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A Union for Reform Judaism Publication Summer 2012/5772 $ 5 . 0 0

A Congregation’s

GOD BELIEFS REVEALED Engaging Membership:





Rabbi Rick Jacobs


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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

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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


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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:

On-Line Home Page: 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: and/or send a letter-to-the-editor: reform judaism

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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: Change of Address Hotline: 212-650-4182*

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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-

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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, (click on “Submissions”).

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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


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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

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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.


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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 and click on the Books link to see readers’ personal perspectives and to add your own. reform judaism

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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

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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,

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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: bootcamp. Additional questions:

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

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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

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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 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

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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.

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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-

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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: Dear Jonathan, Thank you. We really appreciate knowing more about our medallion, and will keep it in our family.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


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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.


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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

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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-

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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

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What led Beit Daniel in 2006 to build its second center—Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, the guest house, synagogue, and conference center in Jaffa?

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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

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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. We’ve also raised our profile through involvement in the city’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 Israel’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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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. P HO T O GR A P H B Y

Ian Spanier

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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

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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

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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

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“‘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

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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

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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

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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

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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


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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

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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.


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Books continued from page 7 who has fashioned the human being with wisdom and created within each person many openings and many cavities‌but 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: “My 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 “Godâ€? and “soulâ€? and provides lots of alternatives; but for Jews who are comfortable with these terms, this book offers a double reward—both as a mindful therapeutic practice and as a way of reconnecting to Jewish prayer.

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GOD Survey

Last Yom Kippur I sent a survey to my congregants to find out what they believe.

The results surprised me. By M ark Dov Shapiro

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New York Times or whatever Sunday paper you wish, but take 10 minutes as well to complete this survey.” On the day after Yom Kippur every temple member received a computer questionnaire I had designed with the help of several congregants. Over the course of the next few weeks, 338 congregants—40% of the congregation—completed the God survey. Their responses revealed a great deal.

lways I’ve wondered about God. To tell the truth, I became a rabbi not because I had all the answers about God, but in part because questions about faith and meaning in life pressed me with special force. My dad was a physician. In high school TAKE THE I considered medicine for my life’s work and took all the chemistry, biology, and physics courses expected of me for a premed college track. But toward the end of Rabbi Mark Shapiro my senior year, I realized I was less interand Reform Judaism ested in how an atom worked than why magazine invite you there was an atom to begin with. Questo participate in a tions about why we are here and the purMovement-wide pose of life tilted me away from science conversation about toward religion and inquiries about faith. God that will help Such questions have remained with me, us in understanding and I think they are shared by many adult the scope of Reform Jews who ponder whether there is a God Jewish belief today. and what that God does or does not do. We plan to report Last Yom Kippur I set out to explore on our findings in a these questions with my congregation, forthcoming edition. Sinai Temple in Springfield, MassachuYour responses will setts. Before the singing of Kol Nidre, I be anonymous. spoke about the challenges of faith and Be counted in The then asked my congregants if they would God Survey. Visit help me complete my sermon. “Up until reformjudaismmag. org/Godsurvey. now,” I explained, “this conversation has been one-sided. You have heard me speak about my ideas of God, but I haven’t heard from you, and you haven’t heard from each other. Let’s remedy that on Sunday morning, when I hope you will talk to me via a survey on God and belief. Read your


A little

I Wonder About God



Sinai Temple Responses 0




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When given the statement, “There is no God,” 60% of the Sinai respondents disagreed. In other words, most people were not comfortable with no God. When asked if the universe reveals evidence that God exists, 45% agreed. Interestingly, the women in the congregation are more likely than the men to believe in God. Many more men (33%) than women (8%) agreed with the statement, “There is no God,” and 44% of men agreed that “Science can explain everything,” as compared to 23% of women. Age also matters in relation to God beliefs. Fifty-one percent of respondents in their 20s agreed with the statement, “Science can explain everything, making God an unnecessary hypothesis,” whereas only 17% in their 50s did so. When it came to the statement “There is no God,” 25% of those in their 20s agreed, whereas only 7% in their 50s agreed.

Connecting to God What about experiencing God? In what settings have Sinai congregants felt connected to God?

Chart results courtesy of Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro

A lot

The Existence of God


More than half (53%) report having felt close to God at Shabbat services and funerals. Smaller numbers have felt close to God at lifecycle events such as bar/bat mitzvah, a wedding, or a baby naming. Some have felt close to God while experiencing great art, literature, or film. Above all else, 64% of congregants have felt close to God outdoors, when encountering what the survey called “nature’s wonders.” It appears that during liminal moments— times when a human being comes to the edge of regular experience and senses the boundaries of life—God’s presence is most often felt. ➢ Mark Dov Shapiro is rabbi at Sinai Temple in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Previous page: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. A rizona) et al.


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God & I Members of Sinai Temple, Springfield, Massachusetts offered these anonymous reflections on the following three questions: “I have felt close to God…,” “I have felt distant from God…,” and “If God was accepting questions I would ask….”

I Have Felt Close to God… “At times of life (babies being born) and at times of death (funerals). Or, it could be that I feel close to my mortality, which then leads me to hoping/believing in God.” “When I have been on the edge of despair (due to circumstances of life), often something has happened the next day or the next little while that has helped me back from the edge and keep going.” “On Yom Kippur, looking at the Eternal Light I felt overwhelmed with the feeling G-d was with me.” “I have been singing in the choir for three years. I feel close to God in our singing.” “When I cared for my mother in the last months of her life and was having some serious health problems of my own.” “When I was in second grade, coming home from school, the sky looked so beautiful. And I stood outside my door staring up at the sky and I felt such joy, such a rapturous feeling. I knew that God was there. And when I felt disturbed by something, I knew that

God knew what was going on inside me, and I knew that he loved me and that he accepted me.” “During the births of my children.” “I get a powerful dose of God-ness in nature.” “I would say I do not know what it means to be close to God.” “I feel close to God by watching and playing with my nephew and by remembering my grandfather—his love, support, and the lessons I have learned from him.”

“All the wars, famines, and seemingly unnecessary suffering that is present every day cause one to want to either hide one’s eyes, weep in despair, or become angry that it occurs (and who can we get angry at—it makes sense it would be God). I think we all feel so powerless and insignificant to make it better, so we (I) tend to give up trying (and then just feel guilty). Being angry at God is easier than trying to take some responsibility for the suffering we see.” “When I realize that everything I have read about cosmology, medicine, evolution, anthropology, and primate behavior belies the existence of the sort of God we are taught about.” “When I think of the Holocaust.”

“Why are some souls so troubled?” “How can I do for me when so many need me to do for them?” “Will I see those I loved on earth after death?” “What is death like?” “What is it that You want me to do with the rest of my life?” “Who are you? What are you? Where are you? Why are you? What/who was there before you?” “If you exist, why have you not given us ample evidence?” “How can you observe the world and the actions and choices of the people in it and not be totally distressed?” “What is the purpose of life?” “Am I pleasing to you?”

“At Shabbat services, it is great to just relax, forget about the events of the day or week, and feel at peace thinking of God.” “When I have had a moment of shared insight.” “When I’m in community.” “When I am most distressed, no matter where it may be, I feel God guiding me through the trouble. I know He has not left me alone and walks for me when I cannot walk for myself.” “In the midst of an ordinary day—as long as I take the time to pause and notice.”

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I Have Felt Distant From God…

“When good people die way too young, I struggle with ‘Why?’ and wonder if there is a G-d, how could he let these things happen….Then I think, G-d can’t prevent tragedies but he can help us through them; he can help us see the wonders that are still with us.”

If God Was Accepting Questions, I Would Ask… “What do you do all day up in the sky?” “Are we, collectively, God?”


“Are you a person, spirit, a force in each human soul? Do you manifest yourself differently and uniquely in each human being?” “Why do we live only to die? Do we have any lasting presence?” “How can you use me best?” “How did it all begin?” “How can we all come together to use your power for good?” “Why is redemption taking so long, and will the world ever be redeemed?

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GOD Survey

“When Sinai congregants use the word ‘God,’ they do not do so in classic Jewish terms.”

Understanding God

Wrestling with Faith

It turns out, however, that when Sinai congregants use the word “God,” they do not do so in classic Jewish terms.

For all this, congregants are also struggling with faith. A notable 93.8% agreed with the statement that “Innocent people sometimes suffer without any reason.” A majority of congregants said they felt distant from God when “seeing the devastation caused by natural disasters,” “when seeing the state of the world in general,” and especially “when a relative or friend encounters illness or personal loss.” And when the survey invited people to ask God their own questions, more than 200 congregants expressed concerns about justice, such as: “God, why do bad things happen to good people?” and “Why? Why? Why?”

For example, when asked about the traditional belief that God rewards good people and punishes bad people, 73.8% said that did not happen. When asked if God is all powerful, 39.5% said yes while 39.5% said no and 21% said they were unsure. And is God just? Although 26.3% say yes, 30.4% say they do not believe God is just and 43.4% are not sure.

