Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tikkun Olam and striving to root out oppression should be front page news EVERY DAY

Yesterday, the local paper - the South Bend Tribune - ran a story on its cover page about the meaning of Passover. For it the author interviewed me (well, more realistically, we chatted for about 10 minutes in which I responded to about 2.5 questions which were all pretty basic). In responding to his interest in the meaning of the holiday, I suggested that Passover is one of the many Jewish occasions on which we are all reminded of our responsibility to improve the world.
He said something like "so, on Passover, Jewish think about making the world better." I corrected him - while cringing into the phone - that Jews focus on our human responsibility to perform acts of tikkun olam - perfecting the world - all the time.
A few days later, as the article ran on the cover under the title "Rabbi reflects on the meaning of Passover," I couldn't help but think to myself "man, if only this message could be broadcast each and every day." For if there is any meaning to Passover, to Jewish life itself, it is the shared human obligation to seek mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with the Divine at all times.

If you'd like to see the article, go to


Friday, April 22, 2011

At our recent Passover seders, we were reminded of the words Moses spoke to Pharaoh, pleading for Israelite liberation from slavery: “So says Adonai...‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me’” (Exodus 9:1). The purpose of our freedom is to serve the Divine. And just what does that mean? Since ancient days, Judaism as promoted a prophetic vision of a better world, one made so by our active involvement in tikkun olam – the work of social justice. It is our task to cry out against injustice, oppression and cruelty wherever and whenever they appear – no matter who the victim, no matter what the risk. This illustrates the perspective of progressive Judaism, and one of the reasons I am proud and privileged to be part of the Reform movement. As you should know – and as I’ve been discussing for weeks – this year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC). As the RAC has published about these 50 years:

the RAC has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C. As the DC office of the Union for Reform Judaism, the RAC educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on more than 70 different issues, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel and more. The RAC’s work is mandated by the Union for Reform Judaism, whose 900+ congregations across North America include 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis. Representatives of these two organizations, as well as the Union’s affiliates, comprise the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, which governs the RAC’s policy positions.

For more, go to www.rac.org.

Most importantly, the RAC is OUR voice. Along with the status the Reform movement has gains through our social justice activism; it takes our support to ensure the reach of Jewish values in our society and world. I ask you to be an even greater partner in this sacred work: learn more about the RAC and its activities; sign up for its email distribution list; contribute your time and resources to the issues that concern you and surely affect others.My colleague Jonathan Stein, newly elected president of the CCAR (the Reform rabbinical body) said, “tikkun olam remains the coin of the realm in the Reform movement. Let us be vigilant to ensure that our freedom and opportunity is spent wisely, that our actions, words and deeds continue to serve the Divine.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Had the great opportunity this morning to be part of a panel for my friend Dave Campbell's political science class at Notre Dame. Dave, along with Bob Putnam, is author of the recent book "American Grace: How Religion Divides us and Unites Us" (about which I've written previously). For my part, I was able to speak a bit about my own background, education and experience, and address how Reform Judaism fits in the spectrum of American religious life. Several of the students had visited Temple (or one of the other local congregations represented by the panelists), so it became an even more comfortable forum for them to ask questions related to our remarks or their studies. A few students joined us guests for lunch following the class session, which capped off the experience in a very warm and inviting way.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this episode for me - also going a long way to Dave and Bob's thesis in their book - was the makeup of the presenting team. In addition to one priest from the Notre Dame community itself, the others of us have even closer connections beyond today's class. Professor Campbell is also a neighbor, whose son attends school with and is the dearest friend to my son; a third presenter, Scott Scheel, serves Edwardsburg Presbyterian Church (Edwardsburg, MI), and ALSO lives in our subdivision, and has a son who goes to school and is friends with both young Campbell and young Siroka. Our final presenter, a twenty-something from Granger Community Church (the local "mega-church"), not only grew up in our very neighborhood, his parents are still here, so he considers our locale "home". The idea that 5 professionals from such very disparate places on the religious spectrum could be so personally interconnected remains one of the most powerful, and uplifting elements of our lives today.
As a life-long Reform Jew, and a rabbi privileged to serve this unique community, I couldn't be more jazzed by this chance...

Monday, April 4, 2011

And the good times did roll - #ccar11 in review

"Tikkun Olam is still the coin of the realm in the Reform Movement." So said Rabbi Jonathan Stein in his introductory remarks as the new president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). This brief line stands out as one highlight of a very exciting, fulfilling and inspiring five days spent with several hundred colleagues in New Orleans. Launching his term with such a reinvigorating statement serves also to affirm what I hold about Reform's brand of progressive Judaism: that our primary goal is to see Jewish living as a framework through which we execute our Divine mission to improve, repair, and heal the world. Perhaps more simply, that through our deeds and words, we make the world better for our having been here.
There were of course a great many more focal points for my attendance at this year's gathering: marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Religious Action Center (with inspiring words from Rabbis David Saperstein, Lynne Landsberg, and my dear old friend Jonah Pesner); being with some of my fellow Brickner Fellows; studying with HUC-JIR president David Ellenson; "visioning" sessions about the future of Reform Judaism and the rabbinate; vibrant discussion about the movement (thanks to the RVI); early-morning and late-nite conversations with friends and colleagues....
...I even hear we were situated near the French Quarter :)
OKAY, so there were also the sights and sounds and tastes of the host city to enjoy - great meals and music shared with dear friends, as we recharged our batteries while engaging one another with the most important topics we face as rabbis and people.
As I blogged from last year's convention: the challenges of travel can detract from the experience; once again, the conference itself, and the many present with whom I had the chance to spend time, made it all worth while. Letting the good times (continue to) roll, and looking forward to next year in Boston.