RA Spotlight https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/resources-ideas/ra-spotlight en RA Spotlight: Juan Mejia is Bringing Conservative/Masorti Judaism to Latin American Audiences https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/44691 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">RA Spotlight: Juan Mejia is Bringing Conservative/Masorti Judaism to Latin American Audiences</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/28676" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Diana Denza</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Wed, 10/30/2019 - 16:09</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Wednesday October 30, 2019</div><p><!--break--></p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/10013731_10154060926160228_5756327347919435342_n.jpg" style="float:right; height:193px; margin:5px 8px; width:200px" />As part of our ongoing efforts to highlight the wonderful diversity of the Conservative/Masorti rabbinate, we spoke with our colleague Juan Mejia, who has been providing needed materials and guidance to Jewish people and potential converts in Latin America. Below, he shared his own path to finding Conservative/Masorti Judaism, as well as how he’s reaching and connecting with thousands of people online.</p> <p><strong>What inspired your conversion from Catholicism to the Conservative/Masorti rabbinate?</strong></p> <p>I think there are three separate parts to my story. When I was 15 years old, like many Latinos, I discovered that there was some Jewish background in the family. In the beginning, that was a very important, very salient part of my identity. The lasting impact it had was that it got me interested in Judaism. When I was growing up in Colombia in the 80s and 90s, Colombia is very different from America, there’s not a lot of Judaism made public. People don’t really have the possibility to experience the difference or the diversity. Then, when my grandfather told me that his family used to be Jewish, it motivated me to find out a little bit more about Judaism. So I learned more about Jewish history, because otherwise it would have been incredibly alien. </p> <p>The second part is that once I entered college, I was no longer identifying as Catholic or Christian.  Christian theology made very little sense to me; I studied philosophy, that was my major, so I was coming from a very intellectual perspective. The approach to Christian and Catholic theology made no sense, but I didn’t have a living alternative. When I was 20, I took this grand tour of Europe and ended up in Israel for three months. That was where I had first-hand exposure to Jewish living that I’d never had. Here, I’m surrounded by Jewish culture and religion and language and music, and biblical teachings. And it was all incredibly inspiring. This pulled me harder than I thought. In the beginning, I was rationalizing, telling myself “oh this is because I have Jewish ancestry,” but the more I learned about Judaism, the more I discovered that this was what I really believed. I believed in a rational religion of responsibility and profound optimism. The more I learned about it, the more I fell in love with Judaism.  This was at the turn of the millennium, so I was very fortunate to be able to read English and have access to the Internet because finding Jewish literature in Spanish was almost impossible in Colombia where I was.</p> <p>And then, when I realized, this is what a spiritual home means to me, this is what I want to develop and blossom as a human, I was very fortunate to be offered a masters scholarship at Hebrew University, so I finished my conversion there, which was preceded by almost four years of doing it practically on my own. The Jewish communities in Latin America were not as welcoming as an American community would have been. It’s not like you can just walk down the street to a synagogue. Conversion programs are usually limited to people who are marrying into the community or might have a Jewish parent. But not just anyone could walk into a synagogue and say “I want to convert.” It’s very rare then and it’s still unfortunately quite rare. </p> <p>The third part occurred when I was in Jerusalem. In the beginning, like many people who convert, I started at Orthodoxy. But I saw a lot of the things that turned me off Catholicism were still very present in Orthodoxy. I had always been religiously egalitarian. I found no reason for women not to be able to be priests; I found that the appeal to “oh it’s a mystery, don’t inquire,” left me conflicted. It sounded much the same in Orthodoxy so that’s what led me to Conservative/Masorti Judaism proper. And once I started participating in an observant Conservative/Masorti community, I realized that this is my real home in Judaism. And then I met my wife at the Conservative/Masorti Yeshiva. She already knew that she wanted to be a rabbi, so she was there to improve her Hebrew and get some text skills, and I was going to begin my PhD in philosophy. But then I discovered that I was not alone. There was this growing number of people in Latin America that were interested in Judaism, whether because they had Jewish roots or believed they had Jewish roots, or simply because there were objectives that attracted them to Judaism and that led me to rabbi to them. </p> <p>I could identify with their loneliness because the local shuls – if there were local shuls – were mostly in incredibly isolated areas with no Jews. But even the people who were lucky enough to be in the cities with Jewish communities were getting nowhere. I mean, literally, they can’t enter the building, they can’t get rabbis to answer their emails, so I felt this great deal of empathy and that’s when my wife said “look, this is what you didn’t know you need, these people are where you were six years ago, and you have some Torah, so why don’t you share it with them?” That’s why I got turned around again. I entered the rabbinate with a very clear objective of being a rabbi to people in Latin America, and Spanish speakers. If you’re in America and you’re looking for Judaism, you have plenty of resources to guide you. But Latin America is far more complex and there’s less material, and that’s what I view as my rabbinic mission. My rabbinic mission is to be a resource for those people who are on the outside of Judaism and offer them knowledge or when I can, offer them a way into Judaism.</p> <p><strong>How are you able to teach Judaism to Jewish people in Latin America? What is the process like?</strong></p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/img-20170319-wa0062.jpg" style="float:left; height:165px; margin:5px 8px; width:220px" />There are two levels, two tiers of the work I do. I don’t identify myself as a virtual rabbi because I say that has a stigma. Especially as you get the younger rabbinate, a millennial rabbinate – every millennial that I met is a virtual rabbi, to some extent. I’m just doing it in an area with political, racial, and social tensions. So, there are two tiers to the work I do. One is that I do general education about Judaism online. When I was at seminary, I wondered how I could help the people in my community. And the first thing I did was to produce a free translated, free transliterated, free commented Sefardic siddur in Spanish. And then I did the shabbat edition, then I did the daily edition, then I did Ashkenazi, and now I have an app that has about 4,000 downloads. And that was a creative idea, translating stuff that hasn’t been translated. First and foremost, my main contribution has been as a translator. </p> <p>My siddurim are used throughout the continent, in established communities. For example, two Masorti communities in Cuba use my siddurim. I didn’t know this; one person from the community at my home was like, “I went to the shul in Cuba and they’re using your siddur.” Wow, that’s mind-blowing. I would say it is used quite extensively by the people I’ve made this siddur for. The emerging Jews, the new Jews, the emerging communities. People who are coming from without Judaism, coming from the outside and if you handed them a Sim Shalom, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. They can’t read Hebrew, they can’t read English, so I’m creating resources in Spanish for that community. </p> <p>In that same tier of public Jewish education, I have been teaching pretty much nonstop for the past 12 years and all of that content is mine, and free and available. Whether it’s Mishnah or Talmud or parsha or mussar, I teach classes online and those classes are open to pretty much everybody. I usually interact with people before I let them into my class. They say, “I have a sincere interest in Judaism and yet I have a juvenile Jewish education.” Most of my teachings now live on my YouTube channel, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/koltuvsefarad/featured">koltuvsefarad</a>, which now has over 9,000 subscribers and over 1.5 million video views. So that is the first tier, and I get questions and I answer them and I interact. I see my vision of that tier as I just want people to get good information about Judaism. I want to increase the amount of clear Judaism, authentic Judaism taught in Spanish with the underlining assumption that when I teach about why, I know that most of my audience is not yet Jewish, so I have to teach in a very particular way. I can’t abuse the use of Hebrew. I have to translate everything. I can’t say that you can go to your local kosher store or your local synagogue; there might not be one. </p> <p>In the second tier, there are people who love Torah, they identify fully with it, they don’t want to be Orthodox or Reform, and they don’t just want to learn about Judaism. They want to be Jewish and need someone to guide them. So with these groups, I start a very long process of getting to know them, making sure they have pure intentions. I can’t promise that they’ll be able to move to Israel. In Latin America, some people want to convert to emigrate, so I need to make sure that people are just interested in Judaism for its own sake. You really have to prove that I’m not a stepping stone to a better life in Israel or to Orthodoxy, because I’m not going to waste my time.</p> <p><strong>The RA is looking to highlight the diversity of the rabbinate by featuring RA members across a variety of rabbinic roles in congregations, schools, organizations, and communities. To nominate a colleague, email Diana Denza, our Marketing and Communications Specialist, at </strong><a href="mailto:ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org"><strong>ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org</strong></a><strong>. Please provide your colleague's full name along with a paragraph about why you're nominating them in the body of your email. </strong></p> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> Wed, 30 Oct 2019 20:09:50 +0000 Diana Denza 44691 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/44691#comments RA Spotlight: Shalom Plotkin on the Transition from Pulpit Rabbi to Business Owner https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/44416 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">RA Spotlight: Shalom Plotkin on the Transition from Pulpit Rabbi to Business Owner </span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/28676" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Diana Denza</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Tue, 08/27/2019 - 15:31</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Tuesday August 27, 2019</div><p><!