017. © Copyright 2012 by the Union for Reform Judaism. Periodical postage paid at New York, New York and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to Reform Juda ism, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Members of Union congregations receive Reform Judaism as a service of the Union for Reform Judaism. Subscription rate: One year: $12 each; Canada $18 each; Foreign $24 each. Two years: $22 each; Canada $34 each; Foreign $46 each. Contact us for bulk pricing. The opinions of authors whose works are published in Reform Judaism are their own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the Union. REFORM JUDAISM is a registered trademark of the Union for Reform Judaism. Canada Publications Mail Agreement No. 40032276. Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to PO Box 875, Stn A, Windsor ON N9A 6P2 Statement of Purpose Reform Judaism is the official voice of the Union for Reform Judaism, linking the institutions and affiliates of Reform Judaism with every Reform Jew. RJ covers developments within our Movement while interpreting world events and Jewish tradition from a Reform perspective. Shared by 305,000 member households, RJ conveys the creativity, diversity, and dynamism of Reform Judaism.
When God is Trivialized
et’s be honest: Jews have trouble talking about God. God-sentences do not flow trippingly off Jewish lips. There is a deep reason for our unease. The God-talk we hear most is hardly worth emulating. Watching athletes pointing to the heavens to acknowledge their savior after scoring a touchdown, you’d think God actually cared about which team won. While I hope God’s presence can be felt in all places, including football stadiums, I find it offensive to reduce the Almighty to a football mascot in the sky. Contemporary Jews need compelling ways to get to God, not popular culture conceptions that pass for religion. It’s like the man who wakes up late for a new job interview. He takes a quick shower, speeds his car to the address, but can’t find a parking spot. Desperate, he prays, “God, if you provide me with a parking spot, I will go to temple every Saturday morning and I will never lie again.” Two minutes later he locates a spot and says to God, “Never mind, I found one.” If this is what passes for religion these days, it’s no wonder that so many of us have trouble finding God in our midst. Reform Judaism, in contrast, offers a unique religious worldview that combines the timely with the timeless: the latest scientific and philosophical thinking with a spiritual inheritance of millennia. In our tradition, God does not help us to find parking places, but helps us to find ourselves—in synagogues that are deep and serious; where we settle for nothing short of excellence; where we welcome Jew and non-Jew, those of any culture, race, and background who seek the wisdom of Torah and a community to call their own. And in our tradition, the Holy One is present, not just when we score a touchdown, but also when we fumble the ball. Seeking the Nameless One in good times and bad has always been at the heart of Jewish spiritual practice. Seeking does not mean always finding, but we won’t know unless we look deeply, well beyond the fleeting trivialities of popular culture. L’Shalom,
Rick Jacobs President, Union for Reform Judaism ➢Your thoughts and ideas are welcomed. Contact Rabbi Jacobs: email@example.com and/or send a letter-to-the-editor: firstname.lastname@example.org. reform judaism
Ian Spanier Photography
Executive Editor Mark Pelavin Editor Aron Hirt-Manheimer Managing Editor Joy Weinberg Literary Editor Bonny V. Fetterman Copy Editor Judith Hirt-Manheimer Assistant to the Editors Alison Kahler Art Direction Best & Co. Contributing Editors David Aaron, Michael Cook, Josh Garroway, Leah Hochman, David Ilan, Jan Katzew, Paul Liptz, Edythe Mencher, Aaron Panken, Rick Sarason, Lance Sussman, Mark Washofsky, Wendy Zierler Advisory Board Milton Lieberman, Chair Carol Kur, Honorary Chair Paul Uhlmann, Jr., Lifetime Chair Emeritus Jim Ball, Shirlee Cohen, Isabel Dunst, Dan Freelander, Steve Friedman, Jay Geller, Howard Geltzer, Marc Gertz, Deborah Goldberg, Shirley Gordon, Richard Holtz, Robert M. Koppel, Gail Littman, Bonnie Mitelman, Harriet Rosen, Jean Rosensaft, Joseph Aaron Skloot, Al Vorspan, Alan Zeichick Advertising Offices Joy Weinberg, Advertising Director Keith Newman, Advertising Representative 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 212-650-4244 (for advertising inquiries only) Circulation Offices Union for Reform Judaism Synagogue Members: Change of Address Website: reformjudaismmag.org/subscribe/change Change of Address Hotline: 212-650-4182*
r e a d e r
5/2/12 5:28 AM
l e t t e r s
Mack & the U.S. Cabinet
he Henry Mack to whom Jonathan D. Sarna refers in his interesting article “The Redemption of Ulysses S. Grant” (Spring 2012) is remembered for his role in the notorious Grant-Mack cotton deal that triggered General Orders No. 11. What has been forgotten is that Mack also became a very influential Jewish leader. His prominence in Jewish circles was made evident during the 1888 U.S. presidential election. In courting Ohio’s Jewish vote, candidate Benjamin Harrison recruited Mack, then an Ohio state senator representing Cincinnati, to stump on his behalf, intimating that, should he make it to the White House, Mack would follow him as a cabinet appointee. Mack helped Harrison take Ohio, but the presidentelect did not give Mack the distinction of becoming America’s first Jewish cabinet member. Eighteen years later, Oscar Solomon Straus, U.S. Secretary of Commerce
and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt, would take that honor. Michael W. Rich Hudson, Ohio
Reciting Blessings from the Bimah
fully agree with Rabbi Elliot Strom’s decision (“Debatable: May Non-Jews Recite Any Blessing from the Bimah?,” Summer 2012) to grant his congregant Anthony’s request to recite any blessing from the bimah. Even though Anthony has not converted to Judaism, he has committed himself to living a Jewish life, proven his love and respect for Judaism, and is eager to share Jewish teachings with others. That should be enough proof of his bond with Judaism. Betty Moses Toronto, Ontario
f we were to adhere to Rabbi Arnold Gluck’s argument as to why a non-
Jew should not be able to recite any blessing from the bimah—because “an untrue statement compromises the person and the prayer”—then non-Jews would be excluded from reciting much of the liturgy in the siddur. Any blessing with the phrase “asher kidshanu bemitzvotav” (who makes us holy with mitzvot) would be out. No Aleinu, no Shema, no Amida. Moreover, if the criterion for uttering a prayer is belief in its literal truth, many of us would be silent during much of our services. To be more in keeping with our values, let’s adopt the philosophy of Isaiah (56:7): “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” Jonathan Levine Ann Arbor, Michigan ➢ Send letters to: Reform Judaism, 633 Third Avenue, 7th floor, New York, NY 10017, reformjudaismmag.org (click on “Submissions”).
4/24/12 6:05 AM
Cantors in Our Movement
n the Love in the Movement photo gallery (Spring 2012), one caption stated that an HUC-JIR cantorial student “will be invested…this May in New York.” Actually, beginning this May, HUC-JIR will be ordaining—and no longer investing—Reform cantors as well as rabbis. Going forward, all clergy graduates of the rabbinic school and the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music will be ordained as rabbis and cantors respectively. In addition, we were disappointed that the valuable article “Rabbi & President: The Path to Partnership” (Spring 2012), concentrated solely on lay relationships with rabbis. As we move forward together as a Movement, it is important to focus more broadly on our synagogue’s clergy teams, nurturing the relationships among rabbis, cantors, educators, administrators, and lay leaders in creating the healthiest, most vibrant congregations. Cantor Susan Caro, president, American Conference of Cantors Cantor Jodi Schechtman, director of Organizational Partnerships, American Conference of Cantors
Are YOU Paying TOO MUCH For LIFE INSURANCE?
Transamerica Life Insurance Company offers term life insurance policies which guarantee that the premiums you pay will remain level for 10, 15, 20, or 30 years. 10-Year Level Premium Policies * Issue Age 30 40 50
Male Female Male Female Male Female
$100,000 $ 100.00 94.00 118.00 110.00 185.00 171.00
$250,000 $ 130.00 117.50 160.00 145.00 300.00 277.50
20-Year Level Premium Policies *
$1,000,000 $ 330.00 280.00 410.00 380.00 980.00 860.00
Issue Age 30 40 50
15-Year Level Premium Policies * Issue Age 30 40 50
Male Female Male Female Male Female
$100,000 $110.00 106.00 128.00 124.00 226.00 197.00
$250,000 $152.50 135.00 207.50 190.00 430.00 357.50
Male Female Male Female Male Female
$100,000 $ 114.00 108.00 142.00 133.00 273.00 233.00
$250,000 $ 167.50 155.00 240.00 217.50 545.00 440.00
$1,000,000 $ 480.00 410.00 760.00 660.00 1,860.00 1,440.00
30-Year Level Premium Policies *
$1,000,000 $ 400.00 330.00 640.00 550.00 1,460.00 1,180.00
Issue Age 30 40 50
Male Female Male Female Male Female
$100,000 $ 139.00 129.00 204.00 161.00 433.00 368.00
$250,000 $ 245.00 202.50 390.00 307.50 897.50 710.00
$1,000,000 $ 700.00 580.00 1,200.00 980.00 3,030.00 2,320.00
*Annual premiums shown are for preferred plus nonsmoker class. Equivalent premiums are available for other underwriting classes, ages, face amounts and payment modes.
Trendsetter® Super 10 (#1-306 11-107), Trendsetter® Super 15 (#1-305 11-107), Trendsetter® Super 20 (#1-304 11-107), and Trendsetter® Super 30 (#1-334 11-107) are term life insurance policies issued by Transamerica Life Insurance Company, Cedar Rapids, IA 52499. Premiums increase annually starting in year 11 for Trendsetter Super 10, in year 16 for Trendsetter Super 15, in year 21 for Trendsetter Super 20, and in year 31 for Trendsetter Super 30. Policy forms and numbers may vary, and these policies may not be available in all jurisdictions. Insurance eligibility and premiums are subject to underwriting. In most states, in the event of suicide during the ﬁrst two policy years, death beneﬁts are limited only to the return of premiums paid. In Missouri, suicide is no defense to payment of beneﬁts unless the Company can show that the insured intended suicide at the time of application for coverage.
Call The Leibowitz Group at **No quotes are ﬁnal until underwriting is completed.
888-448-LEBO for a no obligation quote.** (5326)
FLD 172 0909
4/24/12 6:05 AM
When that shelter closed, Dan and I opened a new one— The New Orleans Women’s Shelter—to help homeless women and children LEFT: HOLDING transition to SAMUEL, THE 20TH sustainable independent living. Since 2007, BABY BORN SINCE WE we have served more than 500 women OPENED THE SHELTER IN 2007. ABOVE: and children. The women are given a choice CONDUCTING A KNITof going back to school (attaining their TING WORKSHOP FOR GED or attending college) or participating SHELTER RESIDENTS. in a program we developed that teaches employment skills. Some 80% of our women have gone on to live independently. NAME: Jackie Curtis Silverman Every time a resident graduates from our OCCUPATION: Founder of The New Orleans program, I realize: Anyone can make a differWomen’s Shelter ence in the lives of homeless women and their children. I feel so blessed to have played this CONGREGATION: Congregation Gates of role. I do believe I have received much more Prayer, Metairie, Louisiana than they have.
FAVORITE ACT OF TIKKUN OLAM: After Hurricane Katrina, I could no longer live my sheltered life telling myself that homelessness was a government problem to solve. If as a society we want to end homelessness, I realized, we as individuals have to step up and do our part. So I volunteered at a rudimentary shelter in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Women and their children were sleeping on the floor, had no hot water, and were unable to keep or prepare food. To help them, I enlisted my husband Dan, Rabbi Robert and Lynn Loewy, and our congregation. People who were having trouble getting their own homes and lives in order still lent a hand, buoyed by the support they were receiving from Jews around the country. Our temple’s Men of Reform Judaism painted and repaired the house; other congregants helped secure beds, linens, kitchen appliances, and more. Our congregation raised funds, including $33,000 from the Union for Reform Judaism’s Hurricane Emergency Relief Fund. reform judaism
BEST TEMPLE EXPERIENCE: When our granddaughters Sadie and Kylie were five and four, our Women of Reform Judaism chapter sponsored a Chanukah dinner at which every table centerpiece basket was filled with items that the Sisterhood was donating to the shelter. My granddaughters helped me collect the baskets and then deliver the items to the shelter. Every Chanukah since, Sadie and Kylie have gone out together to purchase a present they hope to receive and give it instead to a child in the shelter.
FAVORITE JEWISH HOLIDAY: Yom Kippur. We enjoy a delicious Erev Yom Kippur dinner with friends and family and then proceed to synagogue to hear our rabbi chant the Kol Nidre, followed by a hauntingly beautiful violin solo performed by a congregant who is a member of the Louisiana Philharmonic. I can feel my heart expand to include all the Jews who have gone before me.
