Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From fasting to Fast Times

According to the Hebrew calendar, today is 17 Tamuz 5770 - the date commemorating the breach of Jerusalem's walls three weeks prior to the destruction of the city on Tisha B'av (9 Av). Since the year 70 c.e. (and especially until the Shoah), this was the saddest event in Jewish history, marking the dispersion of the people from their homeland in Israel. Traditionally, this minor holiday has been a fast day, beginning the three week period of mourning leading up to the anniversary of Jerusalem's downfall. It would be observed by fasting and reciting passages lamenting the siege and fall of the city. There are also those who hold that this was the day that Moses broke the original set of tablets.
I look at today very differently, especially this year. On the secular calendar, it is June 29, 2010, twenty years to the day since I met Debra - making this the anniversary of the most significant day in my life. With two decades gone by (!) I can reflect and understand that my life was not only changed in meeting her - but also the journey of continued progress, challenge and blessing was begun then too. Like most of us, I don't express my appreciation enough (or always in the right way :) - yet this is clear - I am so much better for having met Deb, getting married, creating a family, and sharing the ups and downs of career, hobbies, fun and life with her. And, like most of us, I'm still working at becoming the best partner that I can be, and that she deserves. I am truly fortunate for the chance to keep at it.
So what's been most significant day(s) in your life - and how has it changed you?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the road again...

We head back to SB from AZ tomorrow. This has been another "vacation to remember" (pics to follow). Once again exploring the desert SW from home base in Anthem, AZ - we've enjoyed Sedona, Taliesin West, the Saguaro National Park (Tucson), the zoo, museums, water parks, great food, glorious sunshine, and even a hot night with Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King. V loved the zoo and Taliesin, Ben enjoyed the Dbacks-Yankees game, Deb and I treated ourselves to a great meal at Barrio Cafe (among all the other stuff). And I'm realizing, each getaway we plan and take, that they're each great trips, adding to the wonderful experiences we create together. I'm already looking forward to figuring out what family outing will come next - whether a jaunt to nearby Chicago, or a road trip cross country to someplace we've never been. This is what life's about.
So now, share YOUR favorite vacation experience or memory - we can add to each other's virtual photo album.
N'siya tova - wishing you safe a successful travels, wherever the road takes you...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Your own deserted island

We're spending time in the desert southwest, at the oasis in Anthem, AZ provided by Deb's parents. A terrific getaway, with always so much to do and enjoy - and always the advantage of temps in the 100's. While among the cacti and lizards, there's also the great chance to daydream about life (some gurus call this the fulfillment of our human need for periodic refreshment; Jewish tradition reminds us of this idea every week with the concept of Shabbat). So I've been thinking about the old radio DJ question "what three things would you need on a deserted island?" (yes, vacation mode has finally seeped in). OK - they'd usually ask "what three songs", but with an iPod, it seems frivolous.
So for fun - if YOU were stranded on an island, or stuck somewhere remote, or even just off on your own by choice - what three items would you find indispensable? Play along, and have some fun.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The future of Reform?

Toward the end of my rabbinical school years at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), Dr. Michael Meyer (our eminent professor of history and my thesis adviser) engaged our class in a conversation about the coming "interregnum in the Reform movement." At that time, we knew of the coming retirement of the leaders of the three major branches of the movement: Alexander Schindler from his post as president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now URJ); Fred Gottschalk of HUC-JIR; and Joe Glaser of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). Meyer pointed out that this represented a true generational transition of historic proportions (a nearly direct quote), as each of these men were American Reform Rabbis who were born prior to the Shoah. Two (Schindler and Gottschalk) came to the U.S. from Europe. The third, Glaser, was a decorated G.I. who was twice wounded while serving in Europe during the war. Personally and professionally, they witnessed (and were part of) perhaps the greatest time of transformation of the world, and especially of the Jewish community. Their experiences certainly shaped their world-view, and how their significant leadership was crafted.
Dr. Meyer left us with an open-ended question: how will the next generation take shape?
I think again of this notion for two related reasons: this coming July 17th will be somewhat of an "anniversary" for the movement. It was on this date that Israel Jacobson "organized the first Reform temple" in Seesen, Germany (and yes, this is fascinating to those of us who maintain a Rainman-like interest in Reform history). Perhaps a more important related item just emerged today: at the URJ North American Board meeting, currently being held in Brooklyn, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who has served as Union president for 14 years (as Schindler's successor) announced that he will retire in 2012. He has outlined a bold continuing agenda for the remainder of his term.
These years have been marked by great changes and triumphs in the movement - the URJ, HUC-JIR and CCAR have each experienced leadership transitions and turnover; have endured economic challenges (if not crises); and have faced (along with the rest of the Jewish world) a growing demographic changeover that has disturbed the previous century's status quo.
The next Union president (and leadership team, of course) will undoubtedly have new issues to face - incorporating the latest in organizational methods along with the strength of Jewish tradition. Just yesterday, I wrote about how we cannot afford to evaluate ourselves based on our previous accomplishments; rather, we must ever strive to create new visions even as we re-imagine old ones.
So now I ask - what does the future hold for the Reform movement, and for progressive Judaism? What would you envision? Please share, as the future is in our hands, right now...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fifteen years and the future is all ours

