Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reflections at 35,000 Feet

On the airplane heading home from San Francisco...

So many wonderful blog posts below this one, people commenting on what they learned and saw during the convention. I can't add much more, except to say that sharing this experience with my colleagues and friends was truly wonderful.

So looking ahead, what do I wish for a future CCAR Convention?

I wish for more time to spend merely interacting with colleagues, meeting them in new ways. I attended as many sessions as I could, and felt that the time spent chatting might have been somewhat more valuable. Can we create a way to do this so that we don't feel a need to skip out on sessions to hold these conversations?

I had a remarkable accidental inter-generational lunch - sharing a meal with colleagues who've been rabbis far longer than I have. It's not often that we interact in that way. I appreciated it and found it to be such a nice way to move outside my own friend-circle. Can we find a way to connect us through personal interactions that we might never have made?

Many of my blogging colleagues here have noted that they attended the sessions on digital media. I think it's time for us to move the conversation  beyond how-to and really start to talk about the community/engagement ideas that the online world affords us, and also the ethical and personal dilemmas that arise through use of this media. I think it's time to take it to the next level, I think it's time to open the discussion on what it really means to connect in this way that might seem new to us as rabbis but isn't so new any more to those that we serve. How can we continue this conversation and how can our future conventions offer us a way to engage ourselves in these tools while also allowing us to grow within them?

Just a few thoughts as I wend my way back home....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lunch in China town was outstanding!!!

I had lunch at House of Nan King and it was some of the best Chinese food I have had. And so with a happy belly, I attended the afternoon session. I attended the session titled: “visual T’filah – using digital media in the Sanctuary.” It was lead by Dan Moskovitz our colleague at Temple Judea in the San Fernando Valley and Dan Medwin an Erev Rabbi who has an incredible handle on how one goes about creating visual T’filah. It is a whole new world and no doubt change can be intimidating but I think when used in the right situation and setting it can be an incredibly wonderful way to make worship assessable. I was impressed with the level of creativity and I look forward to seeing where this is going to go. After that fabulous session, we had our CCAR meeting which actually was very good as we adopted unanimously the proposed changes to the CCAR code of ethics. We had very important financial updates given to us by our incredibly committed and hard working officers. If I have one criticism it is that this meeting with our CCAR leadership is poorly attended. Yes we are over programmed a bit, but I do not understand why our membership does not take a more positive and active role in such sessions. We should all feel a sense of responsibility toward our conference and I think it would be a great discussion on why so many feel disconnected or disinterested. What do you think?
Well after a fast shower I had dinner at another lovely restaurant. Then our evening program, concluding with none other than eating Ice Cream while overlooking the beautiful city of San Francisco. What a great last snap shot of this terrific convention. Now off to the room to pack and get some sleep.

Roll Call and Conversation.

Last night, I attended a dinner for the Women’s Rabbinic Network. This morning, I attended a breakfast jointly sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

These were exciting meals for two reasons. The first was the class roll call. Starting with students that will be ordained in 2010, each class year was called and its students were asked to rise. This was powerful at both meals. At the breakfast, attendees went all the way back to 1936. At the WRN dinner, attendees went all the way back to Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman to be ordained in the United States, from the class of 1972.

Another wonderful thing about the meals was the opportunity to have conversations with colleagues. I am fortunate to live in a community with a number of rabbinical and clerical colleagues that I can talk to, but it can be difficult to carve out the time and space to have conversations like I have had this week.

We spoke about our own personal challenges and the challenges facing the Reform movement and the Jewish people. Whether balancing our work and our family life, learning to welcome interfaith families, or navigating innovations in worship, we benefit greatly from being able to share our struggles, and our best practices, with one another.

The future of Placement

I attended a very important lunch meeting on the future of our Placement Director and Placement Services. With the vacancy in the Placement Director position (thank goodness for Lenny Thal stepping in to be the interim Placement Director) our Conference is taking the time to imagine and re-imagine what this position and what Placement look light. A task force, chaired by Stephen Pearce has been named by our President Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus to examine and think broadly about the Placement Director and Placement in general.

This was an open meeting to the whole conference over lunch. It was a fairly well attended lunch affinity group with more than 25 people gathered including representatives from the College-Institute, WRN, the Placement Commission and past Director, Arnie Sher and Interim Lenny Thal. Many good suggestions were made by the crowd, including thinking about placement in a movement wide way. What would Placement look like if we had a central placement office for all the professionals of the movement, staffed by multiple specialists?