Defining God How, then, do most Sinai congregants characterize God? More than 70% of the congregation agreed with these four statements: “God is hope,” “God is love,” “Healing the sick is Godly,” and “Feeding the hungry is Godly.” Between half and d two-thirds agreed that “There is purpose and design in the world,” “We are partners with God in the ongoing process of creation,” “There is one God,” and “God is a presence in the universe supporting us to do our best.” Taken together, these responses represent the survey’s strongest affirmations of God.

Purpose on Earth As people addressed questions to God, they also began to ponder the ultimate questions of existence and our purpose here on earth. They asked God, “What do you want me to do with my life?,” “How can I find peace?,” “What happens next—after I die?” Two congregants wrote:

I have felt close to God... Sinai Temple congregants selected all that spoke to them when I have been at Shabbat service when I have been at a wedding when I have been at a baby naming when I have been at a bar/bat mitzvah when I have been at a funeral when I have experienced outstanding movies when I have experienced great art when I have read an outstanding book or poem watching my child or grandchild at... when I have been outdoors and experienced... All other responses 0





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“I used to think about God much more in my 30s through my early 50s. Now it seems as though I’ve come to a state of comfort with my formulation about what God has meant to me at varying times and stages in my life, so right now I’m less perplexed and intrigued and simply more accepting that I am part of God’s plan for this earth, that I have a specific task to do, and I may not even know when I’ve completed it. And, that seems to be OK for right now. In another decade or two that may or may not be such a reassuring position.” “As I have approached (and now passed) age 50, and the real sense of the limited number of days I have on this Earth, the sense of how to make life meaningful seems a more pressing question.” *** So what have I learned about my congregants’ approach toward God? I now know that those who wonder and question God are not alone. Large numbers of those surveyed make positive affirmations about God, but at least 15% say there is no God, and a sizeable minority (20%) see no purpose or design in the universe. Although slightly more than half believe that God is the creator of the universe, 28% disagree, and 21% are not sure. summer 2012

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Age Differences

God and the Individual:

20’s Agree

50’s Agree

Universe reveals God exists



Science explains all



Evil exists for a purpose



In the Bible

God comforts



God is a personal God, who hears and answers prayer. God is compared to a parent who cares and watches lovingly over us.

Purpose & design in the world



In Rabbinic Literature

God is hope



God is a personal God, who hears and answers prayer. God has the capacity for compassion and anger, but “prefers” mercy.

There is no God




Jewish Perspectives

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) We can pray directly to God and draw nearer to God as our intellectual level increases.

Males Agree

Female Agree

Universe reveals God exists



Science explains all



God is hope



There is no God



Isaac Luria (1534-1572) Meditation, prayer, and contemplation give us knowledge about God’s relationship to our world. People represent the Divine Presence on earth. We can commune with God.

Martin Buber (1878-1965)

Source: Temple Sinai

Gender Differences

Whenever we have an “I-Thou” relationship with another person, we also encounter God, the “Eternal Thou.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) We humans can know God’s “feelings.” God loves humankind.

I am particularly struck by the finding that the largest percentage of congregants—74.6%—identified God as “hope,” followed by “Healing the sick is Godly” (73%), “Feeding the hungry is Godly” (71.5%), and “God is love” (71.3%). This is not theology as usual—not the traditional God of our prayerbook, who is usually described as Melech/Ruler of the Universe and spoken to as Atta/You in every blessing. Most of my congregants do not construe God as a celestial figure who acts in this world. For them, God is a presence or power. For them, God is not so much “above” us in heaven as God is “beside” us or “within” us. Most believe that God “acts” when we act with God’s attributes, such as love, kindness, and justice. I find it significant that this metaphor of God as hope or love is largely absent from Reform liturgy. No wonder that some people feel disenfranchised coming to services where the prevailing God metaphor is Melech or Ruler. Broadening the vocabulary of worship to include new God language for the majority of my congregants may be my next step as a rabbi. On a personal note, when the results began to arrive last fall, I asked myself how I would define success for the survey. From my rabbinic perspective, it would have been gratifying to learn that most respondents “believed.” But what if only 50% or 25% believed, or if very few even cared about matters of faith? Would that constitute failure? I realized then that, for me, the statistics on faith reform judaism

Shapiro_su12_be5.indd 39

Adapted from Finding God: Selected Responses by Rifat Sonsino and Daniel B. Syme, 2nd edition, © 2002, URJ Press.

would tell only part of the story. Beyond the numbers, if the survey led people to think about what God did or didn’t mean for them and to talk about their struggles with faith, that alone would be a benefit to the congregation. Jews are meant to “wrestle” with God. That is how Jacob, our patriarch, receives his second name in Genesis. After a night of dreaming, he is renamed Yisrael, meaning “one who struggles with God.” As long as Jews are doing that, I am satisfied. If we are learning, growing, and questioning, we are on the right track.

Bringing the God Conversation to Home and Temple In addition to participating in the God Survey online (see page 36), we encourage you to discuss your beliefs, ideas, and questions about God in your congregation and home: › Plan a congregational conversation around the survey in the fall—perhaps on Yom Kippur afternoon. › Invite members to keep a journal of sacred experiences to share as a group. › Discuss thoughts about God at the family’s Shabbat table.


summer 2012

4/24/12 6:27 AM

FOCUS: Civility

Conviction with Compassion Learning to respect and care about those with whom we profoundly disagree. by arnold s. gluck

eckless incivility.” That’s how ourselves better than those [with whom the competition between the schools of one religious leader describes our we differ]….” Hillel and Shammai, disciples of two public discourse. Politics in America To their great credit, U.S. Senators of the greatest rabbis of the 1st century. has become a blood sport in which Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the late Ted The school of Hillel tended to be lenient vanquishing rivals seems more and the school of Shammai important than serving the strict. At one point, the Talmud people. And this poisonous says, they were contesting 316 partisan rhetoric is spreading different issues. from the halls of Congress to And yet, the Talmud reports, the media, our schoolyards, the two rival camps always and our homes. treated each other with kindHow do we restore civility ness and affection, and their to our public life? children never stopped marryThe answer, some suggest, ing one another (Talmud Yevais for us to become more tolermot 14b). That was because ant and accepting of different their arguments were limited to views. The problem with this the matters at hand and never approach is that some things became personal. In other In 2005, political rivals and close friends Senator Orrin are, and should be, intolerable words, they did not equate Hatch (R – UT) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy to us. We should be passionatethose on the other side of the (D – MA) discuss a children’s health bill. ly outspoken about the causes divide with their points of view. we believe in. The question is, can we Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) succeeded One argument between Beit Hillel learn to disagree in ways that don’t lead in living this ideal, even though they were (House of Hillel) and Beit Shammai to aggression? Can we learn—as John leaders of opposing political camps. As (House of Shammai) lasted three years. Dickson notes in his book Humilitas: A Senator Hatch described it, “We did not Each side insisted: “The law is accordLost Key to Life, Love and Leadership— agree on much and, more often than not, ing to our view.” Finally, a bat kol “how to flex two mental muscles at the I was trying to derail whatever big gov(heavenly voice) declared: “Eilu v’eilu same time: the muscle of moral convic- ernment scheme he had just concoctdivrei Elohim chaim—These and these tion and the muscle of compassion…?” ed….Disagreements over policy, howev- are both the words of the living God” Dickson explains that our challenge er, were never personal with Ted.” When (Talmud Eruvin 13b). today is “to learn to respect and care Kennedy died, Hatch wrote of his dear How could two diametrically opposeven for those with whom we profriend: “We can all take a lesson from ing sides both be right? Because both foundly disagree…to maintain our con- Ted’s 47 years of service and accomcontained truth. The heavenly voice victions but choose never to allow them plishment. I hope that America’s ideolog- was teaching that no human being has a to become justification for thinking ical opposites in Congress, on the airmonopoly on truth. When we are waves, in cyberspace, and in the public embroiled in a dispute we tend to square will learn that being faithful to a assume that “in order for me to be right, Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck is the senior rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. political party or a philosophical view you must be wrong.” But that is not He serves on the URJ/CCAR Joint Commisdoes not preclude civility, or even friend- always the case. sion on Outreach and Synagogue Community ships, with those on the other side.” Then the Talmud goes on to say that and the CCAR Responsa Committee, and The Talmud relates the story of a while both sides are right, “the law is in chairs the CCAR Israel Committee. great rivalry that ended peacefully— agreement with Beit Hillel” (Eruvin 13b). reform judaism

Focus_1GLUCK_su12_F.indd 40


© Scott J. Ferrell / Congressional Quarterly / Alamy


summer 2012

4/24/12 11:37 AM

Why does the law follow Beit Hillel if both sides are right? Because their scholars “were kind and modest; they studied their own rulings and those of Beit Shammai, and were even so [humble] as to mention the opinions of Beit Shammai before their own….” They deserved to lead, the text teaches, because of their conduct—they demonstrated respect for the opinions of their adversaries. They did not demonize or cast aspersions on the character of those with whom they disagreed. They tried to faithfully represent the opposing view and stand up to its challenge with integrity. To do this they had to listen well and sincerely try to understand the others’ perspective They demonstrated the mark of true leadership: secure in their own convictions, yet humble enough to make room for opposing opinions. This is civility at its best. But are there not some disagreements that are so great and so intense that one cannot help but take them personally? Should we have expected the abolitionists to conduct a civil conversation with those who practiced human slavery?