--break--></p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/shalom_plotkin_photo_for_article.jpg" style="float:right; height:181px; margin:5px; width:200px" />As part of our ongoing efforts to highlight the wonderful diversity of the Conservative/Masorti rabbinate, we spoke with our colleague Shalom Plotkin, who has been hard at work building his Right at Home business. Below, he shared how he worked through the transition process, how his rabbinic training helps him connect to families in need, and the satisfaction he gets from his career path.</p> <p><strong>Can you provide us with a quick overview of what you do managing the local Right at Home office in Cleveland?</strong></p> <p>I’m the owner and the operator of a private duty homecare franchise, so in addition to the rabbinic work I do in the community, I’m also an entrepreneur and started this business to look after the needs of some of our adult neighbors to help them stay safe at home.</p> <p><strong>Do you have previous professional or personal experiences that prepared you specifically for this role?</strong></p> <p>I think some of the work that I was doing in congregations helped to prepare me to do more of this, what I call senior services, and I was already doing quite a bit of <em>bikur cholim</em>, visiting congregants of the synagogue in their homes or when they were hospitalized. I always enjoyed doing that, and now I’m just doing a lot more of it.</p> <p><strong>What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your work, and what are some of the things you have done to overcome them?</strong></p> <p>One of the challenges I had when I was first starting out was that I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be a successful business or not, so I continued to serve as a congregational rabbi—that’s what I had been doing previously, so I took a part-time pulpit, to make sure that I still had some <em>parnasah</em>. I also became a hospital chaplain, which was a paid position at the local VA hospital; that’s how I knew that I would be able to continue to provide for my family.</p> <p>And the challenge in the business was that I needed to find some caring employees, and I needed to look for some patients, some folks who would need our services. I had additional training from our Right at Home franchise, so I studied for weeks to learn some of the recipes for success. I’ve been running the business for five years with my wife. We have about 117 employees, and we help about 50 individuals, couples, or families each day.</p> <p><strong>Do you have things that you’ve learned from starting this business, tips, and things to keep in mind for people who want to start their own businesses?</strong></p> <p>I think it’s good to cast a wide net and to ask lots of questions, and to be open to what comes from that research. For me in particular, it’s about looking inside and asking where did I want to spend the next number of years, and how did I want to share my rabbinic talents and religious passion as well. You know, I felt like this would be an opportunity to serve the physical needs, not just of my own family (we started this business to help my in-laws). Professionally, I feel like I’m teaching and sharing. People come to me for guidance; I do a lot of interfaith work, actually. And we’re also active in some of the charitable endeavors in the community. For example, we support Bikur Cholim, we support a lending library of durable medical equipment, we support Huntington’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Association, and I’m doing quite a bit of teaching -- actually a huge amount of teaching -- which I had enjoyed doing in the pulpit. I teach, for example, classes like Fall Prevention. Recently, I was asked by one of the local synagogues to talk about medical marijuana. So, it’s been rewarding and I feel like it’s been not just successful, but profitable.</p> <p><strong>It sounds like you’re doing so much and you’ve enjoyed so much success. Is there something specifically that you feel is the best part of your work?</strong></p> <p>I think it’s really rewarding. I know that we have been able to help families have less stress. For example, there might be someone who is in hospice who is thinking about dying and the legacy they want to leave, and that sort of thing, so maybe we’ll have a chance to sit with them at night while the family is asleep, and maybe the hospice nurse will come in a few times, and we might be able to do some of the other things. We can help them to frame a conversation or maybe leave a message or a recipe for their loved ones. That would be an example of something that I felt was satisfying.</p> <p><strong>That does sound extremely satisfying.  Can you talk about the compensation and some of the advancement potential for a career like this?</strong></p> <p>I really liked the idea that I could choose where we could live. In the pulpit, basically one of the things we would do to advance would be to move to a larger community or a larger congregation. And I did that, and I enjoyed that. But it wasn’t necessarily where we had grown up, or been raised. In this case, it gave me the opportunity to move back to Ohio, specifically to Beachwood and Shaker Heights where Elise is from, next to basically the neighborhood where she grew up. </p> <p>We spent some really satisfying years with her dad who had Parkinson’s for like 25 years, he got to know his grandkids, and they got to know him. We had some good days among some difficult years. We were also able to support our family with our caregivers who were compassionate and trained. We were with them about 17 hours a day in those final months. So that was kind of neat, I kind of like that advantage that you can choose where you’re going to do it. You have the longevity to know that you’re going to be there for a while. I didn’t have to worry about a board or a contract or anything like that. I’m the owner of the business, and also it’s satisfying to know that I built something that is valuable. That just has a feeling, sometimes it’s hard for me to tell, like when I was preaching in the pulpit, am I making a difference? Sometimes it was hard to see, okay this is a message I care about, I worked hard at crafting the words, sometimes it was received well and sometimes I just didn’t know. In this case, I can see the outcome, like I know if we’ve been able to help somebody feel dignified in their home and clean and die in peace, you can see that.</p> <p><strong>What skills did you transfer from the pulpit into your private practice?</strong></p> <p>Connecting with people, listening. Listening is really important. Understanding, creating relationships, getting to know the community. Now, being a community steward and a shepherd also uses communal and family resources. Those are some things that are directly applicable. The skills in teaching as well. In one way you’re sort of a—I mean, you’re selling home care, I don’t know if I was really selling religion, or for god, or faith, or tradition. Sometimes it felt a little bit like that. I know in the pulpit world, I was managing a staff and a team, there wasn’t always a large team, but there could have been a dozen folks, so, now I have maybe a few more folks, 117 employees, but some of the same leadership strengths are still applicable. </p> <p><strong>It seems like you were able to transfer over a lot of those skills, especially working with people. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?</strong></p> <p>Now what I did is, the parts of the business I was less interested in, like the billing and payroll and some of the financial investment, I mean I could have done those things, I just found them personally less rewarding, I have other people on my team to do those things. I could choose the parts that I enjoyed doing the most. Something else that we did, I bought a second franchise unit, basically so the next works to the first one. I run both from the same office but they’re both going strongly now, so the recourse of it was slightly greater, but the reward was significantly greater, so I basically do what you call a double down.</p> <p>I don’t ever have to worry about, for example, asking the day school where our children attend for financial aid any longer. I can be a contributor to their Ramah overnight camp, as opposed to asking for financial aid, I am an active member at a couple of different Conservative congregations, that are pretty close to our home and I was able to help with <em>kashrut</em>, and with teaching, and with cleaning, and some of the other things that I don’t have the opportunity to do in my business, I can do as a volunteer, as a rabbinic lay leader.</p> <p><strong>The RA is looking to highlight the diversity of the rabbinate by featuring RA members across a variety of rabbinic roles in congregations, schools, organizations, and communities. To nominate a colleague, email Diana Denza, our Marketing and Communications Specialist, at </strong><a href="mailto:ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org"><strong>ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org</strong></a><strong>. Please provide your colleague's full name along with a paragraph about why you're nominating them in the body of your email. </strong></p> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> Tue, 27 Aug 2019 19:31:07 +0000 Diana Denza 44416 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/44416#comments RA Spotlight: David Krishef on Handling Transitions and Engaging in Public Dialogue https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/44116 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">RA Spotlight: David Krishef on Handling Transitions and Engaging in Public Dialogue </span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/28676" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Diana Denza</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Tue, 07/23/2019 - 16:28</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Tuesday July 23, 2019</div><!--break--> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/david_krishef.jpg" style="float:right; height:300px; margin:5px; width:200px" /></p> <p>As part of our ongoing efforts to highlight the wonderful diversity of the Conservative/Masorti rabbinate, we spoke with our colleague David Krishef, who has been working at a small synagogue in Grand Rapids, Michigan for over two decades. Below, he shared how he led his congregation through a major transition process, how his interest in biomedical ethics has helped him connect to families with medical issues, and his work as a weekly columnist.</p> <p><strong>You’ve been working as a rabbi for over two decades at a synagogue in Grand Rapids. How has the community changed and evolved in your time there?</strong></p> <p>When I arrived in Grand Rapids almost 25 years ago, the majority of the congregation were native to the city. I arrived in the midst of a transition — ten years earlier, virtually the entire congregation would have been native Grand Rapidians. Today, the vast majority did not grow up at Ahavas Israel, in Grand Rapids, or in the Jewish community. The synagogue used to have a reputation for being a closed community, somewhat unfriendly to outsiders. Because we are now a community of “outsiders,” I don’t hear that criticism nearly as often. However, through the transition, we have maintained a family feel within the congregation. It has as much to do with size as it does with the mix between natives and transplants, but our roots as a collection of Grand Rapids families has contributed to our ability to maintain a close-knit family feel to the congregation.