4/24/12 6:21 AM
A Change in Perspective The stories of Edith Pearlman…what one father learns about autism from his son…reducing stress with Jewish meditation… by Bonny V. Fetterman Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman (Lookout Books, 392 pp., paperback $18.95)
iction writer Edith Pearlman came to the attention of a broad readership when she was awarded the PEN/Malamud Award for short story writing in December 2011. In the same year, her third collection, Binocular Vision, was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award and featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. But for the 75-year-old Brookline-based author, so recently “discovered” by critics and compared to some of America’s finest fiction writers, it was far from a literary début. She had already spent decades honing her art, publishing her stories, and winning numerous awards. Her “discovery” is actually ours. There is something refreshingly pure in Pearlman’s stories, in addition to the exquisitely calm and precise storytelling. When facing fateful moments of decision, her characters tend to act with intelligence, integrity, and compassion. Her stories reflect two streams of inspiration: a New Englander’s practical idealism and a Jewish instinct to bless each moment. In “Day of Awe,” Robert Katz visits his son Lex, a single homosexual social worker who lives and works in a Central American country. Lex is planning to adopt a child with learning disabilities
and take him back to the States. Robert’s visit coincides with Yom Kippur and he spends the day reflecting on how to be a grandfather to this child who will soon be “a Katz, Jaime Katz,” part of his family. Three WWII-themed stories (“If Love Were All,” “Purim Night,” and “The Coat”) take us from the outbreak of war to its immediate aftermath, as seen through the eyes of Sonya Sofrankovitch, an American woman in her mid-50s. When war breaks out in Europe, she surprises her friends by taking a job working for the Joint Distribution Committee with Jewish refugees in London; at the war’s end, she signs on for another stint, working to help survivors in a DP camp in West Germany. “Purim Night” takes place at DP Camp Gruenwasser, where Sonya, now co-director, is exhausted and constantly stressed by the shortages of practically everything at the camp. Nevertheless, when the Purim holiday celebration begins, she finds herself awed by the survivors’ eager embrace of a shared moment of optimism. Other stories explore a variety of modern Jewish encounters. In “Chance,” an American Jewish congregation receives a Czech Torah scroll from an obliterated community. “The Story” describes two sets of in-laws, one Jewish, one not, who meet for an awkward dinner at a restaurant. In “Relic and Type,” an elderly Jewish man in Boston studies Japanese in order to talk to his
Books marked with a book icon signify that they have been recommended for discussion groups—including Reform Movement-wide discussion on the “News & Views of Reform Jews” blog—as part of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Jewish adult literacy initiative. Visit rj.org and click on the Books link to see readers’ personal perspectives and to add your own. reform judaism
grandson in Kyoto and discovers the Japanese teacher is a convert to Judaism. “Binocular vision” generally means seeing through two eyes and combining images from different angles for depth perception. Many of Pearlman’s characters are able to see themselves through two lenses—how others see them and who they know themselves to be—and choose actions closest to their truest selves.
Following Ezra: What One Father Learned about Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son by Tom Fields-Meyer (New American Library, 256 pp., paperback $15)
s a former senior writer for People magazine, veteran journalist Tom Fields-Meyer has a flair for telling human interest stories. In this memoir, he tells a more personal story—that of Ezra, one of his three sons, who was diagnosed with autism at age three. His account of raising this bright and lovable child whose world he can gradually and only sometimes access is honest, moving, often humorous, and always engaging. While we learn a lot about autism and how autistic individuals experience the world, we never lose sight of Ezra as a unique personality with his own special strengths and ongoing challenges. When Ezra’s preschool teachers mention behaviors that Tom and his wife, Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, have already noticed, they visit a family therapist who gives them some terrible advice. “You have to let yourself grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be,” she tells them. “I’m not going to grieve,” Tom immediately responds, deciding instead “to pour love on my son, to celebrate him, to understand, to support him, and to follow his lead.” Over a ten-year
4/24/12 11:32 AM
period, Tom’s growing ability to see the world through Ezra’s eyes enables father and son to communicate and form a strong bond. Sometimes Ezra lets Tom teach him things, like basic social skills, but much remains hidden about Ezra that tends to catch his parents by surprise, often in good ways. While Ezra has been able to recognize letters and spell words from an early age, no one knows if he is reading with comprehension. Tom gets his answer when Ezra sets off the fire alarm at their synagogue when Yom Kippur services have concluded and people are filing into the reception hall to break the fast. Amid the confusion of people rushing outside with their bagels and juice, Tom asks why Ezra has touched the red alarm box. “It said, ‘Pull Down,’” Ezra innocently responds. Tom admits to “feeling at once exasperated and tickled: My son can read.” Like the noted animal scientist and autism advocate Temple Grandin, Ezra is fascinated by animals and loves to visit the zoo; it is the one place where all his anxious mannerisms disappear. On one NEW BOOKS | URJ PRESS
A Road of Our Own Choosing: Reform Judaism in America Frederick Isaac and Rabbi Lance J. Sussman tell the stories of the people, places, and events that have made the Reform Movement such a force in American Jewish life.
Broken Fragments: Jewish Experiences of Alzheimer’s Disease through Diagnosis, Treatment, and Moving On This anthology, edited by Rabbi Douglas Kohn, uses first-hand experience and Jewish teachings to guide families in managing Alzheimer’s disease in the context of Jewish tradition and values. Contact the URJ Press at 212-6504120, URJBooksandMusic.com.
such trip with his grandfather, he suddenly volunteers an astounding array of facts about each species that he has memorized from his wildlife encyclopedia. His extraordinary memory soon becomes evident in the addresses and dates he recalls, as well as facts he has memorized on topics that interest him, from breeds of dogs, to cartoon characters, to the release dates for every animated Disney film ever made. “I come to relish my periodic, precious glimpses into the extraordinary ways Ezra’s mind makes sense of the world—particularly when he shows flashes of his powerful and unusual memory,” his father writes. Ezra is fortunate to have parents who are open to nurturing all his interests as possible venues for more social interaction. He has benefitted from his experiences in the Jewish community—a Jewish summer camp for specialneeds children, afternoon Hebrew school classes, and regular attendance at Sabbath services with his parents and brothers. When Ezra decides he wants a bar mitzvah, his mother helps him learn to chant his Torah portion and his father helps him draft his speech, but Ezra selects the topic: “I want to talk about being autistic…How it’s not bad, it’s good,” he tells his parents. At Ezra’s bar mitzvah, his parents, family, and the entire congregation marvel at the dvar Torah, the speech of the young man on the bimah, and his father watches in awe as the boy who once seemed so alone greets every guest and thanks them “for being here to celebrate my future.” (Postscript: Ezra, now a 15-year-old high school student, has published an illustrated children’s book, E-mergency, with coauthor Tom Lichtenheld, to rave reviews.) Bonny V. Fetterman is literary editor of Reform Judaism magazine. reform judaism
Here I Am: Using Jewish Spiritual Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered, and Available for Life by Leonard Felder (Trumpeter, 179 pp., paperback $15.95)
always feel warmly about self-help books that suggest things I’m tempted to try. Leonard Felder’s simple, engaging book on using Jewish spiritual techniques for stress relief falls into that category for me. “Mindfulness meditation” has been popular since the physician Jon KabatZinn brought it into mainstream medicine in the early 1980s; its practices relied on mainly Zen Buddhist teachings adapted for secular Westerners. Felder, a practicing psychologist in Los Angeles, proposes a meditation practice that utilizes Jewish teachings for stress reduction: his remedy for the stress overload of daily life is to take a few breaths (of course) and focus on a phrase—a prayer, blessing, or concept from the Jewish tradition—that we can use to calm and center ourselves over the course of a busy day. The phrases he proposes do not function like mantras, to block distracting thoughts; rather, they serve to focus our attention on concepts that counteract common emotional snares. For example, the biblical phrase hineni, “Here I am,” brings to mind the unspoken question, “Where are you?” and becomes a way of slowing down. Felder makes use of spiritual ideas with therapeutic value such as tzimtzum, the kabbalistic idea that God, the Eternal Source of Energy, “contracted” in order to leave room for a created universe; likewise, he suggests, we have to recognize when we are being too intense or overbearing and use a phrase to help us do a kind of tzimtzum: “Relax, pull back, open up some space.” The following blessing, traditionally said after using the bathroom, can be said anytime to remind us of our commitment to our own health: “Blessed are You, Eternal Source of Creation… continued on page 33
4/24/12 11:32 AM
Strengthening Community with Social Media By Lisa Colton
ongregations are about relationships, which means they need to be where the people are. And these days, people are on social media. In 2011, approximately 169 million people in the U.S. and Canada used Facebook monthly (Facebook statistic), and more than half of users are engaging with the platform at least daily (Pew Internet and American Life Study). Recognizing the power of social media, many congregations have launched Facebook pages and developed their voices on Twitter—some to great success, others meandering, and still others struggling to wrap their heads around these new tools. What about your temple? How can your congregation use social media effectively to engage members and potential members?
1. Social Media is About People Social media is not about technology; it’s about people, relationships, and communication. Think about it. You’d never say that talking with your daughter is “about your larynx” or that having a conversation with an old friend is “about the telephone.” You’d speak about what was said and how the conversation affected you, your relationship, your life. In person or on the telephone, you Lisa Colton, a member of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, Virginia, is founder and president of Darim Online, which offers internet strategies for Jewish organizations and their communities, including a free social media bootcamp for all URJ congregations through December 2012. For more information see page 9.
are used to employing facial expressions or changes in intonation to communicate. Most of us are still learning these social nuances when communicating on Facebook or Twitter. How do we learn to use social media in social ways? Today we are working in an attention economy. Now that everyone is both a producer and consumer of media, we are all struggling to filter out the content blitz vying for our attention, and focus instead on the information that is most valuable and can help us lead happier, more satisfying, and successful lives. In the old “one-size-fits-all” communications paradigm, messages were broadcast in one direction to large numreform judaism
bers of people. Let’s call this the “hub and spokes” model. The synagogue as the institution sits in the center, sending out information and solicitations to members or prospects. When the institution is perceived as the “center of the universe,” and when the rest of us are, by necessity, prioritizing our limited time and attention, if we perceive an “institutional agenda” at work (to get us to become a member, give a donation, attend an event), we are less likely to offer the sender our attention. In the new paradigm, individuals, families, and community are the center; the institution exists to support them and their shared goals; and the institution’s messages are tailored to the community of individuals in order to earn each person’s attention. From the user perspective, when the institution is helping me clarify and achieve my goals, that’s worth paying for with time, attention, and dollars. Sign me up. Given that we are trying to strengthen relationships among synagogue members and the community as a whole, social media is much more than a soapbox; it is an opportunity to promote knowledge sharing, provide a platform for communal conversation, and add value, convenience, accessibility, and sometimes humor. Like the biblical Abraham welcoming the strangers as they approached his open tent, social media is a modern way of being open and welcoming. In short, social media technology isn’t a free bullhorn to promote your events and ask for contributions. Using the new tools in the old way is not the means to build trust, strengthen relationships, and get attention.
4/24/12 6:19 AM
2. To Get Heard, Start by Listening Here’s a little social media success secret: Don’t worry about talking. Start by listening. Make listening a habit. Go back to the social norms of face-to-face conversations or telephone chats with loved ones and friends. These relationships are successful because they balance talking and listening. Before social media, it was hard and costly to listen. The hub-and-spokes model, which required listening to members one by one by one, simply was not feasible. Today, in just a few minutes of scanning Facebook posts or tweets, you can get the pulse of your community, do “small talk” online, and connect with a dozen individuals in meaningful, relevant, and personal ways. Gabby Kozak, membership and communications director at Temple Sinai in Oakland, California, knows this well. When she read a status update on Facebook that temple members had been in a car accident, she immediately reached SOCIAL MEDIA BOOT CAMP To help your synagogue succeed in the networked age, the Union for Reform Judaism is offering member congregations a year-long training program on social media tools and strategy powered by Darim Online which features:
Webinars: 12 webinar trainings with three tracks to help beginners and experts alike, including an introduction to social media tools, strategic use of common tools, and the synagogue as a networked nonprofit. You can take these courses easily from almost any modern computer.