Should we ask a gay couple that longs to be parents to listen politely to the views of those who would deny them what they believe are their human rights? It is precisely in such circumstances that the effort to practice restraint is critical. The failure to manage differences over slavery led in part to the Civil War, which cost hundreds of thousands of American lives and nearly destroyed the U.S. And if that gay couple were to sit down and exchange perspectives with a Christian fundamentalist, they just might be moved by each other’s humanity. It is hard, but possible. There are many examples of virulent enemies who have come together in this way. Former Knesset member Eleazar Granot sought reconciliation with the Palestinians despite his wife’s murder in a terror attack. Real, fruitful dialogue ensued because he resisted the temptation to see all Palestinians through this lens, expressed willingness to share his pain and his truth, and listened to the stories of his enemies. Most Israelis and Palestinians will never agree to the continued on page 46

Logo designed by studio Kalderon ©



reform judaism

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summer 2012

5/3/12 7:36 AM

FOCUS: Civility

The Insult That Destroyed Jerusalem... “The host grabbed Bar Kamtza by his arm... and threw him out.” by h ay y im na hm a n bi a l ik a nd y ehoshua i a na r aw n it zk i

From Sefer-Ha-Aggadah, The Book of Jewish Folklore and Legend by Hayyim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Iana Rawnitzki, © 1988 Dvir Publishing House, Tel Aviv. reform judaism

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Nimatallah / Art Resource, NY


he destruction of Jerusalem came about He went and said to Caesar, “The Jews are about through a Kamtza and a Bar Kamtza in this to rebel against you.” Caesar: “How can one way. A certain man, who had a friend named prove such an accusation?” Bar Kamtza: “Send Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza, once them an offering [for their Temple] and see arranged a banquet whether they will and said to his serbe willing to offer vant, “Go and bring it.” So Caesar sent Kamtza.” But the a fine calf with Bar servant [mistakenly] Kamtza. While on went and brought the way, Bar Kamtza Bar Kamtza. When inflicted a blemish the host found his on its upper lip, or, enemy Bar Kamtza some say, injured its seated in his home, eye, in a place where he said, “You hate we [Jews] count it a me, so what are you blemish but heathens doing here? Pick do not. The sages yourself up and get were inclined to out!” Bar Kamtza: offer it in order to “Now that I am here, Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by Nicholas Poussin maintain peace with let me stay, and I will the government. But pay you for whatever I eat and drink.” The host: R. Zechariah ben Avkulas protested, “People will “No!” Bar Kamtza: “Then let me give you half say that blemished animals may be offered on the the cost of your banquet.” “No, sir!” “I will pay altar.” Then it was proposed to have Bar Kamtza the full cost for your entire banquet.” “Under assassinated, so that he would not continue to no circumstances!” Then the host grabbed Bar inform against them. Again R. Zechariah ben Kamtza by his arm, pulled him up from his seat, Avkulas demurred: “Is one who makes a blemish and threw him out. on consecrated animals to be put to death?” R. Yohanan [remarked]: “The scrupulousness The ousted Bar Kamtza said to himself: Since of R. Zechariah ben Avkulas, as well as his the sages sitting there did not stop him, it would forbearance, destroyed our [holy] house, burned seem that what happened met with their approval. our Temple Hall, and caused us to be exiled from So I will go to the king and inform against them. our Land.”

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4/24/12 11:38 AM

...And Who Is To Blame What we can learn from the Talmudic tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.


Lilith offers scholarship for argument and womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s personal voices for enlightenment; and it does all of this with anger and delight, good writing and humor.


by arnold s. gluck

-Gloria Steinem


ho is to blame? We all want to know. Name the misfortune and the temptation to identify a guilty party is almost irresistible. The story before us seems to satisfy this desire straight away. Who is responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem? Kamtza and Bar Kamtza! But on an historical level, this claim is preposterous. The Romans destroyed the Temple and sacked Jerusalem. Unquestionably, the Romans were at fault. So why does the Talmud blame Kamtza and Bar Kamtza? Clearly, the rabbis understood the downside of playing the blame game. If the Romans bear sole responsibility, the Jewish people become nothing more than victims. The Romans were strong, we were weak, and they had their way with us. Now what? Where does that leave us? What can we do? Where do we go from there? We have been rendered passive. Elsewhere the Talmud states, â&#x20AC;&#x153;When you see that troubles have come upon you, examine your deedsâ&#x20AC;? (Berachot 5a). This may sound like blaming the victim, but sometimes we will discover that we are indeed responsible for our woes, in whole or in part. And if we are not at fault, the exercise of examining our deeds empowers us to learn and to grow from painful experiences. As the saying goes, â&#x20AC;&#x153;If life hands you lemons, make sweet lemonade.â&#x20AC;? Does it then follow that both Kamtza and Bar Kamtza were responsible? No. The story says nothing about Kamtza except that he was the friend of â&#x20AC;&#x153;a certain manâ&#x20AC;? who tried to invite him to a party. Kamtza did nothing wrong. Bar Kamtza also seems innocent at first. He accepts an invitation from his enemy thinking it is an olive branch, an opportunity to make peace. When he arrives the host sees him and explodes with rage, demanding that Bar Kamtza leave and humiliating him in the presence of great rabbis who remain silent. Bar Kamtza then becomes so enraged that he betrays his own people to the Romans. Who is at fault? Everyone involved! (Kamtza, who never appears in the story, is the sole exception.) The â&#x20AC;&#x153;certain manâ&#x20AC;? who arranged the party, Bar Kamtza, the attending rabbis who said nothingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;all of them contributed to the debacle, and any one of them could have stopped it. Who is at fault? The better question may be, â&#x20AC;&#x153;What is at fault?â&#x20AC;? And the answer would be toxic anger and indifference. The Talmud speaks purposely of â&#x20AC;&#x153;a certain manâ&#x20AC;? because he could be any person in any time or place. This universal tale reminds us of the destructive power of anger and insensitivity, and how we can learn and grow even from our worst defeats.

Join the conversation! Lilith magazineâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;independent, Jewish & frankly feministâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;is the conversation-starter for smart women and men. In print, online, and in WRJ/ Lilith salons, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll get social commentary, pop culture, fresh ďŹ ction, and insights into lives of women like and unlike you. Special for RJ readers: Subscribe now for only $24. Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;UĂ&#x160;9Â&#x153;Ă&#x2022;Ă&#x160;}iĂ&#x152;Ă&#x160;vÂ&#x153;Ă&#x2022;Ă&#x20AC;Ă&#x160;ÂľĂ&#x2022;>Ă&#x20AC;Ă&#x152;iĂ&#x20AC;Â?Ă&#x17E;Ă&#x160;Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x192;Ă&#x192;Ă&#x2022;iĂ&#x192;Ă&#x160;Â&#x153;vĂ&#x160;Â&#x2C6;Â?Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x152;Â&#x2026;tĂ&#x160; Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;UĂ&#x160;/Â&#x2026;>Ă&#x152;½Ă&#x192;Ă&#x160;>Ă&#x160;Ă&#x192;>Ă&#x203A;Â&#x2C6;Â&#x2DC;}Ă&#x192;Ă&#x160;Â&#x153;vĂ&#x160;Ă&#x201C;䯰Ă&#x160; Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;UĂ&#x160;Â&#x2C6;Â?Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x152;Â&#x2026;Ă&#x160;Â&#x201C;>Â&#x17D;iĂ&#x192;Ă&#x160;>Ă&#x160;}Ă&#x20AC;i>Ă&#x152;Ă&#x160;}Â&#x2C6;vĂ&#x152;]Ă&#x160;Ă&#x152;Â&#x153;Â&#x153;° -Ă&#x2022;LĂ&#x192;VĂ&#x20AC;Â&#x2C6;LiĂ&#x160;>Â&#x2DC;`Ă&#x160;Ă&#x20AC;i>`Ă&#x160;Â&#x201C;Â&#x153;Ă&#x20AC;iĂ&#x160;Â&#x153;Â&#x2DC;Â?Â&#x2C6;Â&#x2DC;iĂ&#x160;>Ă&#x152;Ă&#x160;Â&#x2C6;Â?Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x152;Â&#x2026;°Â&#x153;Ă&#x20AC;}. Â&#x2DC;>Â&#x201C;iĂ&#x160; ____________________________________ >``Ă&#x20AC;iĂ&#x192;Ă&#x192;___________________________________ _____________________________ zip__________ Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x160;VÂ&#x2026;iVÂ&#x17D;Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x160;VÂ&#x2026;>Ă&#x20AC;}iĂ&#x160;Â&#x201C;Ă&#x17E;Ă&#x160;VĂ&#x20AC;i`Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x152;Ă&#x160;V>Ă&#x20AC;` MC