</p> <p>Another change in the congregation has depended on our having become a group of people who truly welcome outsiders. The synagogue has gotten smaller in the past 25 years. Ahavas Israel is not immune to diminishing numbers within the Conservative movement. But we are holding our own thanks to the conversion program that I have developed. West Michigan is a religious community. From my first year here, I have been approached by a steady stream of people interested in exploring Judaism. Some grew up in Christian churches but felt that they never belonged, left as young adults, and found in Judaism a spiritual path that resonated with them. Others came from churches which took the Hebrew Bible seriously, but at a certain point, realized that the Hebrew Bible never identified Jesus as the messiah. At that point, they left the church and approached the synagogue, as people dedicated to the Hebrew Bible, looking for community. Our Shabbat morning community is about 1/3 Jews by Choice, and they have become an important part of the leadership of the synagogue.</p> <p>Before my arrival, over the approximately 100-year history of the congregation, the average rabbinic tenure was 3 1/2 years. The longest serving rabbi was 8 years (which happened twice - in 1922, and by my immediate predecessor). The expectation that the rabbi will not stay long has consequences. For example, early on I was told that rabbis did not do any fundraising at all; the congregation did not want the rabbi to have any involvement whatsoever in anything financial. As time went on, they discovered that the rabbi’s input was sometimes useful, and I could even be an effective fundraiser. We have gone from an endowment of less than $50,000 to one that soon will be more than $2 million. I can’t take credit for all of it. The gifts may have come in without my asking. But the fact is that until I suggested that we begin an endowment campaign focusing on asking our seniors for bequests, and until I went and began asking for endowment gifts, no one had ever systematically asked for that kind of gift. Fundraising is about relationships, and the congregation’s understanding of the role of the rabbi has evolved as my tenure has enabled me to develop deep ties to each of our members.</p> <p>I believe that Ahavas Israel is a healthier and more stable community, having experienced consistent rabbinic leadership for a quarter-century.</p> <p><strong>Can you tell us more about your interest in biomedical ethics and how that is connected to your work as a rabbi?</strong></p> <p>My interest in biomedical ethics is an extension of my interest in all things technical and scientific. I started my college career in computer science. Although I left it for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, I never left my geek-nerd side behind. I have always been interested in the cutting-edge law committee decisions having to do with food science, Shabbat and technology, and medical issues. When the hospital contacted me to offer me a seat on the ethics committee as a community representative, I jumped at the chance. It has given me the opportunity to see the hospital and its staff from the inside. I have a better understanding of how medical decisions are made and how important good communication with doctors, nurses, and other support staff is. That has helped me when working with families dealing with serious medical issues, including end of life questions.</p> <p><strong>What is the best part of working at a small synagogue?</strong></p> <p>It is not just that the opportunities to connect with the members of one’s congregation are more intense in a small congregation; the size of the congregation facilitates those intense relationships. There is not a child who celebrates b’nai mitzvah who has not taken a weekly class with me. By the time they graduate from high school, assuming they continue their Jewish education, they have taken at least two classes with me. These religious school classes typically contain fewer than ten students, so no student is ever an anonymous face.</p> <p>I have in-depth face-to-face conversations at least monthly with about 1/3 of the households of my congregation after services on Shabbat or at weekday minyan, or in study groups or programs. I am able to greet and exchange a few words with virtually every person in the synagogue on Shabbat morning. Rare are the people who I miss completely (typically because they leave early).</p> <p>This is the best part of working at a small congregation.</p> <p><strong>What advice do you have for rabbis planning to make a career at a small synagogue?</strong></p> <p>A small synagogue is not necessarily a kol-bo, but the rabbi is more likely to be called on to do a wider variety of rabbinic and non-rabbinic tasks. Here’s a sample of what I did in the past two weeks that might be considered “non-rabbinic:” set up rooms, event publicity and organization, supervise web site, library, and kitchen, and collecting information for the newsletter. And of course, I also did my usual rabbinic work, such as teaching adults, children, leading every possible service (so brush up on chanting all of the megillot), kosher supervision outside the synagogue, and the usual assortment of pastoral care situations.</p> <p><strong>You run a blog called <a href="https://embodiedtorah.com/" target="_blank">EmbodiedTorah.com</a> and write a popular weekly column. How do you balance your other work with writing?</strong></p> <p>It is impossible to be an effective rabbi today without engaging with social media. Having an effective rabbinic presence in a community begins with reaching people through your teaching. Some people will not be in shul every week to hear your teaching (surprise!). I don’t fully write my divre Torah so I can’t publish them - but I either publish all of my formal writing on my blog or send it to the congregation in our weekly email. In addition to bulletin articles, I have done reflections on Psalms and the occasional random reflection on some Jewish issue.</p> <p>The “Ethics and Religion Talk” column that I write for the Grand Rapids Press (published online at <a href="http://therapidian.org/" target="_blank">therapidian.org</a>) is not part of my synagogue work. Ultimately, I think it benefits the synagogue to have my voice out there engaging in public dialogue, but I work on the column in the evening or on my day off.</p> <p><strong>In what ways has the Rabbinical Assembly helped you in your career?</strong></p> <p>The most important way the RA has helped me is to support the Conference for Rabbis of Small Congregations that Rabbis Ben Kramer, Michael Friedland, and I created in 2011. We put together a conference entirely focused on the nature of serving a small congregation. We held our first conference at Beth Hillel Congregation B’nai Emunah in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette. We had expected colleagues to drive in from nearby states, and were surprised that we attracted rabbis from Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, New York, and Pennsylvania as well. Clearly, we had identified a need. The RA recognized that we who were serving small congregations were the experts at identifying what we needed, and they offered their support and resources, while letting us plan the conference. For this, I want to thank Elliot Schoenberg in particular. His participation, advice, and assistance have helped immeasurably. Since then, Michael and I have organized four more conferences (including one in partnership with the USCJ) and look forward to our next one. Please contact me if you are interested and I’ll give you more information.</p> <p><strong>The RA is looking to highlight the diversity of the rabbinate by featuring RA members across a variety of rabbinic roles in congregations, schools, organizations, and communities. To nominate a colleague, email Diana Denza, our Marketing and Communications Specialist, at </strong><a href="mailto:ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org"><strong>ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org</strong></a><strong>. Please provide your colleague's full name along with a paragraph about why you're nominating them in the body of your email. </strong></p> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> Tue, 23 Jul 2019 20:28:11 +0000 Diana Denza 44116 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/44116#comments RA Spotlight: Rachel Isaacs is Nurturing Small Town Jewish Life https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/43631 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">RA Spotlight: Rachel Isaacs is Nurturing Small Town Jewish Life</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/28676" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Diana Denza</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Tue, 06/04/2019 - 15:28</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Tuesday June 4, 2019</div><p><!--break--></p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/headshot_hi-res.jpg" style="float:right; height:376px; margin:5px; width:250px" />As part of our ongoing efforts to highlight the wonderful diversity of the Conservative/Masorti rabbinate, we spoke with our colleague Rachel Isaacs, an openly gay rabbi who has been working at a small synagogue in Waterville. Below, she shared her experiences working in rural Maine, her work establishing the Center for Small Town Jewish Life at Colby College, and tips for aspiring LGBTQ rabbis.</p> <p><strong>What was it like to be openly gay in the Conservative movement just a little over 10 years ago? How have things progressed since that time? </strong></p> <p>It was difficult being openly gay at the seminary, and the public responses to my ordination ranged from joy and acceptance to some pretty nasty online abuse. That process stands in stark contrast to the way in which my family and I have been embraced in Waterville, and my current standing in the Conservative Movement. I am impressed by how much more sensitive and aware our movement and its institutions have become. While there is always room for improvement, especially regarding issues of gender and gender identity, I am truly floored by the speed at which our movement has progressed in terms of recruiting and supporting queer clergy, congregants, lay leaders, and teens.</p> <p><strong>How did you end up in a small congregation in Waterville, Maine?</strong></p> <p>I was brought to Waterville, Maine through a Legacy Heritage program that brought fifth-year rabbinical students to small congregations around the country. I fell in love with my community and decided to stay for the long term.</p> <p><strong>Was this an unexpected career path for you?</strong></p> <p>Absolutely. I anticipated being a suburban rabbi in the NY metropolitan area. I have learned more about small-town Jewish life, socioeconomic diversity in the Jewish community, and rural America than I ever anticipated. The work, however, has been fulfilling and fruitful. My work in Waterville started as a student rabbinate with a congregation of 20 and 5 Hillel students. I now hold an endowed chair in Jewish Studies at Colby College, run an academic Center at the college (<a href="http://www.colby.edu/jewishlife">The Center for Small Town Jewish Life</a>), and I lead a vibrant, diverse synagogue that brings me a great deal of joy. Even though I work in a small-town context, I have been nationally recognized (at the <a href="https://www.centralmaine.com/2016/12/15/waterville-rabbi-says-delivering-hanukkah-remarks-at-white-house-was-surreal/">White House</a> and beyond) for my work with synagogues and institutions throughout Maine. My rabbinate has been a strange and wild ride, and I deeply grateful for the incredible people who brought me to Maine and have nurtured me here.</p> <p><strong>What is Jewish life like in general in a small city with an even smaller Jewish population?