Sharefests! At four Sharefest! webinars, congregations will present their work, explain how they tackled a particular challenge, and invite community conversation. In addition, Darim Online consultants will answer questions and/or give feedback during their Open Office Hours webinars. The program continues through the end of 2012. To sign up: urj.org/ bootcamp. Additional questions: email@example.com.
out to them and notified the clergy and staff, all of whom leapt into action. “Within an hour of my reading the news, they received calls from one of our rabbis, our executive director, and me offering support and deepening their connection to the Temple Sinai community,” Gabby says. “While the family had not called the synagogue for help, they were sharing the news on Facebook. It is Temple Sinai’s responsibility—and all of ours—to be listening.” Another example: Leza, a member of Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) in Charlottesville, Virginia, posted on her Facebook profile that she was struggling to explain the death of a family pet to her young children who were wanting to fly up to heaven to visit the dog. Among those who offered condolences and support was Ellen Dietrick, then CBI director of Early Childhood Education, who shared developmental and Jewish insights on how to talk with children about death and recommended books to read with them. The public Facebook dialogue both strengthened Leza’s relationship with the congregation and allowed other young Jewish families to learn from Leza’s experience.
3. Ask Questions Once you’re listening, start asking questions so you can listen some more! Rabbi Arnie Samlan, R.J.E. asks a weekly Friday question on Facebook, “What did we learn this week?” which generates dozens of responses—everything from “I learned about the reproductive system of a hen” to “[I learned] to have a little more faith in myself than I might otherwise deem I deserve.” Some congregations and schools make their Facebook pages a platform for communal knowledge sharing, asking such practical, relevant questions as “What’s your best tip to keep young kids engaged at a Passover seder?” or “How do you talk to your teenagers about forgiveness at Yom Kippur?” You might even consider asking questions that could influence your strategy and programs, such as “What do you want to learn about Judaism this year?” Rabbi David Levy at Temple Shalom in Succasunna, New Jersey is using Twitter, Facebook, and his blog to engage the larger temple community— reform judaism
many of whom were not regulars at adult education classes or services—in learning and discussions. Conducting what he calls a “Social Sermon,” he posts text and questions online, receives comments, and later delivers a sermon that weaves in the communal conversation. Several members who have put their toes in the water online are now attending Shabbat services and in-person classes more often, he says. “And because Twitter is more of a dialogue, it has enhanced many of my real world connections with congregants.” He’s even had prospective members walk in the door and say, “I already know you through Twitter.”
4. Share Stories and Make Connections Temple Israel in Memphis, Tennessee uses Facebook to help make the 1,500+-member congregation feel more intimate and allow people to get to know each other better. So when the synagogue office heard that another member had helped member Emilie Rattner by changing her flat tire, the staff (with Emilie’s permission) shared her story through Facebook (see photo, page 8). Result: community members connected Emilie’s name, face, and story; contributed to building their culture of mitzvot; and illustrated how the synagogue community lives outside of the building walls. The warmth of the Temple Israel community probably was apparent to Scott Biales, a newcomer to Memphis, who posted a question on the congregation’s Facebook page (see photo, page 8). There are three lessons here. First, if a single young adult is reaching out to a synagogue, he/she may be doing that research at 9:00 P.M., and not during the typical hours the synagogue staff is on call. Our Jewish lives, needs, and curiosities work on a 24/7 clock, and social media tools can help congregations engage current and prospective members beyond synagogue business hours. Second, congregations trying to strengthen community need to build more points of possible connection, and Facebook is an important, inexpensive, and efficient way to do so. A prospective member may get his/her first impression of your congregation on your Facebook page. So, what does yours say? Does it
4/24/12 6:19 AM
look like a logo begging for attendance, or like a vibrant community pursuing meaningful Jewish lives? Third, with proper follow-up, Facebook can become a conduit to in-person social connections. In this example, Scott said he wanted to meet people; seeing from his profile that he fit into the 20s/30s group, Temple Israel’s communications director, Iste Bardos, invited him to a relevant upcoming event and connected him to their young rabbi. And because this exchange is public, it helps demonstrate Temple Israel’s responsive,
welcoming, and thoughtful culture to others who may be watching. To make himself more accessible to more people more often, Rabbi Jonathan Blake at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York uses a simple service called Formspring. At formspring.me/rabbiblake he receives questions ranging from “What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” to “How do you define ‘forgiveness’?” to “What do you think about Israel’s handling of the flotilla situation?” In an open forum, Rabbi Blake is connecting with others
Selective and Felsen Insurance Services, Inc. are proud to offer a broad and unique property & casualty program designed specifically for synagogues. Offering: • Cyber Loss Protection • Daycare & Nursery School Coverage • Crisis Response Protection • Sexual Abuse/Molestation Coverage • And More! Felsen Insurance Services, Inc. has been a leading independent agent, offering specialized insurance products and services for synagogues, since 1985. Selective, rated “A+” (Superior) by A.M. Best for more than five decades, has provided unparalleled insurance protection, since 1926. Contact Us Today:
Phone: (800)-2–TEMPLE Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.felsen.com ©2012 Selective Ins. Group, Inc. (“Selective”, Branchville, NJ). Products provided by Selective’s insurer subsidiaries; insurers and products available vary by jurisdiction. SI-12-054
while making Jewish information and his personal insights available to anyone who chooses to read them.
5. Open Communications Boundaries In my experience, older people tend to default to private communications unless there is a reason to make the information public; conversely, younger people tend to make all communications public unless there is a reason to keep it private. While there is certainly a place for private exchanges, if we are in the business of building relationships and community, we need to be social. Consider the potential benefits of making appropriate communications public. Think of open socializing as your open tent, as the modern way of being “warm and welcoming.” Each of us feels welcome when we connect with real people. For Jews who feel like outsiders and are considering whether or not to attend a synagogue event, the “connectors” could be temple members and fans, not just staff and trustees. It’s often uncomfortable to walk in the door “cold,” but when a Facebook friend invites you to come to tot Rosh Hashanah services, for example, that sense of alienation often evaporates. Recently an increasing number of posts from young adults, singles, families, and empty nesters are saying things like, “I’m going to Congregation ABC for services. They offer free tickets for High Holidays services— anyone want to come?” How much more powerful it is to receive that invitation from a friend than from a newspaper ad! So, make sure to identify active temple members who are trusted and have strong online networks. Encourage your members to share their experiences online and invite their friends into your congregation. Networks are powerful. Use them. Many synagogue cultures are still based on a society from decades ago when synagogue membership was a norm and a community value. Nowadays a variety of factors are changing the landscape, and the only thing we can hold as true is that more of the same isn’t going to work. We can’t assume that people will find us, let alone walk in the door, if the sides of our tent are closed. Let’s open the tent.
4/27/12 6:17 AM
Jewish Antiques Appraisal Show Appraisals by Jonathan Greenstein
Dear Jonathan, Years ago a dear friend who has since passed away gave us this 1905 medallion, which commemorates the 250th year of Jewish settlement in the U.S. We cherish it as a remembrance of her love, and are curious to know its value. We think it’s more likely to be bronze than gold, as we’ve been told that of the 322 medallions manufactured, only two were made of gold. What do you think? Thanks so much, Esther Herst and Gino Gianola Temple Beth Am, Seattle, Washington Dear Esther and Gino, You have a wonderful bronze medal made by the Viennese sculptor Isadore Konti (1862 - 1938). You are correct that only two gold
medals were produced. On November 30, 1905 department store magnate Oscar Strauss presented them to two U.S. presidents—President Grover Cleveland and President Theodore Roosevelt—as part of a ceremony at New York’s Carnegie Hall that banker and philanthropist Jacob Schiff had orga-
nized in honor of the 250th anniversary of the settlement of Jews in America. In addition, 36 silver medals were created; we do not know to whom they were distributed. They have not been sold to date. The bronze medals sell in the $700 $900 range. President Cleveland’s gold medal sold at auction in October 2010 for an astounding $69,000. President Roosevelt’s gold medal has been sold at an unnamed price to a private collector. Enjoy your piece of Jewish history. Jonathan Greenstein, founder J. Greenstein & Co., Inc. Reader inquiries: email@example.com Dear Jonathan, Thank you. We really appreciate knowing more about our medallion, and will keep it in our family.
4/26/12 6:06 AM
It’s never too late to ask yourself...
We gratefully acknowledge... donations received between April 1, 2011 & March 31, 2012 $2,000,000+ James Heeger & Daryl Messinger $500,000+ Foundation for Jewish Camp, Inc. Isaac Mayer Wise Academy of Dallas Mark & Peachy Levy The Loeb Family Charitable Foundations
Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties Eric Klein & Susan Donner Diane & Darryl Mallah Lisa & Neil Wallack
a) happy campers
$250,000+ Harold Grinspoon Foundation Shirley and David Toomim Family Foundation Swartz Family Foundation, Gale & Eliot Swartz Dr. Richard L. & Tina D. Wasserman $100,000+ Marshall & Janice Brumer Jerry Dunietz & Laurie Minsk Jim Joseph Foundation Theodore Levi z”l Joel & Yvette Mallah The Merﬁsh Family Neal z”l & Ruth Nierman Roz Rosenthal Scott & Sandy Stolberg $50,000+ Anonymous Karyn & Joseph Barer Robert & Kimberly Chortek Crown Family Philanthropies Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust Nathan & Joann Dardick Lawrence & Lillian Goodman Goodman Supporting Foundation Isaac & Helaine Heller Jocelyn & Scott Isaacs Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago
Steven & Barbara Wolf Dr. Walter Woolf $25,000+ Anonymous Brown Scholarship Fund Charles Donald Pulpwood, Inc. Phyllis & Henry z”l Freedman Elizabeth & Mario Goertzel Joan & Marty Goldfarb Houston Jewish Community Foundation Jewish Children’s Regional Service Marilyn & Dr. Arthur Lieber Bernard & Billi Marcus Maurice Amado Foundation, Honey & Ralph z”l Amado Joseph & Gloria Mayer Memphis Jewish Federation, Memphis, TN Jean & William Mosow z”l Elliot & Sally Paull Stanley & Janet Perlmeter Mark & Lisa Silberman Soref- Breslauer Texas Foundation Michelle & Keith Tandowsky The Goldring Family Foundation The Marcus Foundation, Inc. Michael & Cynthia Wolf $10,000+ Anonymous Gary Aidekman Family Foundation Amy & Barry Asin Jeffrey & Karen Bank Barry Bernstein
Birmingham Jewish Foundation, Birmingham, AL Harold & Marion Bobroff Dr. Martin & Farron Brotman Minette & Paul Brown Miriam Chilton & Joel Dorow Judy & Jason Chudnofsky Alice Cutler Community Development Foundation for Reform Judaism Congregation Gates of Prayer, Metairie, LA Dr. Jane Eisner Bram & William Bram Peter & Diane Goldenring Rabbi Sholom Groesberg Louis & Patti Grossman Rabbi Eric Gurvis & Laura Kizner Gurvis Mark Halpern Healthcare Foundation of Highland Park Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto, ON Jake & Goldie Silverman Foundation, Harlie Garcia Jewish Communal Fund Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay Jewish Foundation of Memphis, TN Jordan & Jean Nerenberg Family Foundation Ronald & Mary Ann Lachman Richard & Beth Levine Susan & John Lichtenstein Lillian and Larry Goodman Foundations Laurie Litwack & John Lang Michael & Susie Fox Lorge M.B. and Edna Zale Foundation Milton & Miriam Waldbaum Family Foundation Milton and Sophie Meyer Fund, Sinai Memorial Chapel Anne Molloy & Henry Posner III Dr. Raquel Newman Jani Levy Pauli & William Pauli Kevin & Erica Penn
Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh Ellen Robinson Alan & Jill Rose Matthew Rothﬂeisch Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, AL Temple Israel of Jamaica, Hollis, NY Temple Israel Rabbi’s Fund, Memphis, TN Temple Sinai, Atlanta, GA
b) proud Jews
Jewish Community Endowment Fund San Francisco Rabbi Bruce Kadden & Barbara Binder Kadden Clive & Judy Kamins Paula & Jerry Kaye Dr. Robert Krupkin Rabbi Martin & Anita Lawson Leo and Rhea Fay Fruham Foundation Anne Lowenburg & Family Nancy & Daniel Magida Ellyn & Jacob Margulies Lenore & Daniel Mass Medevaq Inc.