no: _______________________________________ iĂ?ÂŤ\Ă&#x160;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;Ă&#x160;VĂ&#x203A;Ă&#x203A;\Ă&#x160;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161;Ă&#x161; -iÂ&#x2DC;`Ă&#x160;Ă&#x152;Â&#x153;\Ă&#x160; Â&#x2C6;Â?Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x152;Â&#x2026;Ă&#x160;UĂ&#x160;-Ă&#x2022;Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x152;iĂ&#x160;Ă&#x201C;{Ă&#x17D;Ă&#x201C;Ă&#x160;UĂ&#x160;Ă&#x201C;xäĂ&#x160;7Ă&#x160;xĂ&#x2021;Ă&#x152;Â&#x2026;Ă&#x160;UĂ&#x160; 9]Ă&#x160; 9Ă&#x160;£ä£äĂ&#x2021;Ă&#x160; Ă&#x2022;Ă&#x192;iĂ&#x160;`Â&#x2C6;Ă&#x192;VÂ&#x153;Ă&#x2022;Â&#x2DC;Ă&#x152;Ă&#x160;VÂ&#x153;`i\Ă&#x160;Ă&#x2021;,Ă&#x2021;ÂŁĂ&#x201C;



Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck is senior rabbi of Temple-Beth El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. reform judaism

Focus_2Kamtza_su12_F.indd 43


summer 2012

5/2/12 5:30 AM

FOCUS: Civility

Civility as a Spiritual Practice Jewish tradition emphasizes kindness, graciousness, and respect to teach us to uphold the human ideal—and to promote good government.


hese are dark days for the virtue of civility. Drivers on the freeway are aggressive and contemptuous, reality television celebrates and exploits backstabbing chatter, politicians berate one another with gleeful abandon and little regard for truth, and online cyber bullying and “flaming” have set new low standards for public interaction. What can we do about this? Simply calling for more civility in public life has had little effect. Stronger medicine is needed. Mussar, a millennium-old Jewish tradition of personal spiritual development based in the Torah, shines a unique light on the issue. From the Mussar perspective, civility is not just about considerate and respectful interaction; rather, it asks us to see the spiritual value and impact that arise from our speech and behavior. When we grasp the deeper importance of the issue, maybe we will be more strongly motivated as a community to work to end corrosive behavior that undermines the social fabric of society. One of the primary spiritual principles in the Torah is the injunction “to walk in God’s ways” (Deuteronomy 28:7-9); that is, to model our individual characters on the Divine attributes revealed to us in the tradition. “Just as God is called merciful, so should you be merciful. Just as He is called gracious, so should you be gracious” (Sifrei Devarim

Alan Morinis, author of Climbing Jacob’s Ladder and Everyday Holiness, is founder and dean of The Mussar Institute.

11:22). The Talmud emphasizes kindly, caring actions that emulate the Divine: “As God clothes the naked [Adam and Eve], so you also should clothe the

naked. As God visited the sick [Abraham after his circumcision], so you also should visit the sick. As God comforted mourners [Isaac after the death of Abraham], so you also should comfort mourners. As God buried the dead [Moses], so you also should bury the dead” (Sotah 14a). Thus, when we identify in God’s actions the qualities of mercy, lovingkindness, graciousness, generosity, and compassion and we then make an effort to develop those traits in ourselves, we become more merciful, loving, and generous people and thereby elevate ourselves as spiritual beings. By the same token, when we practice compassionate behaviors such as clothing the naked and comforting mourners, we walk in God’s ways and are elevated spiritually. But can humans truly emulate “God’s qualities”? Are we really supposed to think that God has human-like qualities? Maimonides, the great 11threform judaism

Focus_3Morinis_su12_F.indd 44


century Jewish thinker, writes: “They [the sages of the Talmud and midrash] do not mean to say that God really possesses middot [traits of character], but that He performs actions similar to those actions we may perform….[And] we ascribe to God the emotion which is the source of the act were we to perform it” (Guide for the Perplexed, 1:54). In other words, God doesn’t really have human-like characteristics, but we attribute to God the qualities that would be true of humans who act the way God acts. Yet anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Bible knows that ours is not a God of only mercy and tolerance. Our God shows anger and envy and yet we aren’t told, “As God is angry, so should you be angry. As the Divine is jealous, so should you be jealous.” Why not? Maimonides addresses this question, saying, “We have shown why it suffices to mention only these out of all God’s acts, namely, because these are the ones required for good government of a country.” This is a surprising perspective. Why doesn’t Jewish tradition simply encourage us to emulate the kindly, patient, and generous qualities we see in God’s behavior and avoid the harsher side of the Divine for the sake of our own spiritual elevation? Aren’t spiritually developed people simply bound to be more compassionate and kind, and less angry and envious? No, say Maimonides and the Mussar teachers. There is nothing inherently negative about anger or envy, just as such qualities as patience or generosity continued on page 46

©Alloy Photography / Veer

by Al an Morinis

summer 2012

4/23/12 11:58 AM

FOCUS: Civility

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. When we assert ourselves respectfully while avoiding the temptation to act unkindly towards others, no one is diminished as a human being. Can you offer us a Jewish definition of civility?

Reform Judaism, which emphasizes tikkun olam, the ethical imperative to repair the broken places in our world.

©Fancy Photography / Veer

Rabbi Edythe Mencher (URJ Faculty Member, clinical social work psychotherapist): Most of Jew-

ish law is organized around the guiding principle of our behaving respectfully toward one another, regardless of what we may be feeling. In welcoming the stranger, we are reminded of our people’s own enslavement: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20). The rabbis advise us to regulate our speech and carefully consider the impact of our words. “Why is a gossip like a three pronged tongue? Because it kills three people: the person who says it, the person who listens to it, and the person about whom it is said” (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Arakhin). And we are taught to give others the benefit of the doubt, rather than assuming harmful intent: “Judge everyone on the positive side of the scale” (Pirkei Avot 1:6). All of these teachings are means to keep our unbridled emotions under control in order to foster a civil society. Admittedly, it is not easy to be civil toward someone who we feel has wronged us, been disrespectful to us, and/or has trampled on our values. Still, the ideal in Judaism is to see the holiness in the other—the Divine spark in every person—as each of us has been created in the image of God. There is one caveat, however: Staying silent when confronted with unjust situations is not always in keeping with

Is the problem rooted in trickle-down incivility? Dale: When we see role mod-

Is there a civility crisis today? Dr. Dale Atkins (psychologist; author; TV commentator; member of Temple Israel in Westport, Connecticut): I’ve witnessed an ero-

sion of our communal sense of responsibility to perform the civil act. For example, I was taught that if a person who is frail or pregnant gets on the bus, you relinquish your seat. That no longer seems to be the case. Recently I boarded a bus and saw two pregnant women and three very old people standing—no one had offered them a seat. In anger I called out, “Can anyone get up for these people?” Two boys with whom I made eye contact in a pleading way got up, and the two women who sat down thanked the boys and me. Everyone else stayed put, focusing on their digital devices, oblivious to other people’s needs. Edie: I have observed similar scenes

with equal disappointment. Still, I think reform judaism

Focus_4RESPECT_su12_F.indd 45

that sometimes we harbor a nostalgic fantasy about an earlier era when all people supposedly had better manners. I wonder if the kind of polite and considerate behavior we remember was extended to only a small fraction of the population.


els treating others poorly, we may believe that we have license to do the same. And too often political leaders with opposing views opt for the basest kind of interaction without regard for the societal consequences. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change any time soon. In 2009, author Mark DeMoss launched a Civility Project asking every sitting governor and member of Congress to sign a pledge of civility agreeing to three statements: “1. I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior; 2. I will be respectful of others, whether or not I agree with them; and 3. I will stand against incivility when I see it.” Amazingly, only three elected officials signed it—Sen. Joe Lieberman, Rep. Frank Wolf, and Rep. Sue Myrick. How can you best respond to someone who lashes out at you? Dale: Depending on how you respond,

you can ratchet up the tension or bring it down. I heard a story about an elderly gentleman who was in the hospital. A nurse walked into his room, and from her ill-tempered demeanor he could see he would not be treated with kindness.

summer 2012

4/23/12 12:00 PM

He decided to say to her, “I just want to tell you how much I appreciate the work that you do. And it’s really amazing how some people devote their lives to caring for others.” In his way, he affirmed her role and hoped to remind her, subtly, without getting too personal, of why she had become a nurse. In that instant she softened, and thanked him. One can imagine that his remark made her day a little better. Now, do we all do that? No. Do we all have the capacity to do it? I think we do, if we step back and stay mindful of the larger picture, recognizing that everybody can have a bad day. In Israel, incivility is regarded almost as a virtue. Edie: Historically, from a Zionist per-

spective, the excessive politeness of Diaspora Jews was viewed as an indication of insecurity and fear. Conversely, behaving assertively when someone offended you was seen as a sign of courage and self-respect. The shock and devastation in the aftermath of the Holocaust, coupled with the continued