Today is the 15th (!) anniversary of ordination. I was just looking at our class picture (and it’s nice that I’m in touch with nearly everyone in it, to some degree or another) and my s’micha (rabbinical diploma). It’s true that time flies. Or, as my classmate Marc said “has it been that long? It only seems like forever!J” And yes, in some ways it feels like a very long time, and in others, like just the blink of an eye. Of course, I’m prompted to think about what’s happened over these years: having two kids, moving four times, taking on new professional positions, being in and out of touch with friends and family…as well as thinking of the accomplishments I’ve achieved: being involved with hundreds of b’nei mitzvah, funerals, weddings, baby namings, seasons of holy days and religious school (and of course the countless things I wish I’d done, didn’t quite to well, or never got around to…).

On this occasion, even looking back on fifteen (generally very satisfying) years in the rabbinate, I’m pushing myself instead to look forward: as of now, what are my hopes, dreams and visions for tomorrow? Why do I yet want to do, to realize, to become? I think it becomes more challenging to visualize such ambitions as we get further along the path. That’s why it seems so valuable to take time and expend the energy in revitalizing our capacity to imagine possibilities. I kick myself in these moments when I realize that I’ve allowed this childlike sense of wonder and play be masked by the regular “stuff” of life, allowing such hopes and plans to grow dim (I think I’ve just set a new priority for myself for the coming weeks – to really get in touch with my own long-term aspirations).

So share – not the great results that have brought you to this day – rather, what are YOUR goals…or hopes…or dreams…let your imagination go wild…who knows what triumphs we might yet achieve.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Hazon - articulating vision, or, Sacred Stategery :)

Some of you know that I’ve spent much of the past ten years actively engaged in studying organizational dynamics and leadership development. I have found this to be a fascinating area for learning and growth – personally and professionally – and have enjoyed watching this field begin to blossom especially in the Jewish not-for-profit sector. In becoming familiar with religious and secular materials, I am always looking for new, interesting, exciting approaches toward better synagogue management and operation.

I am DELIGHTED that a new book was published by the Alban Institute press. Sacred Strategies: Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary is the latest in a recent flourishing of titles specifically geared to the Jewish institutional world. I have been anticipating this book since first hearing of the work going into it. (I think there was a change or two from initial publisher, as it’s taken more time than I expected.) Its authors – Isa Aron, Steven M. Cohen, Lawrence A. Hoffman and Ari Y. Kelman – are among the pioneering teachers in applying organizational best practices to the field of congregational transformation; it should be stimulating to learn from their collaboration.

The joint work of these colleagues again speaks to the dictum of the ancient rabbis: hafoch ba v’hafoch ba – “turn it and turn it again” – that there is always something more to be learned, discovered and uncovered in ANY important area of study – when we look at it anew, or with a new perspective. As our congregation has just engaged a new leadership team, I will be interested in looking to this new resource for renewed inspiration in our sacred work together.

(For more about this publication, visit http://alban.org/bookdetails.aspx?id=9036)

What’s your "sacred strategy?" - what's inspired your passion recently? Would love to know…