The Koret Foundation The Leo J. and Roslyn L. Krupp Family Foundation The Temple, Atlanta, GA Rabbi Lisa & Eran Tzur Jeffrey & Carol Zucker $5,000+ Adam & Liz Barnett Ann Bear Beth Israel Congregation, Jackson, MS Louis & Kathryn Bordman Steve & Marla Kell Brown Raymond & Wendy Capelouto Robert & Lori Cohen Scott & Kathleen Cohen Congregation Gates of Heaven Sisterhood, Schenectady, NY Rick & Perri Courteoux David & Shari Damlich Dan Family Foundation Steven & Ariel Derringer Ellen Fleece Mike Frazin Naomi Fromstein & Jeﬁm Boritz David & Heidi Geller Mark Gershon Gino Gianola & Esther Herst Scot & Kennon Goldsholl David & Andrea Golub Rabbi Oren & Julie Hayon Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary Jackson Jewish Federation, Jackson, MS Ilene & David Jaroslaw
Lisa Messinger & Rabbi Aaron Panken Milton & Dorothy Sarnoff Raymond Fund, Fund Catherine Burke Isador & Marci Mitzner Myer Salit Limited Carol Nemo Joan & Phillip z”l Pines Dr. Ellen Plum Rosenberg & Dr. Robert Rosenberg Frank & Helen Ponder Dr. Daniel Ray & Dr. Lynne Kaminer Raynier Institute & Foundation
Thank you!... to all the visionary donors Your support helps assure the creation of Visit www.urjcamps.org to see how we © 2012 Union for Reform Judaism Camps Concept/Copy: The Spielman Group, Inc.
_RJ fp copy.indd A4
6 Points Sports Academy, Camp Coleman, Goldman Union Camp Institute, Camp Kalsman, Kutz Camp,
5/3/12 7:27:47 AM
Daryl Renfrow & Michelle Tucker-Renfrow Athalia Rosen Alexis Rothschild & Shawn Gold Neal Sabin Marc & Susan Sacks Sidney Stern Memorial Trust, Peter Hoffenberg Gail Sinai & Robert Evans Rabbi Jeffrey & Susan Sirkman Dr. Eric Skolnick & Lynne Quittell David & Tina Strauss Jane & Thomas Taves Temple p Beth El, Boca Raton, FL
Marc Freimuth Vinson & Judith Friedman Rabbi David & Kathy Gelfand Jay & Robyn Gellman Dr. Michael & Dr. Anne Gershon The Gershon Family Debbie & Ian Goldberg Betty Golomb Steve & Judi Goode Julie & Sander Gothard Rabbi Danny Gottlieb Great Gulf Homes Kathy & Jack Grundfest Rabbi Sheldon & Fern Harr Dorit Harverd & Richard Dale Margery Hecht-Kugelmass & Stanley Kugelmass Gavin & Shirley Herman Rabbi Herman & Paula Blumberg Rabbi Lev & Lisa Herrnson Alan Hornstein & Cheryl Mau Jewish Federation of Arkansas Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Jewish Funders Network Jeffrey & Amy Kagan Meyer & Shelley Kaplan Rene & Edward Katersky Henry & Helen Katz Rabbi Karen & Ezra Kedar Randall & Jennifer Korach Alison Kur & Michael Oshins Anne & Mark Landman Rabbi Debra Landsberg Larchmont Temple, Larchmont, NY Barbara Lerman-Golomb & John Golomb
$1,800+ Anonymous (2) David & Tara Abrams Jamie & Dr. Hilton Adler Joel & Julie Africk American Conference of Cantors Daniel Aronson Rabbi Aryeh Azriel Dr. Francis & Rachel Barany Sara & Len Bates Mara, Susie & Daniel Berg Richard & Paula Berkowitz Rabbi Marc & Debbie Berkson Lorne & Barbara Bernstein Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, Mahwah, NJ Gary & Lori Bordman Dr. Harold & Laurie Brandt Mark & Terry Brashem Clyde & Diane Brownstone Cantor Angela & Jacob Buchdahl Cahn Family Foundation Robert Cash Eric Chisholm
Temple Beth El, Pennsacola, FL Temple Emanu-EL, Dallas, TX The Tilles Family Foundation Touro Synagogue, New Orleans, LA William Warshauel Stanley & Carol Weinstock WRJ-Atlantic Division Alan & Janet Yuspeh William Zachs & Martin Adam
Jeff & Kathy Cofﬂer Charles Cohen Eli Cohen-Wein Congregation Beth HaTephila, Asheville, NC Congregation Shalom Discretionary, Milwaukee, WI Deborah & David L. Cooper Leanna & Ronald Cossman Mark & Mindy Daniels Rabbi Andrew & Dr. Jennifer Davids Laurie & Michael Davis Loui & Sheila Dobin Sandy & Carol Dochen Steve & Susan Donchin Rabbi William & Cantor Ellen Dreskin Rabbi Ellen & James Dreyfus Jane Emmer Jordana & Mathew Epstein Dr. Alan Fein & Laura Greenblatt Karen & Dr. Steven Fein Alan & Esther Fendrick
Daniel & Lena Mathisson Meyer Handelman Fund Microsoft Matching Gifts Program Abe & Andrea Morris The Newburgh Family Caroline Newman-Kamiel & Mitchell Kamiel Elysha & Dan Nichols Lauren & Ken Oasis Peter J. Chortek Memorial URJ Camp Newman Scholarship Endowment Fund Dr. Allen & Dr. Diane Plotkin Spencer & Ilana Preis Press Family Foundation Progressive Temple Beth Ahavath Sholom, Brooklyn, NY Joshua Rabinovitz The Ramo-Gisser Family Rosa & Saiid Rastegar Sam & Rose Reisman Paul Resnick & Joan Karlin Resnick Rabbi Warren & Audrey Romberg Martin & Leesa Romo The Rose Family Sydney Rosen & Sandra Ashford Beverley & Les Rothschild Cary & Wendy Rotter Judy Royal Murray & Roda Rubin Art & Joyce Salomon Robert & Pam Saltzburg Stuart Schwartz & Dr. Debbie Youngelman The Schweitzer Family SEACCAR-Southeast Association of the CCAR
Rabbi Sharon L. Sobel Richard & Roberta Sol Jerome & Margery Somers Roy & Karen Splansky Audrey Stein Carole & Jay Sterling Dr. Michael Taitel Sherri & Matthew Tarr Temple B’nai Israel Rabbi’s Fund, Little Rock, AR Temple Beth El, Charlotte, NC Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, MA Temple Beth Sholom, Miami Beach, FL Temple Beth Tikvah, Roswell, GA Temple Emanu-El, Toronto, ON Temple Har Zion, Toronto, ON Temple Shaaray Teﬁla, New York, NY Temple Sinai, North Miami Beach, FL Vigran Family Foundation, Inc. Alyse Wagner Douglas & Rena Weigler Joseph & Debra Weinberg David Weisoly Peter & Joan Wells Rabbi Max Weiss Discretionary Fund Rabbi David Whiman Rabbi Michael White & Rebecca Katz-White Rabbi Stephen & Cheryl Wise Mark & Myra Wolfson Ricki Wortzman & Alan Bardikoff WRJ Midwest District WRJ Southeast District Zachs Family Foundaton Inc. Marc & Evelyn Zawatsky Rabbi Michael Zedek
d) all of the above Levine Family Gift Fund Irwin Levy & Rachel Barnett Lon Lowenstein William Lowenstein M.N. Davidson Foundation Evan & Jennifer Mallah Dr. Gary & Sarah Mann Roy & Barbara Mansberg Leigh & Danny Mansberg Rabbi Todd & Michele Markley Rabbi Steve Mason
Rosanne & David Selfon Shir Neshamah, Lafayette, CA Debby Shriber & Nili Talis Elyse & Todd Shuster Rabbi Eric & Rabbi Debra Siroka Chuck & Barrie Slonim Sandi Smith & Jeffrey Dicker
who answered a, b, c, or d… a vibrant new generation of Reform Jews. capture hearts, inspire minds, and instill the joys of Jewish living. Crane Lake Camp, Joseph Eisner Camp, Camp George, Greene Family Camp, Camp Harlam, Henry S. Jacobs Camp, Camp Newman, Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, NFTY In Israel
_RJ fp copy.indd A5
5/3/12 7:27:58 AM
The Morality of Marijuana—2 Views Marijuana Use Is Medical & Moral Donald I. Abrams, MD is a professor of Clinical Medicine at the UC San Francisco; chief of Hematology/ Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital; past president of the Society for Integrative Oncology; co-editor, with Andrew Weil, MD, of an Integrative Oncology textbook; and a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.
Why is the illegalization of marijuana so signiﬁcant from a medical point of view?
sativa has been a medicine for thousands of years. In northern China, archaeologists recently discovered A MEDICAL MARIJUANA PATIENT USING A VAPORIZER. the 2,700-year-old grave of a Caucasian—probably a shaman or person Bureau of Prohibition. When prohibition involved in medicine and divination— ended, he was appointed the first buried with two receptacles containing commissioner of the Federal Bureau the flowers of the female cannabis plant. of Narcotics. Claiming that cannabis This is the earliest evidence demonwas being widely used by African strating that cannabis was known to be American jazz musicians and Mexican a pharmacologically active plant. migrant laborers and that this would Use of cannabis likely traveled the Silk likely result in increased crime and Road from China to the Indian subconti- mental illness in the U.S., he proposed nent. From there it was brought to Great that Congress pass the Marihuana Britain by W. B. O’Shaugnessy, a surgeon Tax Act (using the Mexican name to who worked in the British East Indies associate the substance more with Company, and cannabis later purportedly nefarious south of the border activities became Queen Victoria’s favorite treatthan the widely available medicine). ment for relief of menstrual cramps. At the The American Medical Association beginning of the 20th century cannabis stood alone in opposing the act for entered the U.S., with many pharmaceutwo reasons: no evidence existed that tical companies producing cannabis-based cannabis was harmful; and this law, medicines to treat a wide variety of ailwhich would impose a dollar an ounce ments, including pain, spasms, seizures, levy for medicinal use and 100 dollars and insomnia. American physicians were an ounce for recreational use, would able to prescribe cannabis medicines up prohibit future research into cannabis’ until 1942, when it was removed from medicinal properties. Nonetheless, the U.S. pharmacopeia, the formulary of Congress passed the act, and five years all drugs that physicians can prescribe. later cannabis was removed from the U.S. pharmacopeia. What brought about this change? And that is how a medicine which It was largely the work of Harry Anslinger, had been used for thousands of years the former assistant commissioner of the fell into disrepute 69 years ago. reform judaism
Marijuana is known to accentuate sensation. How is it, then, that it can help with pain?
The human body makes its own chemicals called endocannabinoids that resemble the active ingredients in marijuana (cannabinoids). These chemicals interact with the body’s two identified cannabinoid receptors—CB1 and CB2. Scientists believe that one of the functions of endocannabinoids is to help us to forget. Odd as that seems, helping us to forget pain, for example, may be a good thing. Similarly, the plant cannabinoids are also believed to be active in pain relief—both centrally in the brain and peripherally continued on page 16
A P Photo / K itsap Sun, Larr y Steagall
RJ: What is the history of marijuana use? Dr. Donald Abrams: Cannabis
Cannabis has remarkable medicinal properties that have not been found in other medicines. Every day I see cancer patients who are suffering from nausea, loss of appetite, pain, depression, and insomnia. Some of them cannot tolerate the nausea that is a side effect of chemotherapy treatment, even when they’re taking today’s advanced anti-nausea medicines. If you ask them to try cannabis, it sometimes miraculously works for them when nothing else has. And if cannabis is the difference that enables a patient to tolerate chemotherapy, which in some instances is lifesaving, then, as Judaism teaches us, we should “Therefore choose life.” The alternative to ameliorating the five symptoms above is to prescribe five separate medications, which may interact negatively with each other and/or with the cancer treatment the patient is receiving. Thus cannabis can help to decrease the modern problem of “polypharmacy” that so many patients experience.