</strong></p> <p>You have to work really hard to keep things going. You are working with a small group of committed volunteers, and you need to make sure that you don’t burn out your leadership in achieving your goals. Keeping kosher and Shabbat are harder and more isolating than they would be in a larger Jewish community. That said, there is an intimacy and authenticity to everyday life that I love. My community is raising my children with us, and their kids are our kids as well. The congregation feels like a family and is always there for each other. Everyone cherishes and works hard to keep their families Jewish. Nothing is taken for granted or outsourced. This unique blend of factors makes Jewish life challenging, but also precious and beautiful in ways that make me deeply grateful.</p> <p><strong>In your opinion, what is the most meaningful thing you’ve accomplished in your rabbinate so far?</strong></p> <p>Establishing the Center for Small Town Jewish Life at Colby College. We’ve raised millions of dollars to change the ecosystem for Jewish life in Maine, and have provided a model for reviving small, rural Jewish communities through institutional collaboration, visionary thinking, and dynamic, multigenerational programming. The Center highlights what can happen when thoughtful relationships are built among clergy, lay leaders, and educators. It connects an outlying Jewish community with the resources of dynamic centers of Jewish life and has brought the unique gifts and challenges of rural Jewish life into the national conversation.</p> <p><strong>What advice do you have for aspiring LGBTQ rabbis?</strong></p> <p>Find a community that embraces you for who you are so that you can be an authentic and successful rabbi. Great work does not start with compromising or hiding the basic data of who you are.</p> <p><strong>In what ways has the Rabbinical Assembly helped you in your career?</strong></p> <p>Rabbi Lebeau has been one of the most important mentors of my life. The educational resources for holidays and the Torah taught have augmented our synagogue’s programming. It also serves as a lodestar for core Conservative principles, boundaries, and teachings.</p> <p><strong>What is next for you?</strong></p> <p>I am in the process of crafting a new course for the Colby Jewish Studies Program on Jewish Public Speaking, and I look forward to shepherding the Center through this period of expansive growth.</p> <p><strong>The RA is looking to highlight the diversity of the rabbinate by featuring RA members across a variety of rabbinic roles in congregations, schools, organizations, and communities. To nominate a colleague, email Diana Denza, our Marketing and Communications Specialist, at </strong><strong><a href="mailto:ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org">ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org</a></strong><strong>. Please provide your colleague's full name along with a paragraph about why you're nominating them in the body of your email. </strong></p> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> Tue, 04 Jun 2019 19:28:15 +0000 Diana Denza 43631 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/43631#comments RA Spotlight: Michael Friedland on the Challenges and Joys of Small Synagogue Life https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/43586 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">RA Spotlight: Michael Friedland on the Challenges and Joys of Small Synagogue Life </span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/28676" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Diana Denza</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Wed, 05/22/2019 - 10:23</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Wednesday May 22, 2019</div><!--break--> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/michael_friedland_2.png" style="float:right; height:317px; width:239px" />As part of our ongoing efforts to highlight the wonderful diversity of the Conservative/Masorti rabbinate, we spoke with our colleague Michael Friedland, who has been working at a small synagogue for over two decades. Below, he shared how he’s bringing innovative practices to his congregation, his tips for rabbis planning to make a career at a small synagogue, and some of the challenges he’s faced in his work.</p> <p><strong>You’ve been working as a rabbi at Sinai Synagogue since 1996. How has the community changed and evolved in your time there?</strong></p> <p>The community has changed in the way many of our communities have. The older generation who grew up in nominally Orthodox synagogues have passed away and most of our community today is less knowledgeable of Jewish practice, or of Hebrew. Only a small minority of our members were even raised in Conservative synagogues. A significant change is the number of our members who are converts, and not for the purpose of marriage, but have come independently to Judaism. While they are among our most involved members and have great passion for Judaism, they come with no family background or instinctive Jewish sensibilities which can prove challenging to integration. In general, our community is much younger than it was when I came in 1996 and a more cohesive group identity  (ironically because the relationships within the community today do not have the life long histories or family ties, in which tensions arose, as the congregation did a generation ago).</p> <p><strong>How can rabbis bring innovative practices to small synagogues?</strong></p> <p>One of the benefits of serving small congregations, in my experience of serving two, is that small communities are very grateful to have rabbis serving full time. The congregations I have served have also been in small cities with small Jewish communities. So, the synagogues’ self-perception begins with anxiety over finding a rabbi in the first place. When a rabbi presents him or herself as one willing to invest in the community, the community is quite open to the rabbi’s lead on change. Of course, it goes without saying that in making any kind of change, the rabbi must take the temperature of the community as well as clarify how the innovations will benefit the community. Radical change is difficult in the best of circumstances.  But often small communities are aware that change is necessary because they themselves see how the community is struggling to keep people engaged. </p> <p>When I began working in South Bend, Indiana, the Sunday school program was very poor, and we only had 16 kids, most who went to the right-wing Orthodox day school during the week. I knew this was not sustainable if we wanted to grow the congregation. 25 people came on Shabbat morning, about 15-20 kids and teachers came on Sunday morning. I wanted to scrap the Sunday school and create a Shabbat education program. That way you have the two groups coming at the same time, you have synergy among the older and younger members who are in the building together ON SHABBAT. We had a series of meetings with parents and discussed various options. The parents had the worst things to say about their own Sunday school experiences, so I strongly encouraged creating the Shabbat program. They were ready for this radical change because through the conversations it was apparent to all that Sunday school was not a better choice and the notion of communal unity was powerful.</p> <p>But innovation is not always what is needed. Sometimes upholding older traditions and investing them with new meaning is required. When I came to South Bend, the community, which had 150-member units, mostly elderly, had a daily minyan on the schedule. But they never had more than 5 or 6 people come to minyan. With the help of a member who was very enthusiastic about minyan, I devoted the first two years in the congregation to promoting the value of minyan and daily prayer. I wrote about it in the bulletin, I spoke about it in Shabbat sermons, I corralled individuals to choose one day a week, I offered classes in tefillin and daily prayer, and I went to minyan every day, morning and evening. It became a priority for the congregation and our twice daily minyan is now a source of pride. </p> <p><strong>What advice do you have for rabbis planning to make a career at a small synagogue?</strong></p> <p>I would say that it is a wonderful opportunity for any rabbi who enjoys being a jack-of-all trades. Some rabbis are good managers and know how to delegate responsibility, others like to be involved in everything. Larger congregations need competent managers. Small congregations need rabbis who are willing to be involved in all aspects of congregational life and in the lives of the congregants. I don’t only know all my congregants, I know their extended family and histories, I know who is entering the building by the car that pulls up to the parking lot. Teaching people the ritual skills in order to lead worship is a definite goal but until they learn you may be the regular Hazzan, Torah and Haftarah reader. You may be the b’nai mitzvah tutor, or pre-k teacher as well as teaching adult education classes. You will be the pastoral presence in their lives and the representative of the Jewish community to the outside world (if you are in a small Jewish community). You will be the igniter of program ideas. You may be responsible for the building and grounds – I have weeded our meditation garden and (because of my hobby of coffee roasting) am in charge of preparing coffee two days a week after minyan.  </p> <p><strong>What are some of the challenges you face in your work and how have you overcome them?</strong></p> <p>I think the biggest challenge, serving the small communities I have served, is that as rabbi you are on an island. It’s the only job in which your social circle is composed of your employers. And like many rabbis in Conservative synagogues, the difference between the rabbi’s lifestyle and congregants’ is great. It is especially tough on one’s kids. What do you do on Shabbat? What can the kids eat at friends’ homes?  For all of our children it was a challenge and a burden. As they have become adults, one followed our path, the others rebelled to some extent. Nevertheless, if you were to ask my kids about their growing up experiences, they are all grateful to have grown up in our home and our community. Also, in a small Jewish community there are no colleagues to engage outside of the congregation. In South Bend there is a Reform synagogue and an ultra Orthodox community. Finding havruta is not easy. Fortunately, the University of Notre Dame has a chair in Jewish studies and they have always had outstanding scholars hold that chair. The current professor is modern Orthodox. It is not easy for him in our particular Orthodox community either. We are an outlet for each other.</p> <p><strong>In what ways has the Rabbinical Assembly helped you in your career?</strong></p> <p>If you had asked me this question 15 years ago I would have had a cynical response. But the RA has helped in two significant ways. The first is that, with David Krishef and Ben Kramer, we developed a conference for rabbis who serve small Conservative congregations. To be honest, we did it to spite the RA since conventions were basically worthless to us. A group of about 6 of us within two hours of driving would meet twice a year in each other’s synagogues for hevraschaft, and to complain. About ten years ago we started this conference. We called on the RA for help and, despite our cynical attitude, Elliot Schoenberg and the RA were very supportive. What we recognized and appreciated immediately was that the RA was willing to assist us while we developed the program. They understood that we knew what we wanted the conference to be and let us organize. They did not tell us how to run it. And I think that is the secret to its success – the RA appreciated that we had expertise in serving small congregations and Elliot offered guidance but let us take responsibility. </p> <p>The other way the RA helped my career was giving me the opportunity to serve on the Executive Council during the period when the <a href="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/cdownload/file/member_resources/Bold%20Statements%20of%20Strategic%20Intent.pdf">Bold Statements</a> were being created. The opportunity allowed me to share my views of the rabbinate and RA from a different perspective than most others on the committee and gave me an outlet beyond the confines of my small Midwestern congregation to engage with colleagues.  