CCAR Newsletter September - October 2017 - 1
* אלול תשע"ז
Publication of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
September * October 2017 | Volume 65 - Issue 1
FROM THE DIRECTOR OF RABBINIC PLACEMENT
FROM THE PRESIDENT
Lonnie Holley is
American artist whose
work appears in our
finest museums and is
currently on exhibit at the
of Contemporary Art.
Born in 1950, Holley
spent time as a youth incarcerated at the
Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children.
His first artistic creations were the tombstones
he created for his sister's two children who
died in a house fire, carved out of discarded
sandstone linings used for industrial molds in a
nearby Birmingham steel foundry. His threedimensional works are built of found objects:
a pile-up of shattered musical instruments; the
merging of a beat-up bicycle, a cement mixer,
and a rusty old wheelbarrow; a twisted tree
root laid across two rocking chairs; a voting
booth and a shotgun.
As I walked through the exhibit, I thought:
"This is what rabbis are supposed to do."
First, the found objects: part of our role is to
pay attention where others might not; part of
our calling to spiritual possibility is to notice
that the shards and the sparks are not always
as separate as we think. Holley notices the
beautiful curve in the colored glass of a broken
whiskey bottle; it's our job to notice the quiet
kid who isn't at the center of the social circle,
to read the beautiful writing of the student who
never raises her hand in class, to know that
the aggressive street person is also hungry, to
see the widow who quietly leaves services as
soon as Kaddish is over, to take note of the
staff person whose spirits seem low. We're
called to the courage to push back against
the presumed norms of worth and worthiness
in the society that surrounds us: wealth,
status, conventional beauty, the blunt force of
economic or political power. It's what the artists
and prophets have always taught us to do: to
reposition what has been marginalized and
discarded-to hold it to the light.
(continued on page 7)
"Will you be living in Brooklyn?" was the question most everyone asked right after
I told them that I would be joining the staff of the CCAR as director of rabbinic
placement and would be moving from Evanston, Illinois, to New York. In response
to that very popular question, I would smile and shake my head no. Then I would
answer: "No, not Brooklyn. I'll be living in Tuckahoe." Tuckahoe? Yes. It's a sweet
little village in Westchester County. It's an easy commute into Grand Central
Station and has beautiful trails nearby, which is great for my 100-pound Great
Pyrenees dog and essential nourishment for my body and soul.
As I sat on the Metro North train going into the city on a recent Friday morning, I reflected on my move
and the significance of this transition. I remembered back thirty years prior, when I moved to New York
for the first time. It was 1987 and I had just graduated from college. I was starting law school at New
York University and would be living in student housing-D'Agostino Hall on West Third and MacDougal
in the Village, just a few blocks away from the HUC-JIR campus in New York. That was a long time ago.
Looking out the train window on the way into the city, I was struck by how much was so different now.
Thirty years later and New York is very different. I am different, too. What brings me back to New York
and the work I feel blessed to engage in as director of placement will draw upon everything I have done
previously and will enable me to continue to grow. In that moment on the train, I felt the fullness of the
paradox-what is a journey of return for me is simultaneously something never before experienced-a
new beginning, a time of relationship building, integration into the CCAR team, and the privilege of
guiding and walking with rabbis, rabbinical students, and congregations through the processes of
placement and rabbinic search.
I am deeply honored and incredibly delighted to be your director of placement. My first experience
with the Placement Office took place before I was a rabbi. I was a congregational president, and I
remember reaching out to Arnie Sher for guidance as we prepared to begin our first rabbinic search. I
am grateful to all of the placement directors who have come before me-for their wisdom and vision,
their commitment and care.
I am indebted to my predecessor, Alan Henkin, who now is placement director emeritus, for being most
generous with his time and wisdom, for sharing with me processes and best practices, for introducing
me to colleagues with whom I will be working closely, for welcoming me into relationships, for helping
to make our transition smooth.
As I shared with the CCAR Board of Directors during its June meeting and then with the Rabbinical
Placement Commission a couple of weeks later, I am thinking a lot about the spirituality of placement
and the possibilities for holiness (and wholeness) that flow through every aspect of this work. When I
think of the spirituality of placement, the word that most resonates with me is "pilgrim." Placement is
a pilgrimage, and one who enters the process of placement-whether a rabbi or a congregation-
embarks on such a journey.
To be a pilgrim, to be on a pilgrimage, is to participate in a journey of return. Though the pilgrim
never may have been on that particular path before, the process calls forth a remembering, a return to
questions that are elemental, foundational, essential: Who am I? To whom and what am I committed?
For what do I exist?
To be a pilgrim involves leave-taking and letting go, as well as arrival and becoming. Ehyeh-AsherEhyeh is the divine name God shares with Moses, at the beginning of the Jewish people's journey to
(continued on page 7)