Friday, March 30, 2012

"I'm Free!" Shabbat HaGadol 5772

If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high,
You'd laugh and say 'nothing's that simple'
But you've been told many times before Messiahs pointed to the door
And no one had the guts to leave the temple!

Shabbat HaGadol - the great Sabbath immediately prior to our Passover celebration of redemption - approaches. Once again, we look for inspiration in the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The ancient rabbis – as they often did – played with the Hebrew word for Egypt – mitzrayim – as if related to the word mitzarim – narrow places. They suggested that our people’s slavery in Egypt is played out in our lives as the “narrow places”, that is those things that hold us back in life, keeping us from freely being the men and women we are meant to be, in the fullest sense. To overcome, or outgrow these mitzarim, the “stuff” that constrains us in life, it is necessary to take risks, to become vulnerable, and to allow ourselves to undergo new experiences that might bring blessings to our lives that we never knew before (cue Daltrey singing “no one had the guts to leave the temple!”).

As we prepare for next week’s arrival of Passover, let us use this time to consider the mitzarim that plagues our own lives. Like ridding our homes of chametz, it takes concerted effort and planning to free ourselves from such burdens. Ask yourself: what is it you hope to accomplish in this spring season of renewal that will enhance your life? This year we are still bondsmen – next year, may all be free!

Friday, March 23, 2012

CCAR 2012, a brief reflection

I have just returned from the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which was held this year in Boston. As always, it was wonderful to spend time with colleagues and friends who see each other so seldom (and of course to be back listening to all the locals, made me feel like I was back in high school). It was powerful to learn with such eminent scholars as American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna, political scientist Robert Putnam, management consultant Russ Sabia, as well as mark the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women in celebrating Sally Priesand’s historic milestone. Yet overall, the greatest personal highlight was to be reminded of how proud I am to be a Reform Jew, part of a community that cherishes and embraces the opportunity to address even the most challenging and enlightening topics – intellectual, communal, spiritual - with the highest degree of openness and integrity. This is a blessing we share. I look forward to reflecting further with you as I continue “unpack” this valuable experience.

This coming weekend is Shabbat HaChodesh, beginning the Hebrew month of Nisan in which we celebrate Passover - the "Time of our Freedom." I hope this season of redemption gives us the strength to provide opportunity and uplift for the oppressed, as well as our own sacred contentment with the intellectual liberty we enjoy.

Friday, March 9, 2012

And Then the Rules Changed

Rabbi Hayim Herring’s new book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today, is powerfully thought-provoking. He covers an array of vital contemporary issues facing synagogues, Jewish denominations and their leaders. And once again (or merely continuing to do so) prompting me to question the role of religious community, the relevance of my career, and whether/what I believe. Consider the following, from the book:

During the past three decades or so, six societal trends have reshaped many professions in a diverse range of industries. In this relatively short period of time, we have moved

  • from the age of organizations toward the age of networks;

  • from credentialed professionals toward avocational experts;

  • from hierarchical control toward individual autonomy;

  • from exclusivity toward inclusivity;

  • from monopolization of knowledge toward democratization of knowledge;

  • from assuming fee-for-service economy toward expecting a free-for-service economy (at least at a basic level)

Each of these trends has affected almost every for-profit and nonprofit organization. And as these six individual trends have interacted with one another, they have generated profound, exponential change, shaking the very foundations of organizations. (Herring, p. 9)

I wonder, what do these ideas have to say about the current state of flux in the American religious world? And more so – how will the religious community I serve, and choose to be part of, evolve as a result? Curious…