Working on that committee led to the request that I chair the Chicago convention which was another wonderful experience in working with colleagues.</p> <p><strong>Anything else you’d like to share with us?</strong></p> <p>My most recent experience with the RA shows me that the RA is trying to become more responsive to the needs of its members. It is obviously not an easy time for the rabbinate in America, whatever one’s movement. There is so much change, instability, and fickleness in congregational life. Rabbis must be much more flexible, there is no certain career path. That makes the RA’s job of responding to member needs so much harder. But it seems to me that the leadership is trying. I would encourage members who see programmatic opportunities to develop them and come to the RA as the final piece in making the program operational. My experience is that the leadership will offer support and assistance.</p> <p><strong>The RA is looking to highlight the diversity of the rabbinate by featuring RA members across a variety of rabbinic roles in congregations, schools, organizations, and communities. To nominate a colleague, email Diana Denza, our Marketing and Communications Specialist, at <a href="mailto:ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org">ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org</a>. Please provide your colleague's full name along with a paragraph about why you're nominating them in the body of your email. </strong></p> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> Wed, 22 May 2019 14:23:47 +0000 Diana Denza 43586 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/43586#comments RA Spotlight: Laurie Matzkin Merges Jewish Wisdom and Yoga https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/43111 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">RA Spotlight: Laurie Matzkin Merges Jewish Wisdom and Yoga </span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/28676" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Diana Denza</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Mon, 04/15/2019 - 11:13</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Monday April 15, 2019</div><p><!--break--></p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/laurie_headshot.jpg" style="float:right; height:300px; margin:5px; width:200px" />After seven years serving as Director of Lifelong Learning at a large synagogue, <a href="https://rabbilauriematzkin.com/">Laurie Matzkin</a> launched her own business and built her brand from the ground up. We had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Matzkin about her transition from synagogue leader to small business owner, how Jewish wisdom and yoga align, and her experience presiding over life cycle ceremonies. Below, she shared her compelling story, along with ways in which the Rabbinical Assembly provided guidance during pivotal career moments.</p> <p><strong>You’re the founder of Makom Yoga. Can you tell us about how you came to that career path?</strong></p> <p>I’ve been interested and engaged in yoga practice since I was working for Hillel, before rabbinical school. I saw first-hand how yoga, guided meditation, and breathing practice served as spiritual, physical, emotional tools for helping students with tough times and the existential crises of undergraduate life. At that point, my main access to yoga was through Rodney Yee DVDs on clunky laptops that we would watch in the basement of the freshman dorm.</p> <p>In 2010, for my first women’s retreat through Kol Emeth, I was invited to create a <em>shacharit</em> prayer experience that would be a little different. This was my first foray into combining yoga and Jewish ritual. It was more of a yoga prayer experience, a yoga minyan, than what I do now. It was very meaningful to the participants to feel the prayers in their body in a creative way. Over subsequent years, I started building that curriculum into my work with different constituencies in the synagogue. I played with themes from prayer, Torah, and holidays into the yoga practice and started offering it with different groups: Sisterhood women, Hebrew school students, Shabbat morning spiritual seekers, etc.</p> <p>During my second Yoga Teacher Training (this time focused on pre/post-natal yoga), the format of Makom Yoga revealed itself to me. HaMakom – space, place, presence – is a name, or quality, of God that we can access when we are paying attention to our body, mindful of our breath and reflective of our place in the world. Creating space in the body for God and Torah has become one of my rabbinic passions.</p> <p>Makom Yoga has unfolded more and more over the past three years and become my brand. I’m now teaching at our JCC and four local synagogues, and regularly serve on faculty to offer classes as part of Jewish retreats. I have taught young children, teens, new parents, and empty nesters, both in the context of Shabbat spiritual practice and as an “add-on” to regular yoga scheduling. Makom Yoga is the only Shabbat morning experience at one synagogue, and at another it is one of four monthly alternating options to the main service.</p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/laurie_2.jpg" style="float:left; height:300px; margin:8px 5px; width:400px" /></p> <p><strong>It seems like it’s been a really meaningful career path for you. Can you tell us more about how Jewish wisdom and yoga aligns?</strong></p> <p>We have a very intellectual and spiritual but cerebral tradition. It’s easy to sit in the Beit Midrash and not think about the body that is housing your brilliant mind. What has become meaningful for me is the spirit of <em>iyyun</em>, a slower, deeper exploration – similar to when we’re doing a chanting practice, and we go deeper and deeper into one verse until we really embody it, until it’s really inside us and showing us a truth about our own experience. That’s the way I try to approach the <em>parasha</em> or text when building a Makom Yoga class.</p> <p>As I prepare for a teaching, I look for a word or phrase that stands out from the text that has a potential embodied element to it. Perhaps it’s the image of God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt on eagles’ wings, or the scene of Rebecca at the well, which mentions camels 17 times. These are both flash words in yoga practice – eagle pose, camel pose. Eagle pose, for example, is a standing/balancing pose in which you cross your legs and cross your arms in opposite directions, rooting your feet and lifting up through your center, your heart and chest and hands. The mention of the eagle goes by quickly – evocatively, poetically, but quickly - in Parshat Yitro. But in the commentaries from Rashi to Aviva Zornberg, there are stunningly beautiful texts about an eagle fluttering up outside its nest to feed its young, and about how the eagle flies highest in the sky, and that the difference between the eagle and other birds is that the eagle brings its babies onto its wings, rather than holding them in their talons. So the relationship between God and the Jewish people is being described in a totally unique way – God as a fierce yet nurturing parent, willing to support the Israelites with speed and strength, and soaring limitless through the sky. Surely our deeper understanding of this verse adds aspirational meaning to our physical practice of eagle pose.</p> <p>In the other example of camel pose, you stand on your shins, raise your arms overhead and then reach them back toward your heels while lifting your heart. (Be careful not to collapse your lower back.) You activate your circulatory system and can feel an energetic and physical flow of energy. This open-hearted, joyful quality of finding love in unexpected places and nourishing ourselves in the wells of loving connection perhaps explain why the word camel/<em>gamal</em> comes up 17 times in Toldot. The poetic use of the word camel also resonates here: <em>Ki gamal alai</em>… for I have received more than I deserve, and my heart is open with joy for this loving gift.</p> <p><strong>You’ve been practicing in the Bay Area, is there any special significance of that area in your work?</strong></p> <p>I’m a fifth generation San Francisco native. I grew up on the other side of the Bay, and I was away for twelve years, during undergrad in Bloomington, Indiana, working for Hillel in Philadelphia, and rabbinical school at Ziegler in Los Angeles. I was very fortunate to be offered a position in Palo Alto, and enjoyed reconnecting with my extended family – many that live within 15 minutes of the synagogue!</p> <p>My husband and I met here and we both have very strongly rooted Bay Area families. My husband is a beloved educator at the local community day school, where he has taught for well over 20 years. When I finished my position in 2016, I decided to take a sabbatical from full-time work. It felt right to continue to make our life in the Bay Area, and to be able to stay very close to our extended family network, extend the relationships that I’d built for the last several years and continue touching the community through Makom Yoga and other rabbinic work. I am still amazed when yoga students at various shuls say things to me like, “Did you know I’m in a hiking group with your Uncle Roger?”</p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/laurie_3.jpeg" style="float:right; height:458px; margin:8px 5px; width:400px" /></p> <p><strong>You were the Director of Lifelong Learning for a rather large synagogue. How did that prepare you for your role now and what was the transition like? </strong></p> <p>It was a large community and a very large job. I had parts of three previous positions combined into one, so I was managing and supporting everything youth-related from tots through teens, as well as leading parents and committees and holiday programs, from logistics and budgeting to vision to lay leaders and hiring teachers, etc. I created several new programs and re-invigorated others. So I was really lucky to have the opportunity to grow my skills in multitasking, be part of a true team, and work on at building relationships with people at every level of the community. I was able to experiment and bring my own artistic and creative background to the school and to all my programming. I founded the Chugim program, in which we brought expert congregants who were professional or semi-professional artisans and craftspeople to lead creative project-based learning with our 3<sup>rd</sup>-7<sup>th</sup> grade students. I personally taught the yoga and the band <em>chugim</em> as well because of my background in classical music. That was a great way to experiment as an educator and bring creative ways to enjoy our own life passions through a Jewish lens – perhaps also setting the stage for Makom Yoga.</p> <p><strong>With this experience, what would you tell rabbis or potential rabbis who don’t know if they want to be pulpit rabbis or work in other ways with the community? What advice would you give them?