CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 1
CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS | Founded In 1889
Publication of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
July * August 2020 | Volume 67 - Issue 6
איגוד הרבנים המתקדמים
From the Director of Placement
From the President
Tough guy. Star of David
and something in Hebrew-a motto-
hang where Catholics used to dangle
St. Christopher (now discredited).
No smile. White hair. American-born,
I'd say, maybe the Bronx.
When another cab pulls alongside
at a light near the Midtown Tunnel,
and its driver
rolls down his window and greets this guy
with a big happy face and a first-name greeting,
he bows like a king, a formal acknowledgement,
and to me remarks,
"Seems to think he knows me."
"You mean you don't know him?"-
I lean forward laughing,
close to the money-window,
"Never seen him before in my life."
Something like spun steel floats invisible, until
questions strike it,
all round him, the way light gleams webs among
grass in fall.
And on we skim
in silence past the cemeteries, into
the airport, ahead of time. He's beat
the afternoon traffic. I tip him well.
A cool acceptance. Cool? It's
cold as ice.
Yet I've seen,
squinting to read his license,
how he smiled-timidly?-anyway,
smiled, as if hoping to please,
at the camera. My heart
stabs me. Somewhere this elderly
close-mouthed skeptic hides
longing and hope. Wanted
-immortalized for the cops, for his fares, for the world-
to be looking his best.
(Denise Levertov, "The Cabdriver's Smile," Life in the Forest, 1978)
The images and wistful conclusion of "The Cabdriver's
Smile" struck a particularly poignant chord when I
was considering the ways in which our rabbinates
have been redefined over the past several months.
The poet's words elicited for me the vivid and far
(Continued on page 7)
As I write during the week following Shavuot, protests are taking place in cities
throughout this country. Pain and anger permeate the crowds. Heartbreak and love
are present too. White police officers' lynching of George Floyd, an unarmed black
man in Minneapolis, witnessed and videoed by cell phone, has woken up this nation.
The cry for justice grows loud. Without justice, we will not heal. What happens next
is uncertain. What will have transpired by the time you read this article is not yet
What we do know, what we can state with some sense of certainty, is that we have
entered the wilderness. Wilderness is uncharted terrain and can feel frightening and dangerous. It is also a
place of possibility and great creativity. Torah is given in the wilderness, as we know.
We have entered a midbar, an in-between space of revelation
and transformation. The wilderness is no-place and any place.
Here, we experience profound dislocation. There is no paved
path to guide us. We must chart a new course forward to a way
of being that is still unknown.
"...what we can state
with some sense of certainty is that we have
entered the wilderness."
This is not the first time we find ourselves in a wilderness. In
fact, throughout the world, we Jews are reading Sefer B'midbar
of the Torah right now. This book of our ancestral wanderings gives us narratives of promise and possibility as
well as crises of community, leadership, and faith. Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters
of Zelophehad, teach us of courage, equity, and inclusion. The catastrophe of the scouts reminds us how hard
it is to heal from trauma and internalize a vision of faith in a future that is abundant and safe for all.
Wilderness is a state of being, something existential as well as geographic. The coronavirus pandemic has
brought us into a different kind of wilderness. We don't know how long we will sojourn here or what life will
be like "after." This is a time of uncertainty and paradox: separation and physical distancing, as well as
moments of deep and real connection; dislocation and also grounding in practices that heal and sustain us;
significant losses with grief made more complicated due to mourning rituals suspended or conducted longdistance, as well as simple acts of generosity and kindness, and some respite and rejoicing for animals and
habitats in the natural world.
In this wilderness that we currently inhabit, deep and long-present inequities in our society have been further
exposed. Covid-19 is not the only pandemic confronting us. The virus of violent systemic racism perpetrated
against black and brown people in this country has festered for four hundred years. All of us are infected, and
justice demands that we with white privilege participate in its dismantling and atone for it now.
Our ancestors were called Ivrim, those who cross over. I have been thinking a lot lately about the power of
that name and identity-of being a person who steps into action after hearing a call to leave the familiar and
enter the unknown. For us as individual rabbis and for the rabbinate, we are called to cross over, to become
Ivrim who bridge a world that was with a world waiting to be.
To navigate and lead in this uncharted terrain, we find that new skills and partnerships are needed. Passions
that have lain dormant now awaken our imagination, inviting action. The wilderness teaches that life is fragile
and precious. Our deepest longings ask for our commitment to birth them into fruition. Procrastination does
not serve us; perfection is not the goal.
In the wilderness, we learn the truth of our interconnectedness. In this reality, there is healing and hope.
We are in this wilderness together. The wilderness is the way home.
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 1
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 2
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 3
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 4
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 5
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 6
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 7
CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 8
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CCAR Newsletter July/August 2020 - 10