Civility as a Spiritual Practice continued from page 44 are not inherently positive. Anger can be an important signal that something is very wrong, and envy can be a helpful motivator. Infinite patience can lead a person to act passively in situations that call for action, and unlimited generosity can spoil a child. None of these traits are, in and of themselves, either positive or negative. What turns them so is the measure of the trait—excessive, deficient, or balanced—as it lives within us and is expressed in our lives. And when it comes to governing a country, Maimonides explains, anger and envy are simply no help, whereas compassion and kindness are. This perspective opens up a new understanding of civility and incivility. Jewish tradition emphasizes practices of kindness, graciousness, and respect, not only because they promote a vision of the ideal human being, but because of their practicality in social relations, whether they be within the family, in the workplace, or in government. If we as a soci-

dangers of everyday life, prompted many Israelis to cultivate a demeanor of brusque strength and to be wary of behaviors conveying easy acquiescence. While Israelis in no way blamed the victims, they also sought to impress upon future generations the destruction that befell those who doubted the need for self-assertion and even aggression. In the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, visitors are invited to enter a cattle car used to deport Jews to death camps in order to understand the experience of the victims. In contrast, at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, a similar cattle car is perched precariously on a cliff. If you ask Israelis why it is perched on a precipice rather than offered as a place where visitors might enter, they will say, “Blindly obeying authorities will lead Jews off a cliff to their death. We want no person to politely accept an invitation to enter such a place.” For the sake of self-preservation, Israeli assertiveness is the dominant social value, even if it is sometimes construed by outsiders as rudeness. Those who look closer will often find

concern, support, hospitality, and generosity expressed in ways that don’t always conform to our norms.

ety were to hold fast to the qualities of compassion and kindness attributed to God in the Torah, civic life would not only be more pleasant, but much more effective as well. Why, then, do the insistent calls to be more civil go unheeded? A Mussar perspective would locate the root of incivility in selfish desire. In contrast, civility grows from walking in God’s ways by being compassionate, merciful, gracious, kind, and forbearing, all of which are traits that emphasize the well-being of others over that of ourselves. Whether we are interacting with a spouse or child, parent or co-worker, postman, store clerk, or state legislator, when we are considerate of the other above and beyond our own self-centeredness, we walk the path of a spiritual life while upholding civility in society. The starting point to reforming social discourse is our own conduct. Only when we endeavor to become less selfish, more other-oriented, and more Godly in our everyday behavior do we have the legitimacy to demand civility of others. Let us give our leaders something to emulate.

Conviction with Compassion

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How can we encourage people to become more civil? Edie: We need to reduce people’s stress

by providing religious and communal structures that cultivate calm through mindfulness, through prayer, through supportive friendships, through the expressive arts, and through taking care of our bodies. People who are less stressed, who feel more secure, are more apt to behave civilly toward one another. Dale: Another way is for each of us to do

things that make others feel good about who they are. You might say to someone, “Oh, you look so great!” You cannot control whether that person believes you, but you can exercise control over whether or not you speak with intentionality, which increases the chance of a positive response. Studies show that when we experience someone’s kindness, we feel happier and are more able to receive love.

continued from page 41 other’s version of the truth, but hearing each other can help lead to peaceful coexistence. It is amazing what can happen when we meet our adversaries on a human level. The midrash says that “Derech eretz, the commandment to act with common decency, preceded the giving of the Torah” (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 9:3). As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains, “God could imagine humankind existing for thousands of years without the Torah, but [God] could not imagine human beings existing without…civility” (A Code of Jewish Ethics, Vol. 1). So, raise your voice and cry out like a shofar. Speak your truth with courage and conviction. But open your heart to the humanity of all people, be open to their truths, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we do these things, we have the right to demand them of our leaders, and reason to hope we will see them in our children. And when we do, we will put the civil back in our civilization.

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Campers: Photo by Scott Ableman; Stephen M. Sacks: Photograph by Marshall H. Cohen

CHAIRMAN’S PERSPECTIVE Engaging Our Youth Last summer my wife Helene and I visited four of the Union for Reform Judaism’s 13 camps and participated in Shabbat services at two of them. Seeing the relationships of the campers with staff, the enthusiasm every time campers got together (just sit in a dining hall and you will know what I mean), and how campers sat at services, prayed, sang, enjoyed themselves, and—catch this—didn’t fidget or leave to go to the rest rooms was a true privilege. Being part of that experience, and seeing how excited our grandchildren Sara and Josh are about their summers at URJ Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, really brings home to us ETHAN, A URJ CAMP HARLAM ALUM, AND HIS SISTER on a personal level why HANNAH ABLEMAN, A 6TH YEAR CAMPER, 2011. our camps and youth programs are so vitally important to our Movement’s future. And it isn’t just the camps. The experience of Elise Oshlag, a member of Congregation Beth El in Sudbury, Massachusetts who attended the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel, says it so well: “This trip was an unforgettable experience in so many ways. It helped me strengthen my Jewish identity and personally connect to the Jewish people of Israel. I am forever grateful for your help in making this experience possible.” Statements like Elise’s are why I am so excited that one of the URJ’s priorities in the years ahead will be our Campaign for Youth Engagement. Our future can only be assured if we focus resources on providing our young people with meaningful Jewish experiences. Through NFTY, our camps, our Israel programs, and our Campaign for Youth Engagement, the URJ is pledged to do just that. And Helene and I are looking forward to visiting more camps and enjoying Shabbat with our young people this summer. Perhaps we’ll see you there! Stephen M. Sacks, Chairman Union for Reform Judaism Board of Trustees reform judaism

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QUOTABLE In Print “On behalf of the Reform Movement, we commend the Obama Administration for ensuring both access to contraception for all women and the robust protection of religious autonomy. Our ancient Jewish tradition has, for more than 2,000 years, reflected the view that contraceptives are not only acceptable but a legitimate form of health care and family planning.” —Rabbi David Saperstein, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, responding to the Administration’s announced compromise on the Health and Human Services regulation regarding access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act

“We have before us a challenge of special moment for Jews, a challenge as compelling and urgent as any that humankind has ever faced before....” —part of the Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative statement signed by 33 Jewish organizational leaders, among them the Union for Reform Judaism president, committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent within three years

PHOTOS: 1 Don Goldman 2 Rich Goldhaber 3 Matthew Stock 4 Elizabeth Strom 5 Rachel Galper 6 Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter 7 Rabbi

Edythe Mencher.... For more about these leaders read on….

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QUOTABLE from p. 49 “Kol, in Hebrew, means voice. If you change the spelling of the word kol slightly, it means everything. “Kol ze hakol, voice is everything. “This year has in many ways been a year of silenced voices: of women forced to the back of the bus, off the radio, and from singing in public ceremonies. But we also heard voices that we never heard before. Orthodox women asked us to help them oppose segregation on buses. We heard Israeli generals appalled by the increasing segregation in the army. We heard the Israeli public demanding social justice, and we are hearing a public outcry to staunch the flood of new measures intended to exclude women from the public sphere. “Bolstered by the awakening of the Israeli public, IRAC has made great headway. We won a precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling which stated that forced gender segregation on public buses is illegal. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a prominent rabbi renowned for his racist views, is finally being investigated by the Attorney General due to our actions. We are standing by women who are being silenced because of their gender. We continue to pursue equality and recognition for all streams of Judaism in Israel so that all voices of Judaism can be expressed in the Jewish state. “We have shown that change is possible, but we cannot rely on what we have already accomplished. We must continue to make change happen. Action is our middle name.” —Anat Hoffman, executive director, Israel Religious Action Center

