Monday, November 14, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
This past year, I had the privilege of serving as a rabbinic intern at two congregations. One, Adath Israel Brith Shalom, was a large thriving synagogue in Louisville, KY. I primarily worked in their education department, although I had a great time learning from their three rabbis. The Temple, as the locals call it, was truly a special community. From the moment I arrived, I was treated as part of a big friendly family, which is the way the community runs. There are many different styles of worship services, a diverse leadership structure in place, and a whole lot of energy, but everyone loves being part of such a grand and welcoming institution.
My other internship was local, at Temple Sholom here in Cincinnati. I worked with a newly minted young rabbi from the LA campus of HUC, running adult education classes, worship services for Shabbat and holidays, and songleading for them regularly. Temple Sholom is a smaller synagogue with a core population of fiercely dedicated members.
It was interesting for me to go back and forth between the two pulpits--from big to small, from settled rabbis to new leadership, from a younger population to a more mature constituency. Working for these two synagogues simultaneously taught me a lot about the type of rabbi I'd like to be, what kind of synagogue I'd like to work for, and what aspects of rabbinic mentorship are most important to me as I make my way out into the real world. I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve both communities.
This year, I've taken on a position at HUC-JIR Cincinnati as Coordinator of Outreach. I'll be responsible for the social networking coming out of this campus, planning and executing all of our events geared toward the greater Cincinnati community--from classical music and jazz/hip-hop concerts to lecture series and seminars--and managing The Skirball Museum.
So far, the job is wonderful. It brings me back to my days as a youth director, when every day was a new adventure. Learning about outreach, marketing and branding will serve me well in the years to come, and I'm having such a great time working with local synagogues, organizations, schools, newspapers, and more to build up the profile of HUC. There is so much to offer here on campus, and it's exciting to be part of ensuring that HUC Cincinnati grows as a central innovative institution in Cincinnati.
I was lucky enough to spend more time at camp with BBYO this summer, where I go to recharge my love of informal Jewish education. I am always inspired by the teens, both by their unbelievable passion for learning and service as well as their potential as Jewish leaders of the next generation. I hope I can keep going back--it's one of my happy places.
As this academic year begins, I look forward to finishing out my HUC career by absorbing as much as possible from my mentors, professors, colleagues, and classmates, and giving as much of myself as I can.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
This summer at a pluralistic B’nai B’rith camp in Pennsylvania, I met a young man who had been through a terrible ordeal. At age 16, David had come down with a typical case of mono. About a week after his diagnosis, the infection spread to his brain—uncommon but not unheard of—and he slipped into a coma for a two-hour period. Upon awakening, David found that he had no memory of his life—to the point where he did not recognize his mother or father, and could not remember his age, or even his name.
A year and a half later, at camp this summer, he still had not regained any shred memory of his life before that brief, life-changing illness. After David and I got to know each other a little better, he asked me a question that threw me off guard. He asked, “What could I possibly have done, as a 16-year old child—to warrant this type of divine punishment? Why would God do this to me?” While many of us have not had an event unfold into something as extreme as David’s amnesia, this question is one that most of us have asked at some point in our lives.
During my short time as a rabbinical student, I’ve heard this very question from of a woman watching helplessly as her mother fell ill, a man who lost his job when the economy crashed--after 40 years with the same company, a teenager dumped by her boyfriend, and several other people with a variety of different experiences.
What I would like to talk about this morning is not the answer to this question, because I don’t believe that anyone can authentically provide an answer to why bad things happen in the world. Instead, I’d like to discuss our relationship with God. Unlike most other religions, Judaism does not have a mandated dogma—there is no statement of belief that one must abide by in order to be considered a Jew. In fact, our forefathers struggled with God on a regular basis.
In today’s Torah portion, traditionally read by Reform communities on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, we learn about God’s challenging test of Abraham, as he is asked by God to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering. The greatest struggle in Abraham’s life, to this point, was his unwavering desire to have a son with his wife Sarah. God asks this man, who has left his father’s home for a strange new land because of the strength of his faith, to give up the most important thing in his life. But why?
As we read a few moments ago, God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, the son whom you love, Isaac.” There is so much repetition in this statement by God, that our Midrash tells us that we should read the verse as if we are listening only to God’s side of a two-sided conversation. The interpretation fills in the missing half—Abraham’s responses to God—and this is what it might have sounded like:
God commands: Take your son.
Abraham replies: I have two sons (Ishmael and Isaac) which do you mean?