4/24/12 6:16 AM
Only Medical Marijuana Use Is Moral
Photo by Angelica Rodrig ues
Jim Hornstein, MD is board-certified in family medicine, palliative, and hospice medicine. He has served as chairman of the Bioethics Committees of Community Memorial Hospital and UCLA Ventura County Medical Center. He is a member of Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, California; and serves on the Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees. A few months ago, two patients, both of whom I’ve known for a long time, asked me to prescribe marijuana for them. The first, let’s call him Jonathan, a Jewish sophomore at UCLA, comA MAN SMOKING MARIJUANA BY THE SEASHORE. plained of headaches, stomach pains, insomnia, and a recent drop-off in his Perspective that Judaism opposes recregrade-point average. For the past year ational drug use for three reasons: he had been smoking marijuana almost 1. Judaism condemns the desire to daily. Although federal law prohibits the lose oneself through drug use and suguse of marijuana in all 50 states, “medigests that true growth and wisdom is cal marijuana” has been legal in Califor- achieved through a lifetime of personal nia since 1996. He wanted a physician and moral choices; to sanction his use in case he got caught. 2. When faced with personal chalThe second patient, let’s call her lenges, Judaism encourages individuals Esther, a 68-year-old Jewish grandmother to find the courage and resources to face with advanced breast cancer, told me that life’s problems themselves; smoking marijuana relieves her nausea 3. Judaism emphasizes free will, which from chemotherapy and restores her can lead to rational decision-making. appetite better than any other medicaDrug use, in contrast, can lead to distortions. Asking for my counsel on this tions of reality, which makes the duty matter, she, too, requested a prescription. of pikuah nefesh impossible to fulfill. To determine whether or not to Rabbi Mark Washofsky, chair of the approve Jonathan’s and Esther’s requests, CCAR Responsa Committee, explains I decided to examine both the medical in his book, Jewish Living: A Guide to and Jewish literature on marijuana use. Contemporary Reform Practice (URJ Books & Music), that using drugs for ♦♦♦ recreation should be avoided “because In general, Jewish law opposes the they are injurious to physical and mental use of any substance which could be health. Judaism does not countenance harmful to one’s health—a position the use of drugs for recreation; nor does based on the ethical principle of pikuah it recognize any religious value gained nefesh, the obligation to protect a life. from the ‘expansion of consciousness.’” Rabbi Alfred Cohen, an Orthodox Echoing this sentiment, Rabbi Elliott halachist, argues in Drugs, A Jewish Dorff, a leading bioethicist in the Conreform judaism
servative Movement, writes in Matters of Life and Death that “Jewish law prohibits us from endangering our health unnecessarily and views such an act as worse than violating a ritual prohibition.” He asserts that Jews may not use drugs recreationally, because people under the influence cannot act responsibly and are therefore a danger to themselves or others. Writing for young adults in Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, advises that “in a culture permeated with reliance on drugs from Valium to aspirin and that suggests in its advertising that whatever feels good must be morally OK, it is necessary to take charge of one’s life at an early age. That applies to the choices we make about our bodies, including those concerning drugs, alcohol, sex, and tobacco.” Should I then conclude, for all these reasons, that Judaism opposes the use of marijuana? Not necessarily. Rabbis have cited the Jewish emphasis on pikuah nefesh to support the use of marijuana when used to treat people with serious medical illnesses. Rabbi Washofsky writes that “the tradition permits the use of drugs, as long as we do so for a legitimate medical purpose” (Jewish Living). Along these lines, Reform delegates at the Union for Reform Judaism’s 67th General Assembly in 2004 passed a resolution that stated in part: “Licensed medical doctors should not be punished for recommending the medical use of marijuana to seriously ill persons.” In this sense, Judaism views marijuana like other potent medicines: Its use is guided by weighing its benefits and continued on page 17
4/24/12 6:16 AM
It’s Medical & Moral continued from page 14 through an anti-inflammatory mechanism. So cannabis, in and of itself, may be a very useful pain reliever. Evidence from animal studies indicates that cannabinoids, in conjunction with opioids, are syngergistic in pain relief. That is 1+1 = 5 and not 2! A study I just completed (not yet published) on patients with chronic pain who take morphine or oxycodone, while still on the same dose of the opioid, found that supplementing with cannabis significantly reduced their level of pain as reported on a visual analog scale. This could have considerable public health ramifications, allowing patients with chronic pain problems to use cannabis in order to maintain on a stable or lower dose of opioids for longer times. The findings of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, are consistent with what my research has shown. In 1999, the IOM’s most recent study of cannabis—Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base—concluded that marijuana benefits patients by reducing nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain. Equally important is the empowerment patients feel in being able to grow their own medicine. I always ask my patients, “What brings you joy?” Many of them tell me that they derive joy from gardening. If you have cancer and you’re facing death or you feel that part of you is dying, then growing live plants can be very empowering. And what is a greater mitzvah than to enable people with a life-threatening illness who feel they’ve lost their locus of control to grow their own medicine? Do you prescribe marijuana for your patients?
Physicians cannot actually prescribe marijuana, but in the 15 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that have passed legislation allowing its medical use, physicians can recommend it to their patients. A physician will give a patient a letter suggesting that he/she try cannabis for specified health problems, and the patient can then present the document either to a state office to
register and obtain an identification card or directly to a cannabis dispensary to access the medicine. Still, because in America federal law overrides state law and the U.S. government classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, if the feds decide to go after the physician writing that recommendation, there can be consequences. Fortunately, for most physicians and their patients this has not been an issue. In October 2009, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden issued a memo for selected U.S. states attorneys stating that “prosecution of people with cancer or other serious illnesses who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen consistent with applicable state law, or those caregivers in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law who provide such individuals with marijuana, is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources.” How can cannabis continue to be considered an illegal drug when even the National Academy of Sciences acknowledges it as medically helpful?
Federal law regarding marijuana is not about science; it’s about politics. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but this strict legislation is part of an international treaty—the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961—that keeps cannabis illegal by clumping it incorrectly with narcotic drugs. In addition, incarcerating hundreds of thousands of cannabis users (800,000 currently) keeps prisons in business and provides state revenue from the confiscation of individuals’ material goods through asset forfeiture and property seizure. Such punishments are antithetical to the Jewish teaching “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.” Many of those people who use marijuana “recreationally” may actually be treating something— anxiety, stress, sleeplessness—and the government is incarcerating them for medicating themselves. And even for those people who choose marijuana solely for recreational use, the punishment appears much worse than the crime—especially when one considers that adults are allowed to “self-medicate” reform judaism
with tobacco and alcohol, both of which are much more harmful to the body and a financial drain on public health in a way that cannabis just is not. Isn’t smoking marijuana harmful to the lungs?
In a 2006 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), UCLA investigator Emeritus Professor of Medicine Donald P. Tashkin, MD reported that chronic marijuana use actually led to a slight, albeit not statistically significant, decrease in the risk of lung cancer as compared to people who didn’t smoke marijuana. This supported data from prior animal studies as well as epidemiologic information reported from a Kaiser Permanante cohort 10 years earlier. A NIDA-funded investigator for nearly 40 years, Dr. Tashkin has also studied the broader effects of marijuana on the lungs and found no adverse pulmonary effects that, he said, would justify keeping marijuana illegal. Those opposed to marijuana also say that it can cause schizophrenia in young people and serves as a gateway to using cocaine, heroin, and other highly addictive drugs.
In some studies self-reported use of cannabis in adolescence has been associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. However, another school of thought suggests that young people with a predisposition to schizophrenia actually find that their thought processes benefit from cannabis use. Hence the cause and effect relationship here may be muddied, as the adolescents may be using the cannabis to treat their nascent thought disorder as opposed to having cannabis be the cause! In any case, I do not advocate the use of cannabis in young people. Regarding the gateway issue, studies have shown that marijuana does not lead to cravings for heroin or cocaine. The Institute of Medicine report noted that because marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug, it is predictably the first most people encounter; however, most drug users actually begin with two nonillicit addictive drugs—tobacco and alcohol. The Institute concluded that “there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked
4/24/12 6:16 AM
Only Medical Use Is Moral continued from page 15 side effects in the treatment of serious medical conditions. ♦♦♦ But what about the non-medical or recreational use of marijuana? Isn’t occasional marijuana use similar to occasional alcohol use? Rabbi Dorff recently raised this issue by suggesting that, from a Jewish moral viewpoint, “marijuana in and of itself is not inherently bad or good” (“Judaism and Marijuana”). It depends upon how much a person uses as well as the scientific evidence regarding its short- and long-term effects. ♦♦♦ So what does scientific research tell us about the safety of short- and longterm marijuana use? Despite decades of research, the science is controversial, with occasional conflicting results. A number of studies have demonstrated the positive benefits of marijuana in treating medical conditions. The Physician’s Desk Reference lists such medical indications for marijuana as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in addition to cachexia from cancer and HIV-AIDS. However, studies have also shown that marijuana can impair learning, problemsolving, perception, and coordination. This makes sense, because delta-9tetrahydrocannibinal or THC, the main active chemical in marijuana, acts upon brain receptors found in areas which influence memory, concentration, sensory perception, coordinated movements, and pleasure. to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” And again, according to the Institute of Medicine report, “although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do.” On most addictive substance scales, cannabis ranks much much lower than tobacco and alcohol. From a Jewish perspective, do you think cannabis should be legalized?
The question makes me chuckle—and wince—as I recall President Richard
Still, many questions remain unresolved. Does smoking marijuana lead to addiction? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that approximately 9% of long-term marijuana users do become addicted, and that number increases to 17% among persons who start young (National Institute on Drug Abuse: Info Facts, Nov. 2010). Other experts, however, do not believe that marijuana is, in fact, addictive. How does marijuana use affect people who are susceptible to anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia? Some studies have found a correlation—but it is not clear whether marijuana contributed to these illnesses or was used to alleviate existing symptoms. How about marijuana’s effects on the lungs? No studies have shown that smoking marijuana causes lung cancer or chronic lung disease, although some report that marijuana smokers have increased respiratory symptoms, such as a daily cough, more frequent lung infections, and miss more days from work. And does marijuana affect marriage, career, social life, and mental health? In one study, a majority of heavy users reported low levels of satisfaction in many areas of their lives. It is uncertain, however, if moderate or light users share these negative long-term feelings.
As I think about the pros and cons of marijuana use, I find a striking similarity between the current viewpoints of Judaism and contemporary medicine. Both support its use in providing comfort for seriously ill patients. In cases where marijuana is the best available treatment, I agree that it should be appropriately
And so, I was able to reassure Esther, the woman with breast cancer, that California and Jewish law sanction her using marijuana. As she hates all types of smoking and is uncomfortable lighting up in front of her husband and grandchildren, I prescribed the oral form of marijuana—Marinol—which, thankfully, is relieving her nausea and increasing her appetite. I did, however, reject Jonathan’s request, referring him instead to a therapist who could help him address mood and coping issues. Hopefully, as Jonathan improves, he will be better able to navigate the pressures and challenges of college life. The national debate about legalizing and using this fascinating and controversial drug goes far beyond issues with medical patients. It challenges us to balance our strong support for freedom of choice with equally strong moral and social obligations arising from our Jewish tradition. Hopefully, over time, we can gain more knowledge to help guide our individual and collective choices regarding marijuana.
Nixon’s comments caught on his White House tapes 40 years ago! “You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.” I am not a psychiatrist, but as a medical doctor who belongs to a people with a long history of being persecuted for no reason, I find it unconscionable for a Jew,
or anyone else, to stigmatize people who are medicating themselves with a Godgiven herb. We bless the fruit of the earth and the fruit of the vine. In Genesis we learn that God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.” I certainly enjoy a nice glass of red wine—but to bless alcohol and curse cannabis seems hard to rationalize from my perspective as a physician, a scientist, a humanitarian, and a Jew.
prescribed and medically supervised. I find the medical literature and the Jewish tradition less supportive of marijuana for non-life-threatening illnesses or outright recreational use. As physicians, our first goal is to “do no harm.” Since what constitutes “harm” varies among different people, more research is needed to assess the negative consequences of marijuana use, especially in vulnerable populations such as the young, the mentally ill, and patients with existing heart and lung diseases.
4/24/12 6:16 AM
Transcending Walls in Tel Aviv The Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism have found great success in serving not only congregants, but residents, workers, and tourists in Israel’s largest city. What’s their secret? Interview with Rabbi Meir Azari
Meir Azari, one of the first Israelis to be ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem and one of the first executive directors of the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism (1986-1989), has also been a pioneer in creating a new entrepreneurial vision of the Israeli urban synagogue. He believes the lessons of the successful Daniel Centers for TASHLICH CEREMONY IN MISHKENOT RUTH SQUARE, JAFFA. Progressive Judaism, which started off as Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, can be relied on dues for revenue, though about applied to URJ congregations across 20% of the people we serve are paying North America. members. Instead, we instituted a feefor-service model that serves the wider ou started Beit community. Annually, we perform more than 300 weddings, 180 b’nai mitzvah, Daniel—the first Reform synagogue in and 100 conversions for non-members. Israelis are very happy to pay for servicTel Aviv with its own es they want, so long as they don’t feel building—without pressured to join a congregation. adopting North American con-
gregational models. You created something unique.
That’s right. The needs and expectations of Israelis are quite different from those of North American Jews, so we had to come up with a suitable model of what a modern Israeli congregation ought to be. Unlike Jews in North America, Israelis don’t need religious school to learn Hebrew for their bar or bat mitzvah, and they don’t need a synagogue to serve as a Jewish place of meeting. Israelis also expect to receive religious services free, because the Israeli government has invested heavily in building and maintaining Orthodox synagogues and paying their rabbis’ salaries, allowing them to offer the public religious services almost for free. As a result, most Israelis consider congregational dues a foreign concept. Therefore Beit Daniel has never
Wasn’t it risky to depend on a fee-for-service model?