ACTION How To Build Community on Shabbat Friday night unless I was going to stay for Ever since Congregation Beth the whole thing,” he says. Now he comes Torah ( was founded and goes as he can—sometimes showing 23+ years ago in Overland Park, Kanup just for the social part prior to services, sas, Rabbi Mark Levin has preached other times solely for worship. Just as one thing: community. important, his “The job of a 16-year-old religion is to daughter, who address the rarely attended major existential services followproblem in any ing her bat given time at mitzvah, now any given joins him for place,” he says. the early part “The major exisof the service tential problem before they of our age is our adjourn to dinner. aloneness. Com- BLUE JEAN SHABBAT, TEMPLE SHALOM, DALLAS. “When she munity is the first walked in, people were hugging her solution for that problem.” because they hadn’t seen her for a few The congregation had created some years, and she liked that,” Goldman togetherness initiatives, but the rabbi says. “I don’t know how often we’ll get realized that the community wasn’t her to stay for the whole service, but tackling the issue on a large enough scale. So at his Rosh Hashanah morning there’s a connection to our community by her walking in the door.” sermon last year, Rabbi Levin offered a That’s the underlying part about simple solution. Rabbi Levin’s request. His goal isn’t to “All of you are going to put every Friday night on your calendar,” Rabbi Levin get more people into services, but to capture the energy of these interactions said. “Be at Beth Torah—but only for 15 to create more lasting relationships. minutes. Sometime between six o’clock “We’re trying to create a community and eight o’clock every Friday night, be at Beth Torah. Because if you don’t, in 20 of people who look forward to seeing one other on Friday night,” Rabbi Levin years this community will not exist the says. “To be a community, everyone has way it exists now. You don’t have to stay. to show up once a week at the same time You don’t have to come in to worship. and in the same place. Shabbat is the You can come, eat, and leave. You can come, say Kaddish, and leave….You will natural time. This is the natural place. We hope to perpetuate this over a lifespan.” be here 15 minutes every Friday night.” Already a new culture has emerged in In the months that followed, Friday night attendance at the 660-family con- the congregation. Some members show up 40 minutes before the worship service gregation jumped from an average of and are still in the building an hour after 120 people to 200. it ends. And now it has become natural to One congregant who responded to ask: ‘Are you coming Friday night? Will the initiative is Don Goldman (photo I see you Friday night?’” #1; see previous page), executive director of Jewish Family Services of ♦♦♦ Greater Kansas City. For years he had attended the much smaller Saturday Turnout for Friday night services at morning services because of occasional 500-member Temple Shaarei Shalom conflicts on Friday nights. ( in Boynton “Beforehand I would never come Beach, Florida has long been good, reform judaism

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between 200 and 300 people, Rabbi Anthony Fratello says, but still he felt something was missing. Observing that retirees and young families weren’t mixing as well as he thought they might, he re-envisioned how the temple’s motto, “Generations Coming Together,” could become the basis of a new program that would harken back to a time when people routinely met in each other’s homes for Sabbath supper. Called Grand Shabbat, the program would bring together groups of 10–12 congregants—and in some cases up to 22—for dinner and dialogue following an early 5:30 PM service. “It seemed simple enough,” recalls the program’s co-coordinator, Rich Goldhaber (photo #2), “until we realized that we would have to deal with things our ancestors never dreamt about—food allergies, pet allergies, handicapped access to homes, kosher vs. non-kosher diets, etc.” He and his wife and co-coordinator Natalie created a seven-person committee to work out logistics for the first event. They designed one form to be completed by people who wanted to host a meal and another for those interested in being guests. More than 300 people signed up. Hosts provided a dining facility, candlesticks, and wine glasses; the meals themselves were potlucks. Wine and challah were provided free, paid for by auctioning off to one of the 30 host families the honor of having Rabbi Fratello and Cantor Aaron Kaplan at their table for Grand Shabbat. The committee also produced a book of prayers and songs for the participants and tried to assemble groups not made up of existing friends. “Our goal was to mix generations and encourage new acquaintances so that on Friday evenings, when people entered the temple sanctuary, there were new ‘familiar faces’ to greet them,” Goldhaber says. It worked. “The guy sitting next to me and I never stopped talking,” Goldhaber says. “It was about 11 o’clock when people left, and only because they had to be up early the next morning. And the other day I walked into temple and saw a couple that was at our house; instead of wav-

ing, which I used to do, I went up to them and we talked for 10 to 15 minutes. It changes the whole concept of relationships in the congregation.” The program also attracted less active congregants. As a result, temple leaders say, people started attending services more often, and now older and younger members are warmly greeting each other. Both the Union for Reform Judaism and the local Jewish federation acknowledged this with awards, the former with a $1,000 Epstein Communicate! Award ( A second Grand Shabbat potluck took place this past January, again to great success. Meanwhile, Goldhaber says, some congregants are continuing to host weekly or monthly group dinners on their own, “which is the biggest compliment you can get.” ♦♦♦ Temple Shalom in Dallas, Texas ( has turned Shabbat into a teen outreach opportunity. Its monthly Blue Jean Shabbat service (which runs at the same time as the main service) offers young people at the 775-member congregation a chance to find their own spiritual place in the synagogue and with each other. Students in grades 6–12 design, lead, and participate in the service. The youth group board plans the worship, choosing readings, prayer melodies, and songs (occasionally inserting non-Jewish songs, too). “We decided that the readings we used to do got a bit repetitive, so we came up with our own, either writing new ones or finding related texts on the Internet,” says Matthew Stock (photo #3), 15, a youth group board member and Blue Jean Shabbat songleader. (Song leader training is offered through a religious school class for older youths.) Teens are encouraged to show up wearing whatever they’ve worn to school and to bring friends from the community. These days, teens also offer a d’var Torah and organize each service around a subject that interests them, anything from ethical eating to social justice to loving continued on next page reform judaism

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QUOTABLE The Blogs “Imagine my shock when several of my almost 20 ninth graders told me they had to beg their parents to let them come to pre-Confirmation. The parents were worried that their kids already had too much on their plate….So what is it that has kids begging their parents to sit in a classroom for an additional hourand-a-half once a week?... “The ‘Three R’s’ have transformed our youth community. Our teens deeply crave relationships, respect, and relevance, and when we deliver all three, we see a real tikkun (repair) happen. They need enduring and trusting relationships, not just with each other but with youth professionals who can set the tone for a caring environment. Teens are so used to shutting down because they are talked to and talked at more often than listened to in a way that reflects the dignity they deserve. When our teens feel they will be listened to free of our judgments, and when we reflect only love and care for their well-being, they open up their hearts, souls, and minds. Teens want to talk about drugs, sex, peer pressure, parents, technology, academic pressures, stress, and where they belong….Teens want to know what wisdom and guidance Judaism can offer them in their everyday lives. It is quite astounding what a simple anonymous index card, a prompt, and a trusting environment can elicit from a group of teens. They are practically begging us for a caring community that will give them the ‘Three R’s’ to help them thrive….When we build relationships through listening, respecting, and relating to our teens, we will increase the unity and coherence of their lives and ours, and witness true tikkun.” —Craig Parks (director of Youth Programming, Temple Solel, Cardiff by the Sea, CA), on

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ACTION continued from page 51

Plaut Torah Commentary in Russian: Now, for the first time, Russian readers throughout the world will be able to study the Progressive Movement’s signature Torah commentary— The Torah: A Modern Commentary (URJ Press), edited by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, z”l (see story “Remembering Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut,” p.56). The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) spearheaded the project, overseeing a cadre of Russian-speaking Progressive rabbis, Jewish scholars, and translators working at WUPJ headquarters in Jerusalem and at Progressive Movement sites in the Former Soviet Union. To learn more, contact Ron Wegsman at the World Union office in New York, 212-4526533, To order, contact the URJ Press at 212-650-4120,

one another. At one camp-style service focused on social justice, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” was mixed with Mi Chamocha; also, readings featured Martin Luther King, Jr. on racism, Mahatma Gandhi on gender inequality, and Paul Newman on sexual orientation inequality. “When you give teens a space where they feel free to experiment with prayer without the watchful or judgmental eye of their parents or other adults,” says Barrett Harr, director of high school and youth programs, “they engage in worship in ways that are meaningful to them.” Blue Jean Shabbat, another Epstein Communicate! Award winner, has proven that teens aren’t too busy for Friday night services—typically 30 or more participate. Their relationships extend beyond the temple as they’ve added dinner together at a local restaurant following services. And many have become more active at temple, inquiring about leadership positions within the youth group or joining the youth membership committee. Stock adds that being a service leader has “allowed me to step up in the community as a leader. I got a lot of confidence after that.”

Tri-Faith Campus Going Up in Omaha: In December 2011, Temple Israel of Omaha, Nebraska co-purchased 35 acres TRI-FAITH WORSHIP of land in SERVICE, 2009. conjunction with the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture to cocreate the world’s first trifaith campus. Houses of worship and study for the three Abrahamic faiths are being built on adjacent parcels of land. The Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha—comprised of all three organizations—is also constructing its own center to house social, educational, and conference programming

♦♦♦ For 200-member Congregation Beth Am in Tampa (, building community on Shabbat starts with a strong cup of coffee on Saturday morning. “I joke that the coffee has to be really good,” says Rabbi Jason Rosenberg. “In the beginning we actually had someone bringing in an espresso machine and acting as a barista.” But Café Shabbat is about much more than coffee. Before services on the first Saturday of every month, the temple’s oneg room is transformed into a lounge. Sofas are brought in from the youth group room, jazz or other soft music fills the air, and board games are spread out on a table. Sometimes the back of the sanctuary is transformed into a place for yoga, drumming, or Israeli reform judaism

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dance. Varied programming, organized by the coordinator and rabbi and carried out by volunteers, always includes something intellectual and something experiential, anything from gardening to music appreciation—all intended to expand members’ notions of what it means to celebrate Shabbat, Rabbi Rosenberg says. Good supervised kids’ activities enable young parents to mix with older congregants, and religious school students and youth groupers occasionally join in shared events. “The goal is to get more people to synagogue and there feel part of the community,” says Elizabeth Strom (photo #4), the program’s founding coordinator. “Activities are there to be enjoyed, but participants can also feel comfortable sitting on sofas and chatting or reading, if that’s their choice.” Before Café Shabbat, also a 2011 Epstein Communicate! Award winner, was conceived, on non-b’nai mitzvah weekends it was difficult to gather a minyan. Now the temple doors open at 9 A.M.—an hour and a half before services—and attendance ranges between 24 members to more than 50. “Participants recognize that Shabbat encompasses a range of activities beyond prayer,” Strom explains. “We exercise our minds and our bodies; we learn to bake challah. We participate in activities that are both familiar and special because they are done with a community, and because probably, if not for Shabbat, we would not have taken the time to do them.” ♦♦♦ As Shabbat ends, community-building at 680-member University Synagogue in Los Angeles ( is just getting started, by harnessing the power of havdalah. “Often with Judaism, we start something but never finish it,” says Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds. “Before we gather for a meal, we’ll always do the motzi, but we never finish the meal with the blessing to end it. On Shabbat, many congregants were coming for Friday night services, but few were marking

Tri-Faith Ser vice: Photo by Justin Limoges. Copy right The Tri-Faith Initiative of Omaha.


