CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 1
Publication of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
January * February 2018| Volume 65 - Issue 2
FROM THE PRESIDENT
DIRECTOR OF RABBINIC ENGAGEMENT, SUPPORT AND GROWTH
I remember my first CCAR Convention clearly. After ordination, I served
a congregation in Melbourne, Australia. My rabbinate was both challenging
and meaningful. "The CCAR" (as we seem to still call convention) was in South
Florida, at a large hotel with beautiful grounds and several swimming pools. After
being so far away, it was joyful and deeply nurturing to see friends and classmates.
At the same time, I was amazed by how many rabbis I did not know and how
much about the CCAR was a mystery to me.
Thursday, November 16
was a long and deep day
in Jerusalem. Here is my
experience of it in four
Chapter One: At
8:00 AM, over one
hundred progressive Jews
gathered for a glorious Shacharit service on
the temporary platform near Robinson's Arch.
A sun-dappled morning, first-year cantorial
and rabbinic students along with us gray-hairs,
men and women, Israelis and North Americans,
clergy and lay leaders. We shared a surging
sense of joy and solidarity, and a profound
sense of place.
Chapter Two: At the conclusion of Shacharit,
we proceeded in song to the security gates
at the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza,
eight of us holding Torah scrolls, each with a
fellow participant assigned to either protect us
or push us through, depending on what the
circumstance required. And then the welldocumented confrontation. We said yes, they
said no. We claimed our right, they denied it.
They blocked, we pushed through. Once we
were through the first gates, they tried to set up
others. We pushed through again. Once we
were gathered at the flag, they tried to tear a
Torah scroll from Anat Hoffman's arms. We
The confrontation was predictable, somewhat
planned, and still harrowing. I had seen lots of
this on video but never experienced it directly.
The tug-of-war over Torah was raw and real,
the rift within our Jewish family heartbreaking. I
thought a lot about political theater, embodied
spirituality, how most of the protests I participate
in at home are safe and cushy. I celebrated
anew the courage of every sister and brother in
our Israeli movement who insists on claiming
the justice, dignity, and respect we deserve.
I worried: that these acts of confrontation,
necessary and just as they are, might define
(Continued on page 3)
Although it took a while to articulate, I came away from that first convention with
a new awareness of some things that were essential to my rabbinate: connection
with friends and colleagues, meaningful opportunities to learn and grow, and the importance of the
CCAR as the organization that would support and help me at each stage of my journey. These initial
thoughts are still very much with me; I find myself thinking back on this experience as I join the staff of
the CCAR as the director of rabbinic engagement, support and growth. Many of you have asked about
what this new position will entail. There are a number of key questions that will initially guide
* How can we create a culture that supports and sustains rabbis in the daily work they do, at
points of transition, and in the experiences that are most profoundly challenging?
* How can we help rabbis grow over the course of their changing careers, providing study
opportunities at a level of excellence in matters ranging from Torah to technology?
* How can we engage rabbis in a substantive and meaningful way in the work that we do?
These questions have largely emerged from what we have learned from you. For the past several years
you have been giving us feedback about your experiences as rabbis-in Hillels and day schools, in
congregations and organizations, as chaplains and entrepreneurs. In the survey conducted by SharpInsight in 2016, over 700 of you responded to questions about your needs and experiences. We
learned many things, but two in particular stood out. You find deep fulfillment in your rabbinic work.
And you often feel lonely and isolated. Joy and challenge exist side-by-side. In 2017 at the Atlanta
Convention, Sharp-Insight conducted focus groups to deepen our understanding of the feelings of
loneliness and isolation. The full data will be on the website soon, but here are just a few things we
learned from the focus groups.
You voiced the experience of feeling isolated from rabbinic peers and members of your community, as
well as at points of career transition and when geographically distant from colleagues. You spoke about
a number of points of stress: the challenge of managing internal and external expectations, experiencing
heavy workloads and unpredictable schedules (and the impact this has on family), the stress of dealing
with conflict and opposition, the difficulty of finding time for physical and spiritual self-care. Significantly,
the focus groups ended with the opportunity to provide a nechemta to a colleague who was
experiencing any of these things. Rabbis are eager to be present for each other and participants shared
beautiful words: "You are doing holy work," "You are not alone," "Let me help you."
What you have taught us about your lives as rabbis is both important and impactful. It provides
measurable data that will be the foundation of my work. Your input has deepened our knowledge
about rabbinic life and experience and raised questions that will guide our next steps. You do the
sacred work of leading a changing and ever-evolving Jewish community. The CCAR-as your rabbinic
organization-strives to strengthen and support you in this work. It is an honor to join a wonderful staff
team and to serve you, my colleagues.