This year, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, offered his first keynote, having assumed the presidency at the last biennial. As part of that road map, he challenged us to adopt "audacious hospitality" in his keynote address. (To read/watch the entire keynote, CLICK HERE.)
So, each time we walk in the doors of our building - and each time we act through our Jewish souls - let us practice audacious hospitality. And may we leave those we welcome - and ourselves - breathless and transformed.
SHEMA YISRAEL - A GIFT OF BELIEF
So...my instinct is to react the same way to this once-in-a-lifetime event: the confluence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving. The last time this occurred was in 1861, and - as has been often pointed out - Thanksgiving wasn't made a national holiday until 1868! And the next time, this will occur...well, it will be in the year 79,811!
And Sukkot, in turn, was very much linked to Chanukah. In fact, Chanukah may have actually been Sukkot. The Second Book of Maccabees records that after the Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the Temple, "the sanctuary was purified on the twenty-fifth of Kislev (Chanukah). The joyful celebration lasted for eight days. It was like Sukkot, for they recalled how only a short time before they had kept the festival while living like animals in the mountains, they observed the joyful celebration, which lasted for eight days. And so they carried lulavim and etrogim and they chanted hymns to God, who had so triumphantly led them to the purification of the Temple."
JEWISH SHMUISH..I AM WHAT I AM!
I know. What's HUC-JIR?
It's Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement's seminary. It trains rabbis, cantors, educators, non-profit communal leaders, and academics. It is the place that helped form my rabbinic identity, as well as Rabbi Shuval-Weiner's, and Cantor Kohn's cantorial identity. It is the place from which all the B'nai Jehudah rabbis have come. And some 15+ children of the congregation have gone to HUC-JIR to become rabbis and cantors, and lead or have led the Jewish people.
As we said thank you to Rabbi David Ellenson, for serving as President of HUC-JIR since 2001; and welcome Rabbi Aaron Pankin, the President-Elect, who will take the reins of the College-Institute in January, we spent considerable time contemplating the idea of "rabbinic formation." The question before us was: "What are the key elements necessary to infuse into men and women, in order for them to emerge as rabbis (in the fullest sense of that term)? Is it a matter of XX courses from column A and XX courses from column B, mixed in with XX hours of practical experience? Or is it something more? And if so, what is that "more" that is needed?
Our conversation quickly morphed into one regard Jewish identity formation for all our emerging adults, not just those considering becoming rabbis, cantors, educators, and communal leaders. The challenges presented by the Pew Research study (which were echoes of the 1990 and 2000 National Jewish Population Surveys) are clear: The millennials (those born 1980-2000) are not joiners, are not defining themselves by traditional labels. Nor do they believe they should be judged or constrained by outside forces. In fact, when the issue was raised whether incoming rabbinic students should sign a commitment that they will only be in Jewish life-relationships, they could even understand why the question was being raised!
What does all this mean? We really don't know. Nor do we truly understand when/how the millennials step up to become the next Jewish leaders, nor how they will transform this heritage which will soon shepherd.
This Friday, I plan on speaking more about these changes and what the Reform movement, HUC-JIR, and B'nai Jehudah may do to plan for this new world of millennial Judaism!
CHANUKAH FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE
The month of Kislev is well- known to every Jewish child, for it is the month in which Chanukah occurs. (Don't worry. It's early this year, but not quite yet!) Chanukah is a fascinating holiday, for it celebrates a moment in Jewish history when the community was trying to define itself in the midst of crisis. Back then, the issues were the same as those highlighted by the Pew Research report, which I have spoken about here and on Erev Shabbat. Assimilation, acculturation, lack of "religious" identity...all were the questions with which Jews 2,200 years ago struggled.
There is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the North American Jewish community is not being threatened by a foreign army, intent on destroying us and subjugating us to a dictator's whims. The bad news is the questions asked 2,200 years ago - the ones that are being asked today - are the result of an open society that is both blessing and curse, for we face the real possibility that liberal Judaism may become an irrelevant anachronism of American modernity.
All of those reasons are legitimate.
"In addition to...five terrific days of learning, praying, sharing, and singing...our gathering will provide opportunities for you to hear about our efforts to re-imagine Jewish life, including specific initiatives to engage the next generation, expand our reach and catalyze congregational change. Equally important, my colleagues, partners and I are anxious to hear from you about your hopes, dreams, and ideas for a future that excites and inspires. The upcoming Biennial will give us a not-to-be-missed chance to have such a conversation so that together, we can move forward to build a Jewish future that is bright and promising for all of our people...Indeed, I can think of no more holy endeavor [than] to engage with me and my team in this crucial undertaking."Rabbi Jacobs is right. It is an holy opportunity to be inspired - to be with 5,000 Reform Jews singing, praying, learning, celebrating. It is a not-to-be-missed chance to participate in the conversation that will determine the future of our 21st century Jewish community.
and seessomething different?
Rabbi Jacobs clearly sees hope in the numbers, and support for the way in which Reform Judaism is viewed by American Jews. Others have interpreted the results differently.
Another rabbi believes that the study is an important tool to guide us in how we program in the future: "Analyzing the data from a Reform perspective is very worrisome. Although one third of American Jews "identify" as Reform, only one third of that group (= 700,000) "affiliate" with Reform synagogues. Among all Reform Jews, only "13%" view "religion" as important. The study also reports only 4% of Reform Jews can decode Hebew. The weirdest number in the study, which must be challenged, is that Pew claims 25% of Reform identified Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah! My experience in the community doesn't even remotely suggest that last number whereas the other results seem reasonable."
A third rabbi questioned what it all means: "I'm not particularly surprised by the findings [of the Pew Research report]. There are some big shifts afoot: weakening Jewish institutions, outdated theologies, obsolete congregational and membership structures, failures to meet Jews where they are....to name a few.
And a final rabbi writes, suggesting the report undermines the good that is currently being done by rabbis each and every day. This rabbi writes: "A recent article about "boring" High Holy day services caught my attention because it railed against congregational rabbis in our most grueling season...The Pew Study and its aftermath and the New York Times article on the B'nai Mitzvah Revolution simply seem to fuel the fire against congregational rabbis who dutifully serve our people...Instead, [let] us recognize the committed congregational rabbis who serve our people in the trenches with love and faith..., day in and day out."
What is clear is this: the Pew Research report has touched a nerve in the Jewish community. Some are frightened. Others are encouraged. All are challenged. What it means for B'nai Jehudah is still unclear. We are at the beginning of a journey. Together, we will travel along this path, understanding our choices, and - in shared dialogue - determining our direction.
Last week, I invited anyone who wanted to comment and/or make their own suggestion to email me. (It's not to late. Just CLICK HERE.) I received a score of responses reflecting on both specific situations and the general state of the American Jewish experience.
Page 8 of 10
03.27.2017 9:00 am - 2:00 pm
03.27.2017 5:45 pm - 6:15 pm
03.28.2017 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
03.28.2017 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
03.28.2017 5:45 pm - 6:15 pm
The Temple, Congregation B'nai Jehudah 12320 Nall Avenue Overland Park, KS 66209 Phone: 913-663-4050 Fax: 913-906-9544