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the close of Shabbat with havdalah.” That has changed. Now, the congregation’s “Torah Off the Beaten Path” hikes-with-services end on a mountain summit, where about 30 members— many of whom had never participated in a havdalah service—do havdalah with their families and congregational community as they watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. “Just as on Shabbat we enter into a period of rest,” Rabbi Thal Simonds says, “our havdalah hikes allow us to enter the week with feelings of joy, excitement, and a heightened sense of spirituality.” More recently, the synagogue also instituted Havdalah at Halftime (referring to the halfway point of participants’ lives), an occasional program that pairs the end of the Sabbath with a social opportunity for “parents who don’t get together as much as we used to,” says Rachel Galper (photo #5), co-chair of the temple’s committee dedicated to empty-nesters. About 60 people attended the debut service followed by gourmet food. “As we prayed and a guitar played, people put their arms around each other, and we knew it was a success.” ♦♦♦ Shabbat offers a unique opportunity to mix the social with the sacred. Here are four expert tips on how to uplift the entire community: 1. Make Shabbat substantive. “Create connective, deep Shabbat experiences so Shabbat will promote itself,” says Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter (photo #6), Rabbi, URJ Congregational Networks, “and avoid overdependence on sensationalistic experiences. Otherwise, the next time you have to ratchet up the achievement to an even more sensational level, and eventually it becomes impossible to top yourself. Instead, keep going deeper.” Cantor Alane S. Katzew, former URJ worship and music specialist, recommends handing out a text and asking members to discuss it with those sitting nearby. “A five-minute mini-study session in the middle of worship helps make human connections while maintaining the holiness of the moment,” she says.

2. Take Shabbat outside the synagogue. There’s no reason we need to confine Shabbat within the synagogue walls, Cantor Katzew says. For example, during the week Parshat Noach is read she recommends visiting a zoo— “a wonderful way to encourage family time and a sacred encounter.” 3. Create a sense of belonging with the little and big things you do. Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher (photo #7), a URJ Faculty Member, says, “We need to find ways for people to feel included and get to know one another. Anything that promotes friendship is essential, from small things such as wearing name tags and asking congregants to serve as greeters, to big things such as organizing monthly Shabbat dinners in people’s homes and speaking from the bimah about the shared concerns that connect people to one another. The same applies to inclusion of people with disabilities, from doing small things such as providing large print prayer books and placing tables at a lower level to facilitate wheelchair access, to bigger things such as discussing their concerns and insights, enlisting them in planning and speaking at services, and addressing any fears congregants may have about people with differences.” 4. Utilize URJ resources. The Communicate! program bank ( communicate) is filled with congregational Shabbat programs that have worked elsewhere and can be adapted. The website features a “Shabbat Idea of the Week” and offers a free “Embracing Shabbat” guide for experimentation with Shabbat observance. And be sure to consult with URJ professionals Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter ( and Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher ( Here’s wishing you a congregational Shabbat experience full of warmth, community, spirituality, and shalom. —Ryan E. Smith, journalist and member of Temple Ahavat Shalom, Northridge, California reform judaism

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NOTEWORTHY from p. 52 designed to facilitate understanding among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam locally and internationally. The synagogue, slated for completion in 2013, will be the first building in the neighborhood, to be joined by the mosque later that year or in 2014. The church and the TriFaith Center will be completed by 2014 or 2015. To learn more, contact Wendy Goldberg, Temple Israel program director, at 402-556-6536, wgoldberg@ Women in U.S. & Israel Celebrate Simultaneous Shabbat: Last February 4, Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) members in Arizona and Israel celebrated the joys of Shabbat and TEMPLE EMANU-EL, TUCSON. Havdalah together through a joint simultaneous Shabbat service led, chanted, and sung by women in both Temple Emanu-El (Tucson) and their “twinning” KEHILLAT EMET Congre- VESHALOM, NAHARIYA. gation Emet Ve Shalom (Nahariya). Because Israel is nine hours ahead of Tucson, Emanu-El’s Saturday morning service was held concurrently with EVS’s Havdalah service. Both communities discussed the Torah portion B’Shalach in which Miriam leads the Israelites’ procession in celebration of their escape from Egypt; the women of Emanu-El re-enacted the procession with vocals, tambourines, and hand drums. The two congregations also exchanged drashim

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(commentaries on the week’s Torah portion), a woman at EVS reading the drash written by a woman in Tuscon and vice versa, and distributing packages of previous drashim written by women at each congregation. In addition the women cooked each other’s dessert recipes and served them after services. For more information on how to create a similar program in your community, contact Carol Blatter, WRJ education chair in Tucson, Arizona, at 520-577-0252, Mishkan T’filah iPad App: The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has created the first prayer book app for the iPad— iT’filah: The Mishkan T’filah App. Based on the Reform Movement’s latest siddur, Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur (CCAR Press), this interactive and portable service to the Friday night Shabbat liturgy is available via the iTunes App Store or at Memphis Temple Logo Wins Award: The new “burning bush” logo of Temple Israel in Memphis, Tennessee is featured in Graphis Logo Design, an international publication highlighting the world’s leading trademarks and designs. Working with congregational leaders, Tactical Magic, a Memphis-based branding firm, derived the logo from the Hebrew letter shin, “the same letter which appears on our sanctuary ark and on the doorposts of our homes,” says Rabbi Micah Greenstein. “The shin is replicated four times, to represent the four matriarchs of the Jewish people, and the 12 flames represent the 12 tribes of Israel. We now have a

WHAT WORKS A Torah Class That Lasts be peace, all three faiths will need to Every Tuesday, Temple Isaiah put their own narratives aside and deal in Stony Brook, New York holds a with the current reality.” unique adult-ed Torah study class. It’s The class is limited to 15 people, taught by the rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Rabbi Fisher says, “because of the Adam Fisher, from 6:30 A.M. to 7:30 A.M. And it’s still importance of going strong after discussion and 23 years. the wonderful “When a congroup chemisgregant, David try.” About 12 to Altman, suggest13 attend each ed we have a week. “People Torah study like coming at class,” Rabbi 6:30 A.M.,” he Fisher recalls, “I says, “because thought no one the early hour would come, but I frees the day and agreed, not wantevening, and ing to miss an allows those who TORAH STUDY CLASS, DECEMBER 13, 2011. opportunity for work to get there Torah study. Our on time. Moreinitial group of four began with the over, I think participants feel the disMekilta, which is a midrash on the cussion is valuable for their lives. I Book of Exodus. We went on to Maiknow this is true for me.” monides’ Mishneh Torah, Pirke Avot The course also serves as a testa[Ethics of Our Fathers], Talmud, and ment to a model relationship between Reform responsa [authoritative replies rabbis and rabbis emeriti. “When to questions concerning Jewish law Rabbi Stephen A. Karol succeeded and life from a Reform perspective]; me in 2002,” Rabbi Fisher says, “I nowadays we’re alternating between made it clear to the congregation that the Haftarot and Rabbi Dr. Louis ‘Rabbi Karol is the rabbi of the conJacobs’ Jewish Thought Today. gregation and my rabbi now.’ He gra“The texts are serious, but we have ciously asked me to continue teacha very freewheeling discussion about ing the class, and I have done so, but them, raising questions and considerhave never discussed any congregaing contemporary understandings. For tional business or rendered any opinexample, while following the Hafions about congregational matters. tarah from Isaiah 51-52 for Shoftim, No one has ever attempted to get me we read Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut’s to cross that line, and if on occasion a commentary on how Jerusalem [the member of the congregation asks me geographic name for the city] and to officiate at a wedding or funeral, I Zion [the spiritual name for the city] direct him/her to speak to Rabbi Karcame to be so important to Jewish ol first. And whenever appropriate, consciousness through the ages, and Rabbi Karol includes me in congrewe considered the validity of the vari- gational events.” ous Christian, Muslem, and Jewish What Works in Your Congregation? claims to the city today. One man Let the RJ magazine editors opined that, within Islam, the sole know what’s distinctive, claim to the city is that Mohammed innovative, and successful: made a stop there before ascending to Heaven. I responded that if there is to reform judaism