God says: Your only son
Abraham replies: Both are only sons– Isaac is the only son I have from his mother, and Ishmael is the only son I have from his mother.
God says: The son whom you love…
Abraham says: Master of the universe, are there separate compartments in one’s innermost self for love? I love both of them.
God replies: Very well then—Isaac.
This Midrash provides us with the resistance that we need from Abraham when facing such an unbelievably challenging situation. Abraham—our pillar of faith, the father of the Jewish people, is having a moment of crisis with regard to his relationship with God. This is an essential example of Abraham’s true humanity, and what makes our biblical characters so relatable for Jews in every place and in every generation. It helps us in our own journey to find a personal relationship with God to know that even Abraham struggled.
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, participated in a more physical struggle with the divine, when he found himself wrestling with a strange man in the middle of the night as he traveled to meet with his estranged brother Esau. The two wrestle all night, until Jacob's opponent suddenly touches the socket of Jacob's hip, causing it to wrench out of place. Despite this physical pain, Jacob refuses to relinquish his hold on the man, and demands a blessing in return for his release.
The stranger blesses Jacob, saying, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” Jacob names the place Peni-el—meaning, “I have seen God face-to-face.”
Jacob not punished, ridiculed, or shamed for wrestling with God, but is blessed with a rebirth as Israel—a name vibrantly connected to the Jewish people since that moment. As the people of Israel, we are also blessed with the ability to struggle with God.
Faith is a funny thing. Moments of crisis tend to be the time when we question our faith, although that very questioning shows us that we do feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. Struggling with our own personal relationship with God is something intrinsically sacred to the Jewish people, as we can see through our patriarchal narratives---both Abraham and Jacob wrestled with a God that was right in front of them. For us, we wrestle with God in a different way, which allows us to grow as individuals, bond with our communities, and participate in a religion that encourages questioning, engagement, and discourse.
As a movement, Reform Judaism upholds this concept of wrestling with God, and rejects blind faith as a way of life. We search for relevance in our way of life, in the rituals we choose to observe, and the way that we treat other people. In that same vein, each of us may experience our struggles differently, but it is the struggle itself that makes us who we are as a Jewish people.
When we ask questions at critical moments, we add meaning to our lives. We search for something out there bigger than ourselves, and turn to our community and family for support and guidance. We reach out to others with hope in our hearts, and turn towards ourselves to discover what really matters.
For the Jewish people, the next ten days represent a period of deep introspection as we attempt to right any wrongs we have committed in the past year between ourselves and others. I invite you to take the time to consider your own journey towards faith, understanding that our questions provide each of us with unlimited opportunities to learn and grow. May the New Year bring us ever closer to understanding our personal relationship with God, and farther along the path of our journey toward faith.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
I can't believe it's been so long since my last post, but I sort of gave up keeping up with the blog when I realized how crazy life could get as a second year rabbinical student. This has truly been a whirlwind year...here are some of the highlights.
1. Serving a student pulpit
If I had to pick one thing in my two years of HUC that made me feel like an authentic, knowledgeable, real live rabbinical student, this would be it. Working with the families of the Columbus Hebrew Congregation in Columbus, Indiana taught me so much about my role in the Jewish community, and the future expectations that will be placed on me as the rabbi of a synagogue. For the first time in my life, I was teaching Judaism primarily to adults, which was very different from working with kids and teens. Watching my adult education classes grow from 2 students to 20 was surprising and rewarding; to know that I can teach a group of highly educated (Jewishly and secularly) and highly motivated Jews without them seeing me as a little kid.
During my last visit, I had the opportunity to lead one of my congregants through her bat-mitzvah, which we had been preparing for since the beginning of the year. This young girl, having never learned Hebrew, led all of the major prayers in the service, and chanted 13 lines of Torah beautifully in front of her family and friends. The entire community's overwhelming pride and love was palpable, and her service incorporated elements of this community, her own poetry and creativity, her deep love and knowledge of Judaism, and marked the beginning of her path as a Jewish adult in a way that I've never seen done at one of the larger established congregations that I've belonged to in the past. I love working with congregations that don't take Jewish community for granted, and it's definitely going to be something I look for when I am (eventually) ready for a full time position.
This year, I learned to play the guitar (with a little help from my friends). Coming from a musical background, it was really easy for me to pick it up. I used the guitar for services throughout the year at my pulpit, and picked up a few jobs here and there (Chanukkah celebration at an assisted living facility, leading a preschool seder at the big local synagogue). This newly acquired skill is already opening serious doors for me, and I think it will be a great benefit for the future. I can't wait to play at camp this summer, since last year's morning services were a bit awkward with no musical accompaniment.