From the start we knew that our product would have to be very good and meaningful; otherwise nobody would buy it. If a restaurant doesn’t provide good food and service, it will go out of business. The same applies to a synagogue. In North America, where most congregations rely primarily on dues, “fee for service” has become a somewhat pejorative term. Do you think your model can be sustainable outside of Israel?
Dramatic changes in the world are having a huge impact on nonprofit institutions, forcing us to think in unconventional and creative ways to ensure the future of the Jewish world. Today, the Reform Movement can no reform judaism
longer depend mainly on a dues-based model. To attract the younger generation, who do not have the same motivation as their grandparents to be members of a synagogue, we have to think beyond our comfort zone. We do not have the luxury to rule out alternative models, such as that of Chabad, of different church denominations in North America, or our model in Tel Aviv. How did you come to think of Beit Daniel in business terms?
Beit Daniel is named after Gerry Daniel and his wife Ruth, z”l, successful industrialists who not only provided a major contribution to launch the congregation, but also taught me how to apply three important business principles in growing a congregation: to think big; to think about the day after tomorrow, not just tomorrow; and not to fear failure. I have internalized these principles and apply them to everything we do at Beit Daniel, which, as a result, has grown to include three congregations that constitute The Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism. How did you begin to put these principles into practice?
The Daniels and our lay leadership decided that our scope would extend beyond the synagogue walls and include the entire Tel Aviv area. Our staff and I spend most of our time officiating at lifecycle events for non-members, hosting or participating in cultural programs and public lectures, serving as part of the national education system by providing the Jewish identity content for numerous schools in the Tel Aviv area, and provid-
4/24/12 11:33 AM
ing a Progressive Jewish experience to tourists from Israel and abroad. Our open-door policy has brought thousands of people into our orbit for a large array of programs and services that feed into one another. For example, a person who comes to us for a bar mitzvah may return later for a bat mitzvah, or a funeral, or to take a course on Jewish ethics or art. We have established relationships with all these people and target mailings to them based on their individual interests. In addition, every year about 8,000 teachers, parents, and children attend seminars and programs we conduct at the Daniel Centers or at 30 different Tel Aviv schools. We also run the Jewish identity program in two elementary schools in Tel Aviv, a unique coexistence program in a mixed Jewish Arab school in Jaffa, and 20 different preschools serving about 700 children across the city.
We conceived Mishkenot as a synagogue, 64-room guest house, and conference center that reaches out to the wider Jewish world, giving foreign visitors—25,000 guests last year—an Israeli experience in Israel’s most pluralistic and innovative city. We also host about 10,000 Birthright participants every year, offering them seminars on topics such as Jewish identity, coexistence, and social justice. And we’re proud of having brought prosperity— new people, businesses, and jobs for both Jews and Arabs—to what was once a blighted urban space. When the Tel Aviv municipality first offered Beit Daniel this plot of land in Jaffa more than 10 years ago, the area was the
Give the ultimate wedding gift…
The Lucite Wedding Cube The Lucite Wedding Mezuzah ®
end us the actual broken glass or bulb from the ceremony and we’ll have it suspended as a crystal-clear Lucite® Cube or Mezuzah (or both!) for you to give to the happy couple. Imagine—that magical second when the glass is broken—frozen in time—forever! Two new ideas for your broken wedding glass are:
The Lucite® “Tree of Life” : A one-of-a-kind sculpture, shaped from the pieces of your broken wedding glass. Every tree is different. There will never be two alike in the world…ever!
The Lucite® Wedding Invitation: Displaying both symbols of the Jewish wedding– the invitation plus the broken wedding glass shards.
The Treasured Collection For more information call us toll free 1-800-729-2321 | 301-986-8888 • Fax: 301-986-0370
What led Beit Daniel in 2006 to build its second center—Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, the guest house, synagogue, and conference center in Jaffa?
Our 1 9th
9 Candlelight Court • Potomac, MD 20854
Join Our Award Winning Tours to Israel
Adults Only Tours
Bar/Bat Mitzvah & Family Tours
16 Days Including 2 Nights in Eilat
16 Days Including 2 Nights in Eilat
Feb 14 (13 Days) • Mar 20 Apr 24 • May 8 • Oct 2 Oct 23 • Nov 6 Guaranteed to be The Trip of A Lifetime!
No One Does it Better! No One!
Jun 5 • Jun 12 Jun 26 • July 31 The Ultimate Family Experience
Feb14 • Dec 22 - 13 Days Aug 14 - 14 Days Celebrant Goes Totally *FREE - Includes: Ceremony on Masada & Rabbi's Services, Gala Party, Archaeological Dig, Kayaking, Camel Rides, Snorkeling, Hiking, Gifts & Many Surprises * Restrictions Apply
WEB EXCLUSIVE At reformjudaismmag.org, Rabbi Robert Orkand of Temple Israel, Westport, Connecticut and president of the Association of Reform Zionists of America reflects on the 10 lessons he’s learned from his more than 40 trips to Israel over a half century.
All 16 Days Adults Only Israel Tours Include: 5 Star Deluxe Hotels • All Breakfasts & Dinners • Comprehensive Sightseeing • Cocktail Parties • Entertainment • Dinner Dances Cruise on The Sea of Galilee • Most Tipping Plus Much More!
For trip highlights and brochure go to
1.800.327.3191 • 954.458.2021 reform judaism
4/24/12 6:01 AM
domain of drug dealers. Today, largely because of our presence, the neighborhood is prime real estate. Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv, who invested $2 million in the project, says it was one of the best investments he’s ever made. Why in 2010 did The Daniel Centers establish a third Tel Aviv center—Kehilat Halev [Community of the Heart]?
Kehilat Halev is not a separate congregation but an expansion of The Daniel Centers to the center of Tel Aviv. Beit Daniel is in Northern Tel Aviv, the city is growing, and people here are increasingly focusing on the neighborhood level. Also, Kehilat Halev is geared to younger people who are looking for a more New Age, East meets West spirit with a focus on movement and music. Situated in a building owned by the municipality that serves as a senior citizen center, Kehilat Halev was part of the city’s plan to have young adults interact with the older generation. It is lovely to see old and young people dancing together on Purim or Simchat Torah. Having three branches is a good model from a financial and management efficiency point of view because we do not have to fund separate executive directors, bookkeepers, brochures, newspaper ads, etc. And when we go to the mayor of Tel Aviv with a request, he understands that we are in a position of clout with three centers serving thousands of people. How does The Daniel Centers fund its general operating budget?
Of our total annual budget of $3 million, 80% is internally generated from membership dues, service fees (e.g. b’nai mitzvah, conversions, adult education, preschool), and Mishkenot Ruth; 10% comes from the Jewish Agency and Reform Movement sources; and 10% is from the Friends of The Daniel Centers (donations from people who have visited us in the past 20 years and have become supporters). How else has the Daniel Centers raised its social profile?
One way has been through social action—rallying for the rights of Holoreform judaism
4/24/12 6:01 AM
caust survivors denied government benefits, collecting food and clothes for the needy, and overseeing the MASA Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv Jaffa program that brings post college adults to Israel to volunteer at different organizations. In the early 1990s, we were the first establishment to host a gay rights event. Most recently, Beit Daniel and Mishkenot Ruth Daniel received a lot of media attention because they served as meeting places for the organizers of the massive summer social protests in Tel Aviv demanding economic equality and social justice. Weâ€™ve also raised our profile through involvement in the cityâ€™s cultural life. We serve as a kind of cultural incubator, offering free space to artists and startup performing groups. Several years ago, for example, Nalagat, a theater group of deaf and blind actors, needed rehearsal space, so I went to see them and invited them to use our facility. Today Nalagat is one of Israelâ€™s premier attractions, operating a restaurant and large theater in Jaffa with sold-out performances every night. We did the same for a puppeteer from Russia named Shaul who needed a place to live and build his puppets. He did his first show at Beit Daniel and today is a big success with his own theater group. Encounters with artists and their audiences bring people to Beit Daniel who would never otherwise have entered our building. Once inside, they begin to ask questions about who we are and what we do, and begin to develop an understanding and appreciation of the values of Progressive Judaism. Our goal is to open the door and break down the barriers that keep people on the other side.
REGISTER NOW! Education Grounded in Jewish Values
0/-*/&t0/$".164t"#30"%t$&35*'*$"5& 6/%&3(3"%6"5&t(3"%6"5&t%0$503"r4UVEZ)FCSFXPS"SBCJDPOMJOFPSPODBNQVT r1VSTVFZPVS%PDUPSBUFJO+FXJTI&EVDBUJPO EFTJHOFEGPSCVTZQSPGFTTJPOBMT r&BSOZPVS.BTUFSTXJUIPVSOFX)PMPDBVTUBOE(FOPDJEF4UVEJFTQSPHSBN r4VNNFS*OTUJUVUFBU(SBU[+VMZBOEPS+VMZ &BSODSFEJUTJOPOFXFFL.FBMTBOEBDDPNNPEBUJPOTBWBJMBCMF r'BMMDPVSTFTCFHJOPO"VHVTU Experience Gratz - online and on campus Educational Technology Holocaust and Genocide Jewish-Christian Studies Jewish Communal Service
Jewish Education Jewish Non-ProďŹ t Management Jewish Studies Professional Development for Educators
Our exceptional FREE offer for your Bar/Bat Mitzvah child Our meticulously planned, world renowned tour Our dynamic, well-routed itinerary Our ultra-deluxe hotels - Including The King David Jerusalem Our guides â€“ the most requested team in Israel, led by our Israel Tour Director, Ben Ami Geller.
Do you plan to build another Daniel Center?
Absolutely. If things continue to go as they are, with our organization growing and the Tel Aviv resident and worker population expanding beyond one million people, I expect that within the next 10 years we will add more than one congregation to magnify the Reform presence here. And Gerry Daniel, who is now 95; his family; and the Daniel Centers staff plan to create a seminar center for Jewish professionals from all over the world to come together in this exciting city.
2012: JUNE 11-25 / JUNE 25-JULY 9 / *JUNE 28-JULY 9 / *JULY 26-AUG. 6 / *AUG. 16-AUG 27 / DEC. 23-JAN. 1, 2013 / DEC. 23-JAN 4, 2013 *SPECIAL VALUE DEPARTURES
2012: *JULY 9-23 / OCT. 22-NOV. 5 / *OCT. 29-NOV. 12 *SPECIAL VALUE DEPARTURES
4/26/12 6:11 AM
A Home Dismantled with Devotion By Jack Riemer
Rabbi Jack Riemer is the co-editor of So That Your Values Live On: Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them (Jewish Lights Publishing) and the editor of the three volumes of The World of The High Holy Days (National Rabbinic Network).
closer to You, please guide our actions to be in accordance with Jewish law and custom, as well as in accordance with their wishes.
lovingly carried from the old country to America? When I imagine how I would want my own earthly possessions sorted out by my heirs, I think of the wonderful example offered by my close friend, Sharon Davidson, and her family. Sharon’s lovely parents, Ben and Effie Raber, lived to a ripe old age. While their deaths were not unexpected, Sharon, her siblings, and their children understood that closing down the house in which their parents had lived for more than half a century would mark the end of an era in their lives. They wanted to do it right. They began by composing a prayer together. They recited it each time they arrived at their parents’ house to do the hard work of going through treasured possessions. The prayer begins as follows… Master of the universe, as we enter the home of our beloved parents and grandparents, who have left us to be reform judaism
I love that the prayer begins by asking God’s help in doing this task. Understanding that what they faced would not be easy, Sharon and her family saw the need for God’s guidance. The prayer set their task within the larger context of Jewish tradition: They were about to embark upon what generation after generation of Jews had done before them. And so they prayed that they might do it right. The prayer describes death in a delicate and lovely way: “Who have left us to be closer to You.” I am also touched by how the family asked for guidance—not only in accordance with how it has been done through the centuries, but “in accordance with their wishes”— as their parents would have wanted them to do. The truth is, we do not always know how our parents would have wished us to act. Sharon’s family cannot say for sure which keepsake or piece of jewelry their parents would have desired to go to this child or that grandchild. But the family knew their parents’ overriding wish: Do not fight. As they recited this prayer, each family member was reminding him or herself that if a quarrel arose over any of the possessions, there would be no winners, only an indelible stain on their loved ones’ memory. The prayer continues… Help us to move through their home, which so enriched our lives, in a manner that is a tribute to their teachings and their values. May we perform this sad and wrenching duty with reverence and with dignity.