</strong></p> <p>My time investing fully in a community was a fantastic starting point in terms of learning and implementing systems, clarifying my rabbinic values, and building my own confidence as a leader. I have two grants from the JCC, but publicity is challenging because they literally have 90 other classes every month. I also manage my own workload in a different way than having a supervisor. I have people who hire me as a contractor, rabbis and educators and other folks who bring me on, but it can be more challenging to get clear feedback that’s helpful for growth. I actually look to several successful network-marketing leaders for help on goal-setting, accountability, and business-building practices. I’ve learned so much from Beachbody and DoTerra, in particular, from creating a virtual community to sharing authentically as a leader.</p> <p>So the first year I was on sabbatical, the reality was that I was pregnant with our second son, remodeling our house, and working several part-time jobs. The second year away from synagogue life, I was dealing with my son’s autism diagnosis, taking care of a new baby, and working several interesting part-time jobs. And then this past year, I’ve really embraced the concept that I <u>am</u> a community rabbi, I am serving a diverse group of people who are not necessarily getting rabbinic support in other ways.</p> <p>I’m not preaching to hundreds of people, I’m touching people 1, 2, 5, 10, 15 people at a time. It seems very meaningful to those people to have Jewish and rabbinic points of access like they’ve never had, because they’re just not going to be synagogue people. My next step is to truly embrace the business owner mindset and really be thinking about the brand, the publicity, the marketing, in the name of serving the community, and also in the name of creating sustainability for my work.</p> <p><strong><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/laurie_1.jpg" style="float:left; height:312px; margin:8px 5px; width:400px" />You’ve created ceremonies for various life cycles based on your work. Can you explain what’s involved in those processes?</strong></p> <p>I try to think creatively about the traditional options and how to market them in a very accessible way, so that less knowledgeable Jews might still end up comfortable and excited about the traditions. I’ve been doing a lot of second weddings, and often one person is divorced and one person is a widow. And so the couple has different experiences with their previous marriages ending. We look at the value of <em>hachnasat orchim</em>, how do we honor those people in your life, past and present, who have explicitly given their blessing for you to create a life of love. Another situation I’ve often is that often the woman (divorcee) moves into the man’s (widower’s) house. And so there is this issue of not wanting to bulldoze over the first wife’s sensibilities and taste, wanting to honor her and not redo the whole house. So we talk about really getting a nice, artistic ketubah, and getting it framed and placed in a prominent place, creating a sense of ownership of the home and the marriage without undoing the history of the house.</p> <p>A very different example is around a stillbirth, and the parents’ desire for some sort of ceremony. The emotional goal is to leave the burial experience with some small sense of comfort. So I created what I call a <em>Tekes Shalom</em>, a ceremony of peace. It acknowledges that it is not peaceful right now but we pray to move into a feeling of <em>shalom</em>, of wholeness-within-brokenness for the parents and the mourners, and that over time, the memory may be peaceful. We have planted a tree over the grave, calling upon the image of a Sukkat Shalom, as well as the Honi stories where time stretches out, offering comfort to future visitors. By mindfully listening and offering a range of ritual ingredients, I provide the tools that fit the emotional needs of a particular situation.</p> <p><strong>It seems like you’re having a really big effect on these people’s lives during really important life stages. I’m wondering, what ways, if any, has the Rabbinical Assembly helped you in your career?</strong></p> <p>I haven’t had a lot of contact with the Rabbinical Assembly aside from Interview Week, which was obviously a major moment on my career path. I want to appreciate that students get to make the first call and interview wherever they want to. I think that’s very empowering and I want to thank the RA for that decision. I think it’s a really honorable way to walk people into the field in a place of kavod.</p> <p>A few years ago, I wanted to figure out whether or not my heart was in doing youth High Holiday services or whether I was going to try to seek another holiday position. I spoke with both Rabbi Peretz and Rabbi Schoenberg, who were very kind in listening to me and asking clarifying questions to get clear on were my fears, what were my inner judgements, and my passions. For those seven years in the synagogue, I planned and oversaw approximately 30 events every Tishrei, serving over 300 students per year. I wanted to draw upon my developed skills and strengths but also move beyond that role. I’m pleased to report that after a few years of supporting a local synagogue with Makom Yoga sessions on the holidays, I’ve also been serving as the rabbi at an incredible retirement community/ independent living, and thoroughly enjoyed being their High Holiday rabbi – as well as leading Seder, Shabbat services, and even a 5-session course on the History of Jewish Liturgical Music! It can be scary to break past the known, but the unknown also has riches of rewards.</p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/laurie_4.jpg" style="float:right; height:270px; margin:8px 5px; width:400px" /></p> <p><strong>We’re glad that the RA has been useful in those moments. Do you have anything else you would like to tell us about, anything you’re excited about in the future?</strong></p> <p>I’m grateful for the chance – through grants – to grow my role as the JCC Mindful Jewish Journeys Educator. I think the JCCs are a great place to give our rabbinic support, to give our creativity and learn from their creativity. I’ve also spent the year getting more invested in PJ Library as a family engagement network, and am thrilled to have synced up my J-Fam Jewish baby playgroups with Silicon Valley Jewish Federation and our local PJ Library team. At the PJ Library International Conference (as well as at Rabbi Josh Rabin’s recent USCJ Innovation seminar), I heard the message loud and clear about getting out the door and into secular spaces for creative programming that leads to relationship building. Ask me in a few months about Story Shabbat, launching on Friday mornings out in our community!</p> <p>I continue to work on not having numbers be the litmus test of success, but the depth of the connection. I know that’s not always what funders are looking for – it’s tempting to measure impact by breadth instead of depth. I think our rabbinic role is to offer as much depth as possible as quickly as possible, with a clear message of the benefit for the people who are engaging. With synagogue membership we have an assumption that people are a little clearer on their benefit, but I’m not even sure if that’s true. But we always coming back to how is this activity, this conversation, this ritual helping their <em>neshamah</em>, how is this growing and expanding their Jewish awareness, how is it enriching their Jewish family life, and then make decisions of where we put our own intellectual, creative and spiritual energy based on those answers.</p> <p><strong>The RA is looking to highlight the diversity of the rabbinate by featuring RA members across a variety of rabbinic roles in congregations, schools, organizations, and communities. To nominate a colleague, email Diana Denza, our Marketing and Communications Specialist, at <a href="mailto:ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org">ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org</a>. Please provide your colleague's full name along with a paragraph about why you're nominating them in the body of your email. </strong></p> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> Mon, 15 Apr 2019 15:13:33 +0000 Diana Denza 43111 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/43111#comments RA Spotlight: E. Noach Shapiro on the Transition from Pulpit Rabbi to Therapist https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/42696 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">RA Spotlight: E. Noach Shapiro on the Transition from Pulpit Rabbi to Therapist </span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/user/28676" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">Diana Denza</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Mon, 03/04/2019 - 16:27</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Monday March 4, 2019</div><p><!--break--></p> <p><img alt="" src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/e_noach_shapiro.jpg" style="float:left; height:250px; margin:5px; width:200px" />Once a pulpit rabbi, E. Noach Shapiro followed his passion to serve as a therapist late in his career. We had the opportunity to speak with Shapiro about the transition from pulpit rabbi to MSW student to owner of a private practice. Below, he shared his compelling story, along with tips and advice for those looking to make a career change.   </p> <p><strong>You have a career as a psychotherapist. How did your years of rabbinical training prepare you for this path? </strong></p> <p>In terms of my rabbinical training, the academic skills and discipline I developed in pursuing ordination are hugely helpful as I deepen my clinical knowledge and technique. It’s important for any clinician, like any rabbi, to keep pushing themselves forward by always learning.</p> <p>The other way in which my rabbinical training has influenced my new career came as a little bit of a surprise even to me! A couple of years ago as I was exploring different psychotherapy approaches or modalities to engage with and learn more about, I stumbled onto a realization about my own work: there is an aspect of my work with clients that is very much like an encounter with sacred text. When clients share their inner landscape with me, describe events and encounters they experience and the feelings associated with them, I experience our encounter in some ways the same way as when I encounter Torah. I pay very close attention to (do a close reading of) language (word choice), tone, context, even narrative juxtapositions! And like all Torah, there is Pshat, Drash, Remez, and Sod levels to all of it--an inner Midrash which emerges. And the bracha of someone’s trust and courage in opening up to me, a stranger, wraps the moment in Kedusha. </p> <div style="clear:both;"> <p><strong>What was it like to go from being a pulpit rabbi to a therapist? </strong></p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>Because there are deep ways in which the skill sets of the two careers overlap, the transition from pulpit rabbi to psychotherapist felt almost seamless. When people ask me about my career change, I often respond that it feels much more like it was a career ‘shift’ rather than a ‘change.’ In fact, I generally understand and define myself as a rabbi-therapist who takes both sides of the hyphen seriously. And because of who I am as a rabbi, the language and themes of spiritual journeying deeply inform my work with clients, whether or not it is explicit or implicit. </p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>I think one of the biggest challenges of the transition was the stepping back to become a Learner I needed to do to launch the therapist chapter of my career. After 10 years in the pulpit, feeling very much like I was ‘in the zone’ professionally, I more or less derailed my own career and found myself sitting in an NYU classroom with classmates who were a solid 20 years younger than me (they were great--I am friends with a few of them until today). I was kind of the Old Man in the Back of the Classroom. Even more than that, when I graduated with an MSW in my Iate 40s I spent a couple of years working at various hospitals and agencies in more or less entry-level MSW positions in order to collect clinical hours to get the license I needed to start a private practice.  </p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>Although I met wonderful people, had great professional experiences and mostly knew that my own experience and skills acquired over my lifetime would, eventually, be reflected again in my every day professional experience, there was no small amount of personal tzim tzum required for the journey. There were many many days of self-doubt, when I asked myself why in the world I had voluntarily gotten off the rabbinic career train in the first place. I must say that the love and support and general cheering on of Monica, my wife, as well as my children and friends and extended family made all the difference. </p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p><strong>What inspired you to make this transition? </strong></p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>I felt very blessed in my work in the pulpit but came to recognize that there were some passions of mine that I felt ‘called’ to pursue to another level: developing deep individual connection in order to facilitate personal transformation and the alleviation of emotional suffering that can follow change. Put positively, I felt (and still feel) honored to partner with people to find the best part of themselves and live their best, most realized, authentic and fulfilling life. </p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p><strong>What is your favorite part of your job, and the most difficult?  </strong></p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>One of the most challenging aspects of this work is the constant exposure to the rawness of other people’s pain and trauma. It can, at times, be a lot to carry and deeply isolating. I am challenged in much the same ways all rabbis are challenged in remaining committed to self-care and spiritual nourishment in order to make it a sustainable life. </p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>My favorite part of my job is exactly the same as it always was in the pulpit. I feel deeply blessed to be in connection with people I respect so much, who work so hard, are so deeply decent and who take such emotional risks to become their best self, to live lives of meaning. Just as a pulpit rabbi, I am invited into the sacred spaces in people’s inner lives, into their pain, grief, joy and struggles for meaning. It is a great joy, awesome responsibility and deep privilege. </p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>Also, I love how broadly I am free to define what my work looks like. In addition to my private practice, I also write and teach. I have developed a number of Shabbat Scholar in Residence Programs that explore a psychological idea –like dynamics of personal change or anxiety--through the prism of sacred and secular text, narrative and case study. I have presented at a number of conferences and I also facilitate a monthly online support group for RA rabbis. I am NEVER bored. </p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p><strong>What advice would you have for other rabbis planning to make a career change? </strong></p> </div> <div style="clear:both;"> <p>Since everybody’s circumstance is completely different, there really isn’t any one-size-fits-all advice except that I think everyone should take their yearnings and dreams seriously and always explore their options. In my view, much of the suffering experienced by people is traced to a feeling (real or perceived) of being trapped. Even the simple act of treating our thoughts and dreams with respect and giving them voice can be its own source of healing and inspiration.  </p> <p><strong>The RA is looking to feature RA members who are implementing innovative initiatives in their congregations, schools, organizations, and communities. To nominate a colleague, email Diana Denza, our Marketing and Communications Specialist, at <a href="mailto:ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org">ddenza@rabbinicalassembly.org</a>. Please provide your colleague's full name along with a paragraph about why you're nominating them in the body of your email. </strong></p> </div> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> </section> Mon, 04 Mar 2019 21:27:26 +0000 Diana Denza 42696 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/42696#comments Reflections on Bringing Patrilineal Jews to the Mikveh https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/19626 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">Reflections on Bringing Patrilineal Jews to the Mikveh</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/users/rabbsuperuser" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">rabbsuperuser</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Tue, 10/07/2014 - 10:32</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Wednesday December 31, 1969</div><p>By Rabbi Steven Rein, Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria, VA</p><p><!--break--></p><p><img src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/constant-contact/photos/steverein.JPG" alt="Adam Baldachin" title="Adam Baldachin" width="150" height="225" style="float: right;" /></p><p>A recent email from a young woman born in the former Soviet Union to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother inquiring about “conversion” was a variation on a familiar theme for Conservative rabbis. Since the CCAR decided in 1983 that Jewish identity can – under certain conditions - be passed down through the father as well as through the mother, it’s not surprising that 30 years later we are hearing from more and more “patrilineal Jews” asking for our help in resolving the ambiguity of their Jewish identity.</p> <p>Sometimes these individuals are angry, sometimes sad or confused, and often they tell of their surprise at learning they are not considered Jews outside of the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. But whatever the individual’s reaction, expressing genuine sympathy for his or her situation helps lower the emotional tenor of the conversation. Then it’s important to ask what the young man or woman wants/needs. Sometimes that involves Jewish learning, some kind of educational experience. Often it’s clear that the individual knows a lot, identifies deeply, celebrates the holidays, etc.  But whatever the level of learning or observance it is essential to acknowledge what he or she feels – which is Jewish! That’s the critical point of departure since from there it is usually possible to create a plan of action.</p> <h3>Going to the Mikveh</h3><p>One daughter of a Jewish father who had no other religion in her life only realized her strong sense of identity when asked at college why she wasn’t going to Church and replied without hesitation – “Because I’m a Jew”. For her, learning Hebrew, reading a wide array of Jewish books and finding a Jewish community seemed the right prescription. For another young woman – brought to the mikveh by Rabbi Steven Rein during his years as Assistant Rabbi at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue – there was no need for an action plan since she had been raised and educated as a Jew.  And there were no questions from the beit din because there was no question about her deep Jewish identity.</p> <p>It was the ritual of tevilah that required attention and so the beit din stood outside the mikveh with her Jewish father, her Jewish fiancé and her Christian mother who wept for joy as her daughter immersed and resolved the ambiguity of her Jewish identity. And in the case of a bride who wasn’t persuaded that she needed to go to the mikveh because she had always identified as a Jew it was Rabbi Rein’s idea to invite her fiancé to come with her and to immerse in the men’s mikveh as a soon-to-be-hattan while she immersed as a kallah who was confirming her Jewish identity. After all, doesn’t any woman recite the berakhah of “tevilah” along with the “Shehecheyanu” when she goes to the mikveh for the first time?</p> <h3>Confirming JewishIdentity</h3><p>Steven Rein – the rabbi of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia since July – explains his philosophy of dealing with the children of Jewish fathers:  “While Jewish tradition is extremely important to me, we cannot ignore the importance of Jewish identity. These individuals must have their Jewish identity validated and affirmed together with an appropriate framing of the necessary ritual of tevilah. I cannot stress enough the old adage: it’s not what you say – it’s how you say it.”</p> <p>Language is particularly important in these cases and using a term like “confirmation” can make a significant difference in helping patrilineal Jews resolve the ambiguity of their Jewish identity and feel more comfortable with the requirement of tevilah. “Confirmation of Jewish Identity” has been proposed as the new title of an RA certificate that is currently entitled “Completion of Conversion”*. In fact, “confirmation” is more in keeping with the language of the certificate itself which acknowledges that these children of Jewish fathers identify as Jews: “Whereas he/she now wishes to complete his/her course and affirm his/her place among the people Israel….”, the certificate states and goes on to say: “…she/he stated that she/he has long since cast her/his lot with the Jewish people but without the benefit of immersion.” Clearly, the language of the certificate is one of “confirmation”. While we can’t erase the pain caused by learning you’re not considered Jewish by Jewish tradition or by a majority of the world’s Jews, we can certainly do a great deal to ease the path to full Jewish identity for those who seek it.  It is both our obligation and our privilege to do so.</p> <p>*This certificate can be found <a href="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/practical-rabbinics/conversion/certificates">here</a> and a change in the English title to “Confirmation of Jewish Identity” as well as a change in the Hebrew title (still to be determined) will be proposed to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.</p></div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> <h2 class="title comment-form__title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=19626&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="rVoMt4EqiREOwm-NlxVmnFPMeqYfNutK1CPvLIzURQ4"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 14:32:14 +0000 rabbsuperuser 19626 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/19626#comments Redefining "Rabbi" in Rockland County: Pursuing Justice in Public Education https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/19561 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">Redefining &quot;Rabbi&quot; in Rockland County: Pursuing Justice in Public Education</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/users/rabbsuperuser" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">rabbsuperuser</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Tue, 09/16/2014 - 15:22</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Wednesday December 31, 1969</div><p>By Rabbi Adam Baldichin, Montebello Jewish Center, Suffern, NY</p><p><!