3. Dan's insane cooking skills
Dan is not playing here...this is for real. He goes to work at 6 in the morning, comes home around 3, and cooks all night. The weekends? He bakes. This, my friends, is the reason that we had to buy an elliptical for the apartment, so we don't get super fat eating all of Dan's amazing food. While I've tried to convince him that he could actually do this for a living, he assures me that he doesn't want to be told what to cook, and really just wants to make delicious food for his family and friends. Fine, works for me.
4. HUC's financial and political turmoil
This isn't really a highlight in a good way, but HUC has been through a rough year. Towards the beginning of the year, the school announced that they were going to have to think of some way to make up the millions of dollars that they were losing because of their endowments being under water....the rumors started flying. These rumors mostly focused on the closing of 1 or 2 of the stateside campuses, and most likely LA and/or Cincinnati. Then, we found out that the rumors weren't really rumors, and these scenarios were actually being considered. Needless to say, the morale on our campus on the part of the students and faculty was seriously damaged, and the tension mounted between campuses, and between students/faculty and the administration. This past weekend, after a highly anticipated board meeting, it was announced that all three campuses would remain open, although a major restructuring of the entire school would take place in order to save HUC. They have not officially released the proposal yet, but I am so grateful that I'll be able to finish out my program in Cincinnati. www.saveHUC.org
I just had to add him in here, because he is the cutest shmoopster in the entire world.
Anyway, I will do my best to keep up with the blog on a regular basis, now that my life is calming down a bit. Wish me luck on finals.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I pulled up to the family's home where I would be staying on Friday afternoon, and was surprised to see a big log cabin in front of me! Built by hand by the home's previous owner, this family lived in a big comfortable log cabin, which was decked out with all of the normal things (like indoor plumbing and AC) that makes a modern home livable. It was really great, and a 'woodsy' experience. The family itself was amazing, from the homemade fried chicken, to the stories they told about growing up in a town with 10 Jewish families.
As for the service, my greatest accomplishment was my guitar-playing debut. I did the entire service on guitar, which was a big deal for me (and I managed to only skip one verse of one prayer). Singing in front of 25 people with a guitar is much less awkward than singing alone, and the group was full of positive feedback. I was also nervous about setting the Torah by myself, which involved rolling the gigantic scroll 3/4 of the way down and finding the 3 lines in the text that I was chanting that evening. I had nightmares. With the help of the president, I managed to figure it out, and am much more comfortable working with a scroll as a result! Overall, the service went well, and the community was overwhelmingly warm and welcoming.
Aside from school, which is challenging and interesting, life at the moment revolves around getting my act together for the High Holidays. I've written my sermons, prepared my service, and am working on Torah and music, but it's definitely anxiety-inducing to be completely in charge of the planning and execution of worship services for the holiest day of the year, especially for a community that so rarely comes together for Jewish practice.
Since we're in the middle of Elul, the Jewish month of introspection, I leave you with this passage written by Obama for the Jewels of Elul project. May you all have a meaningful period of reflection and understanding.
The Roots of a Dream by Senator Barack Obama
Just as the courageous Zionists who established the State of Israel were energized by Theodore Herzl’s dictum, so do Americans draw inspiration from the notion that determination can turn our dreams into reality.
As someone who grew up without a strong sense of roots, I have always been drawn to the belief - embedded in the long journey of the Jewish
people - that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional, and cultural identity in the face of impossible odds. And I deeply understood the Zionist idea - that there is always a homeland at the center of our story.
For America’s Founders, that story was based on a set of ideals - freedom and equality, justice and opportunity. Generations of Americans have worked to build a more perfect union that lives up to those ideals. And time and again, Americans have come together to meet great challenges at home while working to repair the world abroad.
Today, we face another defining moment. We must reclaim that basic American Dream for all Americans - the idea that if you work hard, you can support a family; that if you get sick, there will be health care you can afford; that you can retire with the dignity and security you have earned; and that every American can get a world-class education. Abroad, we must advance peace in a dangerous world and achieve a clean energy future that breaks our dependence on foreign oil, while securing our planet. Americans also stand firm in our friendship with the Israeli people and our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.
As Israelis take stock of their remarkable achievements over the last 60 years - and as Jews everywhere reflect with reverence on this treasured past while looking to an uncertain future - Americans are united in our determination to help Israel achieve lasting peace and security. These are dreams we can achieve if we are willing to come together and work for them.