©Jorgeinthewater / Dreamstime.com
ews have blessings for almost every occasion. We have a blessing for seeing the ocean, for sighting a rainbow, for tasting fruit, for drinking water, for putting on a new garment….But with all due respect for the traditional blessings, I believe that new blessings ought to be created for our personal sacred moments, such as when we begin the sacred task of closing down and emptying out our parents’ home after they die. When we’re confronted with all the things they collected and saved, so many difficult questions arise. How do I choose what to keep and what to discard? How do I decide which memory-laden item goes to one person or to another? So much is at stake, too, in performing this last act of honor and devotion to our parents. If we do it right, we preserve and transmit their memories and values to the next generation. If we do it wrong, we may open lasting wounds within our families and ourselves. Some people hire professionals to price all of their parents’ belongings and conduct an estate sale—a seemingly efficient liquidation of their assets—but bringing in a professional to do the work that children and grandchildren ought to do feels wrong to me. How could an outsider know how to evaluate the worth of a kiddush cup transmitted from generation to generation? How could a stranger know the value of a wedding ring worn proudly for 60 years, or a battered old samovar
4/24/12 11:36 AM
It is true, and aptly put, how the prayer speaks of “their home,” not that of the heirs. The family understood that anything taken from their parents’ home was a gift, not an entitlement or right due the oldest, or the one who cared for them the most at the end, or anyone else who thought s/he had a claim. I picture the family members moving through the house almost on tiptoe, with abundant reverence and awareness of their participation in a sacred task. When a house “which so enriched our lives” refers to a home that was lived in for 60 years, many visits were needed to sort through six decades of precious possessions. Each time they came, reciting this prayer would remind them that they were engaged in an endeavor of honor, connection, and love. The prayer continues… May we do so with generosity to others in the family, acknowledging their desire for some of these mementos, and with generosity to others in the community who might benefit from these possessions. Here the family gave consideration to family members who, for whatever reason, were unable to express their preferences, but still wanted to keep something of the parents. Sharon and her family also recognized that every Jewish sacred occasion is an opportunity to help people in need. It is noteworthy that they did not use a label such as “poor,” out of respect for the dignity of those who might benefit from these possessions. This, I believe, is the essence of giving tzedakah. The prayer concludes… Ken yihi ratson (May this be Thy will). I take away from this prayer that the most important honor we can give to our parents is to inherit their values, and act upon them when they are gone. May this indeed be God’s will—and ours too. YOUR PRAYER IDEAS For what occasions do you think we need new prayers? Share your thoughts, ideas, and/or original prayers at reformjudaismmag.org.
Making the Journey Yours IN ISRAEL and AROUND THE WORLD Hadassah Centennial in Jerusalem Oct 15–19, 2012 Ayelet Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Family Tours Creating Lifelong Memories
Join Prof. Stephen Berk’s TRAVELING UNIVERSITY.
Eastern Europe Nov 11—21, 2012 Jun 16—27, 2013
Jul 5—11, 2012
Nov 4 —16, 2013
Welcome to our new MARKS synagogue clients. Now part of our Chaverware family!! ü Desktop or Cloud with over 650 installations ü Feature-rich, intuitive and complete ü Highest quality support - polite, prompt and knowledgeable ü Seamlessly integrated with QuickBooks, Peachtree, Constant Contact and Microsoft Office. ChaverWeb aff Mos t s ü Secure online access for your membership olutorda Rak ion ble ü Member editing of demographic data efe t u for ü Event and Religious School registration ser s ü Donations, tributes, account status and payment ü Online directory Outsourced accounting
Provided by our partners at Kesef Accounting C Drive organizational efficiencies to yield financial savings C Convenient, timely and more relevant financial statements C Comprehensive internal controls, security and governance
Www.Chaverware.com reform judaism
4/26/12 6:13 AM
I N T E R V I E W
Catalyst for Change The Union for Reform Judaismâ€™s new president Rabbi Rick Jacobs reflects on his formative experiences, the lessons he has learned about personal and synagogue transformation, his vision for the future of the URJ and the Reform Movement, and his determination to surmount the monumental challenges on the road ahead. P HO T O GR A P H B Y
4/26/12 6:04 AM
5/8/12 9:40 AM
N JUNE 12, 2011, THE URJ BOARD OF TRUSTEES ELECTED RABBI RICHARD (RICK) JACOBS president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which serves 900 member congregations throughout North America. Ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York in 1982, Rabbi Jacobs is the first Union president to have served most of his career as a congregational rabbi—nine years at Brooklyn Heights Synagogue and then for 20 years at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York. On the Movement-wide level he is a former member of the URJ Board of Trustees, the Joint Commission on Religious Living, the Joint Commission on Worship, the CCAR Executive Committee, the ARZA and WUPJ Boards, and the Reform Judaism Magazine Advisory Board. He has also been active on the boards of the American Jewish World Service, UJA-Federation of New York, the New Israel Fund, and Synagogue 2000, and is a senior rabbinic fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Dedicated to social justice, Rabbi Jacobs traveled to the Chad-Darfur border area in 2005 to bring attention to the refugees’ plight, and, upon his return, raised $250,000 to aid genocide victims and delivered the opening prayer at the 2006 Darfur rally in Washington, DC (see “On the Edge of Life,” RJ magazine, Summer 2006). He was the only rabbi to participate in the 2009 Brookings U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Quatar, dedicated to building bridges of understanding between the West and the Muslim world. He lives in Scarsdale, New York with his wife, Susan K. Freedman, sons Aaron and David, and daughter Sarah.
You are the Union’s first bi-coastal president, having grown up in both New York and Orange County, CA, home of the radical John Birch Society. How did these experiences shape you?
hen I was 10, my family moved from New York to Southern California, where my parents opened a retail furniture business. Leaving a densely populated Jewish community to live in one with few Jews took some getting used to, but didn’t stop me from becoming active in student government as a teenager in the 1970s. One experience in particular crystallized for me what it meant to be a leader. When I was a high school junior serving as commissioner of activities, I curated a series of student assemblies and wanted to broaden our offerings to include a lecture on transcendental meditation, which the Beatles had popularized, as well as political events addressing Earth Day and the Vietnam War. To proceed, I had to argue my case before the five members of the school board, three of whom belonged to the John Birch Society. Even though I knew my chances for success were remote, I went before the board, spoke as convincingly as I could—and got permission to do the series! The message I took away—that leadership means standing up for what you believe in, allowing you to achieve more than you can imagine—has informed me ever since. reform judaism
In a 2000 Reform Judaism magazine article on synagogue transformation you wrote: “To tell you the truth, the Judaism I had experienced as a youth growing up in a large suburban Reform synagogue seemed shallow and uninspiring.” If that was the case, why didn’t you just drop out after bar mitzvah or Confirmation? What led you to the rabbinate?
y Jewish identity might have hit a dead end had it not been for the three summers I spent at the URJ’s Camp Swig in Northern California. I found Jewish community there with a circle of friends, including members of a rock band I was part of—I was the drummer. Swig also opened me up to issues like civil rights. Labor leader Cesar Chavez spoke to us about our obligations to the migrant farm workers, and many of us, me included, stopped eating non-union grapes or lettuce. Protest folksinger Joan Baez showed up, impressing upon us that Judaism had something to
“My Jewish identity might have hit a dead end had it not been for the three summers I spent at the URJ’s Camp Swig.” 26
5/8/12 9:40 AM
At URJ Camp Swig, Saratoga, California, 1978. I am in the third row, fourth from right.
My sister and me, New Rochelle, New York, c.1960.
With my mentor, Rabbi Jack Stern, 1986. Performing with the Avodah Dance Ensemble, 1982.
man, an Orthodox rabbi and philosopher, was teaching a class on Maimonides, Halevi, and Spinoza, and I walked in thinking, This Orthodox rabbi is a world apart from me. There’s no way he’s going to say anything that I’m going to agree with or be interested in. Well, he turned out to be the most spectacular teacher I ever had. I decided to experience Judaism through his eyes by living for six weeks on an Orthodox kibbutz in the north of Israel. Again, my presuppositions were quickly upended. Since it was Passover, I thought, Here with this Orthodox kibbutz family I’m going to celebrate the most authentic Pesach of my whole life. During the seder one of my kibbutz “brothers” had a sour expression on his face, and when I asked him, “What’s the matter?” he replied, “It’s boring. It’s the same every year.” I said, “You’re not supposed to think that. You’re an Orthodox Jew!” At that moment I real-
say about the critical social issues of the day. We also sat in the redwoods with guitars, praying in ways that I’d never experienced in a synagogue. How did your college years have an impact upon your Jewish identity?
hile I entered the University of California, Santa Barbara as a political science major, I took some religious studies classes. I needed to determine if Judaism really meant anything to me, so I could decide what part, if any, it should play in my life. A comparative religion course awakened in me a deep curiosity to probe the deeper questions of life and led to taking my junior year abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem—my first Israel experience. It was eye-opening and exhilarating. Rabbi David Hartreform judaism
4/26/12 6:04 AM
“‘Serve US without service’ runs contrary to all that makes us Jewish, and it is a journey down a dead-end street. As long as we focus on programs that serve the members without also summoning them to serve others, we will perpetuate our woes.” ized that inspiring religious life can be found in any place, just as uninspired religious life can be found in any place.
tion, one of the most embarrassing moments in some of these young people’s lives into a funny moment of connection. He made me look at the role of a congregational rabbi in a new light.
How did these experiences lead you to become a Reform rabbi?
Before going to rabbinical school, you had also considered becoming a professional dancer. How did dance enter your life, what is it about dance intrigues you, and are there any parallels for you in the dance and rabbinic worlds?
fter I returned from Israel I wanted to pursue a degree in religious studies and thought that a seminary would be the best place to learn. Rabbi Leonard Thal, who had been on the Camp Swig faculty, encouraged me to consider HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, and when I walked into Rabbi Harold Schulweis’ Talmud class I thought, This is where I belong. Frankly, I was also put off by the other seminaries, which required that I first sign a document declaring my level of Jewish observance. That, I felt, was between me and a much higher authority. During most of my years at HUC-JIR, I told anyone who would listen, “I’m not going to be a congregational rabbi. There is no way I’m going to be part of an institution that didn’t serve me well in my youth. That’s not going to be a career for me.” My classmates would roll their eyes, thinking, Shut up already, Jacobs. We’re all going to be congregational rabbis, and we don’t want to hear it.
grew up in an area of Southern California where boys didn’t dance. Basketball, yes, track, yes, dance, unthinkable. In college, on a whim, a friend and I entered a dance contest sponsored by the Black Student Union. We came in second, and it almost started a race riot at school. The whole experience intrigued me, and I decided to take a modern dance class, which I loved, and then ballet, which I tolerated, but it helped me catch up to those who had spent their youth in dance class. Interestingly, my exploration of dance came at exactly the same time as my deepening interest in religion. Dance and religion have exciting commonalities; both explore non-rational, non-verbal, artful dimensions of reality. Once I was accepted at HUC, I thought I’d have to defer dance, but a chance encounter with the man sitting next to me on the El Al flight to Jerusalem for my first year of HUC study intervened. He asked me what I was planning to do in Israel. “I’m going to study; what about you?” I replied. “I’m going to teach.” “Oh,” I said, “maybe you’re going to be one of my teachers.” “Well, I’m a ballet master. I’ve got a studio here in New York City, and I’ll be at the Ruben Academy in Jerusalem.” “That’s funny. I dance.” “Really? Let’s see what you got.” “Well, we’re on an airplane….” The ballet master then asked one of the flight attendants for a food cart, which I used as a ballet barre as he led me through dance barre exercises with all of the El Al passengers watching. When I finished, the man said, “Okay, you’re in. You just got a scholarship to the Ruben Academy. I’ll let them know you are eligible to
So what caused you to change your mind about becoming a congregational rabbi?
hile at HUC-JIR I interned for Rabbi Jack Stern, of blessed memory, at Westchester Reform Temple. I watched him lead that community, thinking, This is an unbelievably compelling way to spend a professional career. As I followed him around, listening to him, observing him, I saw how he shined the light of his humanity on every person he encountered, no matter how tough the situation. I’ll never forget the time when Jack was rehearsing consecration students for their formal processional to the bimah. The kindergarteners were distracted and walking aimlessly, so he called out, “Kids, watch me and do exactly as I do.” Now, Jack had a bad leg, so he limped down the center aisle—and then all 50 kids followed, limping just like him. What did Jack do in this uncomfortable situation? He burst out laughing. He spontaneously and lovingly turned what might have been, on reflecreform judaism
4/26/12 6:04 AM
Supporting Darfur refugees in Chad, 2006.