--break--></p><p><img src="https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/constant-contact/photos/adam-baldachin.jpg" alt="Adam Baldachin" title="Adam Baldachin" width="150" height="225" style="float: right;" /></p><p>Early in my tenure as a community rabbi in Montebello, NY, a local reporter asked how I responded as a rabbi to the situation unfolding within the East Ramapo school district. I declined to comment since I knew nothing about the issue but the question stayed with me as I set out to discover social justice issues of concern to my congregants. Justice work begins with a one to one conversation as I learned while at JTS in a course taught by Meir Lakein of JOIN for Justice. So on arriving at Montebello Jewish Center, I met congregants in my office, out for coffee or in their homes to hear their stories and find out what motivates them to get involved for the betterment of their lives, their communities or society at large. On a number of occasions I took part in communal discussions in my synagogue based on these one-to-ones as well as with other Rockland County Rabbis. Those who participated overwhelmingly spoke about the situation in the East Ramapo School District as a case of injustice they experienced in their lives.</p> <h3>Problem in East Ramapo School District</h3><p>In 2007 a new school board with a majority of Haredi members that had been elected by a majority of voters from the Haredi community decided to eliminate or drastically reduce public education services to a far greater extent than in any other Rockland County school district. This included the elimination of extracurricular activities such as sports, music, art, and clubs as well as sharp reductions in academic offerings that often made it impossible for students to complete their necessary state requirements for graduation in four years. The budget cuts leave many underserved in a 9,000 student school district, 90% of whom are children of color.</p> <h3>Clergy Come Together for a Solution</h3><p>In order to add to the strength of the voices I heard in my own community, I reached out to other clergy. Rabbi Ari Hart from Uri LeTzedek put me in touch with Dr. Oscar Cohen of the local NAACP. Together, we organized the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice and began weekly meetings that grew in number and intensity as we developed a strategy, composed a petition to the governor and planned a local press conference. We also gathered together as a group of 30 clergy members - leaders of churches, mosques and synagogues - for a trip to Albany to make our voices heard. </p> <p>We delivered a petition signed by 150 clergy members to Governor Cuomo and other public officials, asking for a fiscal monitor of the school board and the convening of a task force to consider revising the current system of governance to reflect the uniqueness of the East Ramapo school district. A few weeks after the visit to Albany Governor Cuomo, Board of Regents Chairman Tisch and Education Commissioner King appointed as fiscal monitor to the East Ramapo public schools a former federal prosecutor who has an extensive background in state governance and fiscal reviews.</p> <h3>Continued Dialogue</h3><p>Our work has also resulted in a lot of positive energy from advocates who have long felt helpless to confront this complex dilemma. It has provided for rich dialogue within segments of the Jewish community about our own Jewishness in light of the actions of the school board and the Jewish communities that support the board. Most importantly, it has caused the Rockland Jewish community to think about its responsibility in fighting for a fair public school system for every child in the county.</p> <p>Throughout this process, our group has met privately with one another and in larger groups, always beginning by sharing words of strength and commitment to the pursuit of social justice from our various faith traditions. The result has been a strong group of caring individuals that has the governor’s ear as we pursue justice for the students of East Ramapo.  We have continued to organize through further meetings about the situation in East Ramapo as well as in individual and small group sessions to discuss widening our base to confront other areas of injustice in our county. I have been grateful for the guidance of Rabbi Jay Miller and the Peninsula Clergy Network.</p> <p>I am very grateful for the support I have received from mentors and colleagues to help me navigate this cause and would be happy to discuss it further. I wish us all a <i>shana tova, tikateivu veteichateimu.</i></p></div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> <h2 class="title comment-form__title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=19561&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="0ntJemtRUgJV7aH-_RX4-v9H6d3AbIVGczj8YGIxunY"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:22:21 +0000 rabbsuperuser 19561 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/19561#comments Rabbi Rachel Isaacs: Multi-Tasking in Maine! https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/20086 <span class="field field--name-title field--type-string field--label-hidden">Rabbi Rachel Isaacs: Multi-Tasking in Maine!</span> <span class="field field--name-uid field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden"><span lang="" about="/users/rabbsuperuser" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">rabbsuperuser</span></span> <span class="field field--name-created field--type-created field--label-hidden">Wed, 11/19/2014 - 13:03</span> <div class="clearfix text-formatted field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field__item"><div style="margin-bottom:10px"><b>Posted on: </b>Wednesday December 31, 1969</div><p><!--break--></p> <p><img alt="Adam Baldachin" src="http://rabbinicalassemblytest.devcloud.acquia-sites.com/sites/default/files/assets/public/constant-contact/photos/rachelisaacs.jpg" style="float:right; height:225px; width:150px" title="Adam Baldachin" /></p> <p><em>On September 15, 2014, <strong>Tablet</strong>, an online magazine which calls itself “A New Read on Jewish Life” published a piece by Yair Rosenberg - “<a href="http://tabletmag.com/search?q=15+Rabbis+You+never+Heard+Of+but+Should" target="_blank">15 American Rabbis You Haven’t Heard Of, But Should</a>”</em><em>. Since five of these fifteen are our colleagues (and of course many of us <strong>have </strong>heard of them!), this article gives us the opportunity to we learn more about them: Analia Bortz, Rachel Isaacs, Barry Dov Katz, Ethan Linden and Jason Rubenstein are among those leaders whose influence, says <strong>Tablet</strong> has been felt “around the country, in every denomination, even if you don’t know them by name.” We begin with Rachel Isaacs.</em></p> <p>Talk about wearing two hats! Rabbi Rachel Isaacs is both spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Waterville, Maine and Jewish Chaplain at Waterville’s Colby College, while her position as Visiting Instructor in Colby’s Jewish Studies Department probably merits a third hat. Rachel might be described as a “synergy rabbi” because she not only leads two Jewish communities but she has created a system of integrating them so that the whole is now greater than either school or shul and, as she says, it’s “more joyous” when the two communities celebrate together.</p> <p>Rachel’s connection with Beth Israel and Colby began in rabbinical school when Rabbi Lebeau “in his infinite wisdom” recommended Beth Israel as a student placement which also led to some work with Colby Hillel. That went very well indeed: the president of the shul asked her to stay on as the rabbi after graduation in 2011 and the Dean of Faculty at Colby offered her a faculty position. So Rachel and her wife Melanie Weiss (an MA in Jewish education from JTS) headed north where they are enjoying the advantages of small town life. Rachel is fortunate to have not only her partner as director of Education at Beth Israel, transforming a Hebrew school that had been “in trouble for decades” but also a rabbinic colleague David Freidenreich, ordained at JTS and a PhD from Columbia as Associate Professor at Colby and Director of its Jewish Studies program. Large resources for a small town!</p> <h3>Re-invigorating the Congregation and the Campus</h3> <p>There are a number of ways to measure the achievements of Rachel’s dual rabbinate – for one, both her congregation and Colby Hillel nominated her as one of the <em>Forward’s</em> “most inspiring rabbis” without knowing the other was doing so. And then there are the numbers - Beth Israel has grown from 25 to 57 families and Colby Hillel from 5 “committed, beleaguered students” to the current 50.  But a more meaningful measure of Rachel’s success is the integration between the two which began with a series of home hospitality Shabbat dinners. Students were invited to Friday night services by congregants followed by dinner at their homes and the success of that first home hospitality Shabbat set the tone for the relationship. A good deal of thought goes into matching students and congregants and relationships take on a shape of their own including attending High Holiday services together and being there for family smachot. Hillel students take part in the programming at Beth Israel, are the primary Torah readers for the congregation and serve as bar/bar mitzvah tutors – often returning even after graduation to visit “their Waterville family”. Each year the Hillel president <strong>and</strong> the Beth Israel president make a High Holiday appeal to the congregation and every member of the Hillel Board is a member of Beth Israel.</p> <p>While only 8-10% of the students at Colby College (enrollment of 1800) are Jewish and 80% come from Reform or unaffiliated backgrounds, the Shabbat dinners – begun as monthly events by Rachel and now held every week – are attended by 30-40 students. There are non-Jewish members of Hillel who come for “community, home cooked food and learning”, several of whom have been so attracted to this “vibrant, progressive faith community” that they have chosen to convert. Opportunities for study and celebration abound at Colby - <a href="http://www.colby.edu/jewishstudies/events/">http://www.colby.edu/jewishstudies/events/</a> - with some co-sponsored with Beth Israel of course!  While Rachel laments that she didn’t pay enough attention to dikduk and binyanim at JTS she nonetheless teaches Hebrew at Colby along with Jewish Theology and Jewish Humor and notes that whether in shul or at Colby “90% is about reaching Torah.”  </p> <p>While Jewish life in small towns across America is often waning or disappearing, in Waterville, Maine Jewish life is alive and well as you can see from Rachel’s blog: <a href="http://jewishwaterville.blogspot.com/">http://jewishwaterville.blogspot.com</a>. Inspired by their experience in Waterville Rachel and David Freidenreich are founding the Center for Small-Town Jewish Life that will focus on similar needs in these towns that are not being addressed by national organizations.  Yet another hat for the multi-tasking Rabbi Rachel Isaacs. Her mantra?  “When I’m doing the job right, I’m serving everyone at once”.</p> </div> <section class="field field--name-comment-node-story field--type-comment field--label-hidden comment-wrapper"> <h2 class="title comment-form__title">Add new comment</h2> <drupal-render-placeholder callback="comment.lazy_builders:renderForm" arguments="0=node&amp;1=20086&amp;2=comment_node_story&amp;3=comment_node_story" token="13kU32gFd_APQgDB2IwCSfFvZKT9ewoji-zP6suEpiA"></drupal-render-placeholder> </section> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:03:05 +0000 rabbsuperuser 20086 at https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/node/20086#comments