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Photograph by A rnie Katz

NOTEWORTHY from p. 53


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FAREWELL from page 56 instantly connect us with millions of others, when a Pentium chip can perform 885 million calculations per second, such a belief is no longer beyond our imaginations. Tomorrow, such capacities will be increased a thousand-fold or more….We accept this as an inevitable accompaniment of our technological advance. My concept of God operates along similar lines. I believe that God’s possibilities of connecting and caring are endless in space and in time. There is an essential mystery here that will always lie beyond my comprehension. If I cannot fathom how a piece of silicon can perform its tasks, how much more reason do I have to stand in awe before the presence of the One who made the world and its resources and put them at our disposal! This sense of awe and wonder, said Abraham Joshua Heschel, should be the basis of one’s religious outlook. It is of mine. —From “God, Where Were You? Keeping Faith After Auschwitz,” Reform Judaism magazine, Summer 1998 On Growing Old

The worm of time has not passed me by. It nibbles away, bit by bit, at my strength and—perhaps most importantly—at my desires. It took me quite a while to become aware that some of yesterday’s desires had become less important to me—even unimportant. Possessions fall into that category. Several years ago, we sold our home and disposed of many things, including significant parts of our library. Surprisingly, disposing of our cherished acquisitions collected during three and a half decades stirred not an ounce of regret. After all, books are only things that join the grand parade of desire/ acquisition/possession/discard. Since then, I have learned that such painless letting go of things has another dimension. Having grown old, we stop acquiring things and instead acquire a growing indifference to them…. The older I become, the better I understand the deeper meaning of “being there” and grasp the sense of an experi-

ence that Martin Buber relates. A philosopher-colleague had spent a day as his house guest. The night before leaving, the two men sat in silence before the fireplace. The hours passed; no words were spoken. When the morning light broke the spell, the guest took his departure, saying, “Thank you for the wonderful conversation we had last night.” When we age, we have a chance to be ourselves, which is “being there” when it is needed most. In earlier days, we are caught in the treadmill of trying to accomplish something; now that we are on the sidelines of the workaday world, we can fill many a waking hour being there for our families, for our friends, and, through the intermediary of religious institutions or social organizations, for strangers. Our identity becomes real as we meet others in a meaningful way. Buber put it succinctly: A person becomes “I” only through “Thou.” For me, old age has resulted in some restrictions, but my mind is more attuned to formerly overlooked opportunities. Yesterday, I took health for granted; now I don’t. Having adjusted to a lower energy level, I find, when I sit still and think about my life, I experience a kind of serenity that I did not formerly possess…. Some days I step on the balcony…and listen to the leaves rustling in the treetops. They must have rustled in this way since day one, but I never heard them before…. Growing old exacts a price. But aging is also a privilege. It is not visible to the eye, for it is a new state of our spirit: changed priorities, reordered values, serenity, and, hopefully, a pervasive sense of gratitude. These days, when someone asks. “How are you?” I may respond: “I am!” I am grateful to be here. I am challenged to make the most of the days left to me and live them to the fullest. “Now” has a special urgency: to enjoy the fruits of time I have gathered over the years. —From “I Never Thought It Would Happen to Me,” Reform Judaism magazine, Fall 1999 May Rabbi Plaut’s memory forever be a blessing. reform judaism

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NOTEWORTHY from p. 54 meaningful synagogue image to project not only to the Jewish community but to the entire community of faith.” First Torah Scroll Scribed by Canadian Woman: On May 27, 2012, Temple Shalom in Winnipeg dedicated the first Torah ever scribed by a Canadian woman: congregant and artist Irma Penn. The Winnipeg Jewish community IRMA PENN participated in AT WORK. completing the Torah, helping Irma write the letters on the final page of the parchment scrolls. For more information: www. Reform Day School Wins Challenge Award: Last December, The Day School at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation became the only Reform day school TRIUMPHANT STUDENTS. and one of only 25 schools in North America to win a $25,000 challenge award from The Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE). Its “Dedication to Education” program, launched in spring 2011, succeeded in getting every parent to participate in its annual fundraising campaign, which “changed our culture of giving and set the stage for a rosier future,” says Gerri Chizeck, head of The Day School at Baltimore Hebrew. “We plan to utilize the grant funding to increase our use of technology and bring more professional development experiences to our faculty.”

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FAREWELL Remembering Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut,


Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, renowned 1978, when at the age of 66 he decided to retire scholar, author, and leader of Reform as senior rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple and Judaism, died on February 9, 2012 at the age devote his energy to writing and editing The of 99. More than 1,000 people attended his Torah: A Modern Commentary. He continued funeral at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple, to serve the congregation as its senior scholar where he served as rabbi from 1961 to 1978. until about 10 years ago, when he was diagThe author of more than 25 books on nosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Jewish theology, history, and philosophy, In all that he did, Rabbi Plaut communicated Rabbi Plaut is best known for writing and thoughtfully, deeply, and eloquently. Here are editing The Torah: A Modern Commentary three examples of his writing, the first from RABBI W. GUNTHER PLAUT (URJ Press, 1981), the first non-Orthodox his general introduction to The Torah: A ModTorah commentary to be published in the United States. ern Commentary and two from Reform Judaism magazine. Today it is widely used in Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist congregations throughout North America. On the Torah Commentary Born in Germany, Wolf Gunther Plaut received his Doctor The commentator who…proceeds on the premise of human of Laws degree from the University of Berlin in 1934. Unable rather than divine authorship faces two initial questions: (1) to practice because of anti-Jewish laws imposed by the Nazi Does God have anything to do with the Torah? (2) How is the regime, he studied Jewish theology because “I wanted to book different from any other significant literature of the past? know what it truly meant to be a Jew, if I was made to suffer 1. Does God have anything to do with the Torah?...The for it.” A rescue program for scholars spearheaded by the Torah is a book about humanity’s understanding of and expeHebrew Union College and NFTS (now Women of Reform rience with God….Since the Torah tradition was at first Judaism) secured his safe passage to the United States. In repeated by word of mouth, and only after many generations 1939 he was ordained at HUC, and during World War II he set down in writing, the final text testifies to divergent ideas enlisted as a military chaplain with the 104th Infantry. Witabout God and the people….In this sense, then, the book is nessing the liberation of the Dora-Nordhausen concentration not by God, but by a people. While individual authors had a camp in Germany, he never forgot how the starving survivors hand in its composition, the people of the Book made the did not ask for food, but for religious items. Torah their own and impressed their character upon it…. Rabbi Plaut spent much of his professional career as a con2. How is the Torah different from any other significant literagregational rabbi in Chicago, St. Paul, and Toronto. A fierce ture of the past? For those of us who see in the Torah a people’s opponent of racism and champion of human rights, he also search for and meeting with God, the answer is self-evident…. founded Toronto’s Urban Alliance on Race Relations, was a [In] reading the Torah one should keep in mind that what founding member of the North York (Toronto) Committee on the authors said in their own time to their own contemporaries Community, Race and Ethnic Relations, and served as vicewithin their own intellectual framework is one thing and what chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He was later generations did with this text, what they contributed to it responsible for the commission’s controversial decision to by commentary and homily, is another. This long tradition of allow Sikh students to wear traditional ceremonial daggers to holding up the book like a prism, discovering through it and in school. He also served as president of the Canadian Jewish it a vast spectrum of insights, makes the Torah unlike any other Congress (1977-1980), and the Canadian government named work. This is particularly true for the Jews. They cannot know him an Officer of the Order of Canada (1993). their past or themselves without this book, for in it they will As a leader of the Reform Movement in North America, discover the framework of their own existence…. Rabbi Plaut served as president of the Central Conference —From “General Introduction to the Torah,” of American Rabbis (1983-1985). In his CCAR presidential The Torah: A Modern Commentary (URJ Press) address, he proposed, unsuccessfully, that Friday night services be abandoned in favor of Saturday morning worship. On God Yet his stature was never diminished. At the 1985 Los “It’s your imagination,” the skeptic says. “The idea of Angeles Biennial the Union for Reform Judaism honored a God who connects intimately with billions of humans is him with its Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award preposterous. Why should God pay attention to you, in all this for “a lifetime of scholarship and leadership in the Reform multitude?” That argument might have commanded attention Jewish community.” a hundred years ago….But today, when…our computers can A major turning point in Rabbi Plaut’s career came in continued on previous page reform judaism

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Photograph by Rose Eichenbaum


summer 2012

4/27/12 6:21 AM

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Reform Judaism Magazine Summer 2012  

A Union for Reform Judaism Publication

Reform Judaism Magazine Summer 2012  

A Union for Reform Judaism Publication