Planting seedlings with my daughter Sarah at the JNF forest near Modi’in, Israel, 2004.
Receiving a a Doctor of Divinity degree from HUC-JIR President Rabbi David Ellenson, 2007.
Watching as my son David reads Torah atop Masada, 2005.
take classes. Mention my name—Don Farnsworth.” That’s how I ended up spending my first year as a rabbinical student rushing between Jewish studies at HUC and Martha Graham technique at the Ruben Academy. From that point on, dance was part of what I did. When I was back at HUC in LA, I performed my sermon in dance. And when I was completing my rabbinic studies in New York, I danced with the Avodah Dance Ensemble, a Jewish modern dance company.
mistress with whom he is about to have a child. As I lifted Hagar onto my shoulders, causing Sarah to quickly exit the stage, I found myself stunned, for at that moment I could feel the depth of Sarah’s pain as never before. Dancing this role gave me a much deeper understanding of the biblical narrative than I’d absorbed from reading any midrash. You founded and directed one of the first homeless shelters at a synagogue in New York City, played an instrumental role in a city-wide interfaith effort to provide affordable community housing, and have taken the Food Stamp Challenge, living for one week on the $31.50 budget of a food stamp recipient to bring attention to hunger in America. Why is social justice so central in your rabbinate?
Did you gain insights about Judaism from dancing in a Jewish dance company?
bsolutely. For example, I danced the role of the biblical Abraham in a piece about the relationship between Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and Hagar, his reform judaism
4/26/12 6:04 AM
ewish spirituality is not only about meditation, prayer, and study. It is also about engaging in social justice, whether that’s building affordable housing, cooking in a soup kitchen, or otherwise modeling what it means to be a person of conscience and commitment. Pursuing social justice is a real-world, authentic spiritual practice.
At Westchester Reform Temple, you initiated and presided over several transformation processes that encompassed the religious school, youth work, worship, and more. What have you learned from that experience that synagogue leaders can apply in their own communities?
irst, when embarking on a transformation process, be careful not to make longtime members feel like strangers in their own spiritual home. At WRT each task force and worship group included veteran members who were often skeptical if not resistant to the change process. Second, involve “nay-sayers,” for they are essential to ethical decision-making. Third, make it a priority to develop a dynamic partnership between the professional and lay leadership. Fourth, know that transformation takes time. When someone says, “You can’t do it,” my answer is, “Really? Did you try? Did you try hard for 20 years?” If you try for a day, a week, a month, a year—that’s not trying. Finally, like lifelong Jewish learning and spiritual growth, transformation is a process that never ends.
What have you learned from your predecessors who have served as president of the Union for Reform Judaism?
t 6'4" I may be the tallest president in the history of our URJ, but I’m following in the footsteps of giants. In my mind’s eye, I see Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath carrying a Torah scroll alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He knew what too many of us have forgotten—that the Torah should never be sequestered in our synagogues. Rather, we must carry our prophetic mantel beyond the walls of our praying places to shape a more just and compassionate world for all of God’s children. I sense, too, the poetic presence of Rabbi Alexander Schindler, who boldly challenged us to share our Torah with the many interfaith families who felt barred from taking hold of our sacred inheritance, and to embrace our LGBT brothers and sisters. Our congregations are stronger thanks to the many Jews-by-choice, non-Jews, and Jews of all kinds who have joined us. Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s vision of Torah at the center has inspired my rabbinate and our Reform Movement. Eric has taught us to engage deeply with our sacred texts through serious, lifelong study.
Your second most pressing task is engaging the next generation. You’ve warned that if we do not do it right, the rest will not matter.
staggering 80% of our b’nei mitzvah drop out before confirmation. Stemming this exodus is the impetus for a Movement-wide transformation of how we interact with our youth. That is why Rabbi Yoffie initiated, and I have endorsed as one of my top priorities, the Campaign for Youth Engagement—a longterm effort to transform and strengthen relationships between Jewish teens, their peers, their families, and their congregations. We will fortify NFTY, expand our camps and Israel programs, invest in training adults who connect with youth, and allocate significant funding and programmatic support for innovative initiatives on the local level. Only by creating closer and more enduring relationships with our youth can we hope to reverse this trend. I saw this happen at Westchester Reform Temple. During my first week as rabbi there, the educator called me aside and said, “A boy in our religious school is a holy terror. He’s not just badly behaved; he is literally a threat to this place.” We didn’t kick him out of our school; we held him close. I saw him pretty regularly in my office. He kept acting out and we kept taking him back in. It paid off. Eventually he became president of our youth group and president of his college Hillel. Years later I saw him and he said, “You hung in there with me.” Just a few months ago he emailed me from London, where he was transferred by his firm, and asked if I could recommend a synagogue for the High Holy Days. By forging
At the 2011 Biennial outside Washington, DC, you spoke of our Movement’s three most pressing tasks. The first is catalyzing congregational change.
es, in this new era in which people have multiple Jewish options, synagogues must transform themselves to speak to the human soul. They must also keep up with the best of human thought, by which I mean the expanding frontiers of science and philosophy, which are sources of truth for us. They need to become great congregations, exuding excellence and always searching for new ways to do their holy work better. The URJ must do the same—being a catalyst and convener of best practices, sharing tools, methods, and models—so that all our congregations can flourish by raising themselves up the ladder from ok to good, from good to great, and from great to phenomenal. Only then will our synagogues be the central address for modern Jews who wish to cultivate a deep, nourishing Jewish life. reform judaism
4/26/12 6:04 AM
Offering a bar mitzvah blessing, Scarsdale, New York, 2011. With Israeli Supreme Court Justice Chanan Meltzer at the celebration of Beit Daniel’s 20th anniversary, 2011.
Visiting Aaron during his semester abroad in Vietnam, 2010. From left to right: sons Aaron and David, wife Susan, daughter Sarah, and me.
strong relationships with our youth, we can help them find their way through the often bewildering world of adolescence. There is a place for each one of our kids in the engaging web of offerings we must create. You’ve defined the third pressing task as extending circles of responsibility.
few years ago, I had dinner with Pastor Rick Warren, founder of the 20,000-member Saddleback Church and author of the mega bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. He said something that has not stopped resonating for me. Most people, he observed, seek congregations for their services. Makes sense. But service often becomes “serve us without service,” as in “pander to all my spiritual needs and desires.” reform judaism
Susan and me, 2010.
Most of us join synagogues hoping to receive something: a religious education for ourselves or our children, holiday observances, support during times of trial. And there is nothing wrong with this. Members have a right to receive all this and more. But “serve US without service” runs contrary to all that makes us Jewish, and it is a journey down a dead-end street. As long as we focus on programs that serve the members without also summoning them to serve others, we will perpetuate our woes. Service to others might start close to home by helping our neighbors who are struggling mightily during these tough economic times. It might be visits to patients in hospitals or nursing homes, teaching in our congregation’s religious school, or staffing its soup kitchen. Our service might move us far from home as well—to spend our vacation helping out in south Tel
4/26/12 6:04 AM
Aviv’s slums or treating patients in one of Haiti’s tent cities. By making this a Movement-wide initiative, we will proclaim to the world that congregations are not ends in themselves or clubs that cater to our members. More than anything else, synagogues are places where serious Jewish commitment is ignited. This shift in focus will be a magnet for Jews seeking purpose and meaning in their lives. A recent survey found that only 60% of Jews under 35 believe that caring about Israel is a key part of their Jewish identity. What can we do to reverse this trend?
t is up to all of us to foster a deep love for and engagement with Israel among Reform Jews of North America, young and old. This past summer I had the privilege of welcoming a few busloads of our NFTY teens to Jerusalem. Blindfolded, they stepped off their buses holding hands, moving slowly toward the edge of the Haas Promenade that overlooks the Temple Mount in the center of Jerusalem. They were about to have their first glimpse of the City of Gold. You cannot imagine the look of amazement and wonder on their faces as they opened their eyes to the setting sun over Jerusalem. Watching these Reform teens fall in love with Israel, I remembered my own love affair with Israel that was sparked during my junior year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Ever since, I have spent much of my rabbinate working to strengthen Israel’s security and well-being. I hope that every Jew can come to see Israel the way those teenagers did, with the sparkle of its promise searing our souls. You were among the Rabbinic Vision Initiative (RVI), a group of 18 influential congregational rabbis who resolved to shake up the URJ. Now that you are URJ president, how do you propose to address RVI concerns?
heir concerns are mine as well, and I’m confident that they are widely shared within the Union’s leadership and staff. For the past 40 years, Reform Judaism’s religious ingenuity has made us the fastest-growing theologically liberal denomination in North America. And yet, we’ve become bogged down, trapped in fear about the future. This is not the time for staying the course. This moment in Jewish history demands bold thinking with big ideas. A major restructuring of the URJ is required to meet these new realities of Jewish life. What will this restructuring process entail?
see five overarching imperatives. First, we need to create a URJ culture of excellence. There are many effective professionals and cutting-edge offerings within the present URJ, but we need to shape and commit to a culture of excellence throughout. Second, we must think and act like a Movement, instead of functioning as separate silos. The very serious challenges reform judaism
facing the URJ require partnering with our affiliates, such as HUC-JIR and the CCAR, and committing to shared Movement solutions. Third, we need a covenantal partnership between the URJ’s lay leaders and staff. A renewed sense of partnership between our lay and professional leaders will allow us to successfully navigate the inevitable disequilibrium that the transformation of the URJ will provoke, and ultimately serve as a leadership model for our congregations. Fourth, the URJ needs to see itself and be seen in the context of a relational culture instead of an all-knowing big brother. A good example of this is Just Congregations, a congregationbased community organizing model in which leaders are trained to think strategically about how to engage significant numbers of others by conducting intentional relationship-building campaigns. Through house meetings and one-on-one conversations, issues of shared concern emerge, and leaders conduct significant actions that engage their members to shape a more just world. These same approaches can transform the URJ’s work by reaching into and across congregations to develop leadership, build networks of relationships, identify and create platforms to share best practices, identify areas of shared concern, and call us to collective action. Sometimes those actions may relate to matters of public policy, such as marriage equality, support of Israel, or economic justice, but just as often they will enable synagogues to accomplish goals that require greater scale, such as coordinating collective Jewish learning or shared purchasing for common services. When the URJ models a “relational culture” of shared purpose and effective collective action, the URJ will no longer be seen as a fee-for-service provider of expertise, and we will stop pretending that all the answers rest in our central office. Instead, everyone will become part of the Movement that we organize, facilitate, and nurture. Fifth, we need to understand and harness the power of new technologies. This requires rethinking our current programs, not just “pushing” our established programs with social media tools. And we need to have a much stronger presence on search engines. Googling “Shabbat” currently brings you a slew of Orthodox websites but hardly any progressive ones, when we’re what most Googlers truly seek. What do you anticipate will be the most difficult part of your new job, and the most gratifying?
he most difficult part will be transformation. Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie advised me to do what his predecessor, Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, advised him: “Change everything.” This doesn’t mean we have to literally change everything, but most of us stop well before we change what needs changing. Tweaking is not transformation. I anticipate the most exhilarating part of this job will be getting down that road with all of our Movement partners and feeling us moving together on our collective journey. This is going to be like climbing Mount Everest barefoot, but we’ll get there.
4/26/12 6:04 AM
Books continued from page 7 who has fashioned the human being with wisdom and created within each person many openings and many cavitiesâ€Śbut if one of them were ruptured or were to be blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You.â€? At overwhelmed moments when we feel insecure, we can inspire greater compassion for ourselves by reciting: â€œMy God, the soul that You have placed within me is a pure one!â€? Repeating the words of the Shehecheyanu blessing, thanking God for sustaining us and enabling us to reach a new season, can help us see new challenges, even stressful ones, as moments of opportunity and potential growth. As a self-help book on stress management for Jews and non-Jews, Felder encourages readers to fill in whatever terms they wish for â€œGodâ€? and â€œsoulâ€? and provides lots of alternatives; but for Jews who are comfortable with these terms, this book offers a double rewardâ€”both as a mindful therapeutic practice and as a way of reconnecting to Jewish prayer.
Cantors from Across North America are Singing for Campers!
ACC Campership Fund American Conference of Cantors in Partnership with Union for Reform Judaism to Raise Funds for Campers
For more information, contact the ACC ofďŹ ce: E=JA;9F GF>=J=F;= G>