In an era when there are many other options for congregations and agencies to find Jewish professionals and rabbis in particular why should a congregation or Hillel turn to the Reform movement to engage Reform rabbis? Today the congregations can turn to any one of a number of other seminaries and Jewish job listings to find rabbis. We definitely need to grab this moment to rethink and re-imagine. I hope the Union will want to be as creative. They are are partner in the Placement Commission. But increasingly more than a quarter of our Conference rabbis serve beyond the Movement alone. The jobs just aren't there. And so we as a Conference need to be mindful of not only our dedication to our Reform congregations but to our colleagues. I am pleased that the Board and leadership of our Conference is taking the time to think this through.

This is consistent with the themes of this conference which has been looking at the Jewish future. It was the thread in Ellen's opening remarks at Monday's Shacharit service, it was the focus of yesterday's tiyyulim to cutting edge San Francisco programs, museums and communities and Dollinger's address to us as the kick-off yesterday morning.

Our conference leadership is paying attention that we are in the 21st Century. How refreshing! Bravo to them all.

Nothing is like Roll call at the CCAR convention!!!

This morning we had our annual HUC breakfast. The big difference this year was that the HUC breakfast has become the Reform Movement Breakfast and thus URJ, CCAR and HUC-JIR have joined forces. There is no doubt that this is part of the exciting future which our colleagues Ellen Dreyfus, Eric Yoffie, David Ellenson and Steven Fox discussed during the breakfast. We need to be one unified family working together. There is no doubt that the economics of our time have given us a wonderful opportunity. Everyone spoke from the heart and they were concise in their comments making this a very enjoyable session. Of course the highlight each year for me is Roll Call! There is something about our class sitting together and jumping up yelping our “YEAH”. The feeling that each year we wait longer to hear our class year being called out is balanced with the sense of awe that I feel toward our colleagues who have been rabbis for so long. The annual standing ovation for those who were ordained 50 years ago is heartwarming. There is a sense of Kesher that we share with each other that seems to be so present at this session each year. I appreciate the process that “roll call” has gone through over the many years I think we got it down now. It works really well. Then we had the first part of our Professional Development Day as we attended the first of two sessions dedicated to improving our rabbinate. I took the session titled, “The Well Connected Rabbi – Having an Online Rabbinic Presence,” lead by Dan Moskovitz. I thought it was a great session with lots of wonderful and practical ideas for getting our vision, our teaching to our congregants. I have a lot to learn about blogging!!! Now time for lunch break and then off to round two!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Judaism without Baggage

What would your synagogue look like if it had no baggage? No money troubles? No institutional memory? No “we’ve always done it this way”?

This question crossed my mind as we engaged in a day of field study around the Bay Area. The theme of the day was “Innovations in Jewish Life: On the Edge of the Continent,” and I joined a group that went to the Marsh Theater to see a one-man play called Rabbi Sam.

In Rabbi Sam, actor and playwright Charlie Varon plays an innovative new rabbi, as well as nine of his congregants. Rabbi Sam presents his board with a radical opportunity: an anonymous donor has given them $2 million for outreach, and Rabbi Sam wants to use the money to take his congregants—and anyone else who wants to come along—on a transformative trip to Jerusalem.

But Rabbi Sam’s vision—as well as his charismatic preaching style—puts him in conflict with his board and some of the synagogue’s founding members, who threaten to remove him from his post.

The play was brilliantly acted with a well thought out story and nearly a dozen well-developed characters, which, frankly, made it really uncomfortable to watch. Any leader or layperson that comes to see this is confronted with these questions: What sacrifices are we willing to make for innovation? What price are we willing to pay to move forward?

Back at the hotel, we compared notes with participants in some of the other trips, all of which showcased innovative Jewish projects that take place outside of the confines of the synagogue. One woman I spoke to toured the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which contains no permanent exhibits. What would our Jewish organizations look like if we had nothing permanent? What would they look like if we were constantly innovating?

A great day so far!

The day began with an excellent presentation from Marc Dollinger, a professor at San Francisco State University. He spoke on the topic “Seeing Opportunities in Innovation.” He was not only humorous and kept our attention, he spoke honestly and thoughtfully. He set the San Francisco Jewish scene for us brilliantly as he did a sweep of the last four generations of Jews living in San Francisco. He said many wonderful things, but one of my favorite quotes was that “no generation is more authentic than another.” Professor Dollinger helped frame for us the various adventures we would experience on our day out of the hotel and into the San Francisco Community. I attended the site learning session on “friends, foes, or somewhere in Between? Jewish-Muslim relations in the US: challenges to confront, ways to move forward”. The session was lead by the co-Executive directors of Abraham’s vision Aaron Hahn Tapper and Huda Abu Arqoub. It was held at the Islamic Society of San Francisco and we learned about their two major programs, the unity program and the vision program. I would suggest going on-line to their web site to learn more . Although it was a long session, I felt it was incredibly valuable to hear about a successful program that brings Jews and Muslims together in the hopes of giving them a vision of the future that is just and fair.
I really appreciate spending the day, in an intense learning experience as we had today. Well done program committee!!!