CCAR Newsletter September/October 2020 - 1
CENTRAL CONFERENCE OF AMERICAN RABBIS | Founded In 1889
חשון תשפ''א-תשרי תש''פ-אלול
Publication of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
September * October 2020 | Volume 68 - Issue 1
איגוד הרבנים המתקדמים
From the Director of Placement
From the President
As timing would have it, the
submission due date for this
column in early August coincided,
serendipitously, with an extended
meeting of the CCAR Board.
During the meeting, our
colleague Judith Siegal (current
VP of programs) shared a stirring
reflection about being a rabbi during this time of
pandemic that clearly struck an empathetic chord with
fellow board members. "Thank you-that was truly
what I needed to hear" was added by many to the
"Chat," along with encouragement for her to share her
Judith's honest and personal account ultimately serves
as an invitation to each of us to engage in the timely
and important act of rabbinic self-assessment, and I
am truly grateful that she agreed to let me share her
words here. In this season for cheshbon hanefesh, I felt
that Judith's words might very well be exactly what
countless among us need to hear.
Wishing all in our CCAR family the blessings of good
health, a shanah m'tukah, and a g'mar chatimah tovah.
BEING A RABBI IN A PANDEMIC
I am sitting at the dining room table my parents
literally wrapped up and drove to Miami in a U-Haul
from my late grandparents' house in New Orleans.
I have a Torah behind me that was brought back to
life by our synagogue after the Shoah. I stare at the
computer screen of my laptop (which rests on some
Jewish cookbooks and a Lego box), waiting to be let
into a Zoom funeral in my kippah, suit jacket, and very
informal but comfortable yoga pants, my bare feet on
the cold tile floor. I do not think my grandparents, or
any of our ancestors going back to the beginning of
Jewish life, could have imagined this is what Judaism
would look like in 2020.
Every time I write an email, join a Zoom meeting, or talk on the phone I find myself
asking some variation of the question "How are you in this challenging time?"
Whatever I ask, it seems to always include the words "challenging" or "unique" or
"unexpected." This moment is indeed all of those things-and at the same time, it is
now normal. That is painful to write, but five months into the Covid-19 pandemic,
it strikes me as true.
Over these months, as I have talked to and learned with you, especially in
preparation for the Holy Days, you have taught me many things about our CCAR
chevrei. I am deeply moved by what I have learned and believe that these things will be interwoven into the
fabric of our new normal. What are a few of the things I have learned?
Creativity, fear, grief, excitement, anxiety, and hope all exist together in
a complicated web of interconnection. Hundreds of rabbis participated
in our High Holy Day thinking groups and our intensive. Over and
over you shared that you were both sad and hopeful, energized by
creativity, and fearful of failure. Your ability to recognize and sit with
these complex emotions fills me with awe.
"Creativity, fear, grief,
and hope all exist
a complicated web
Rabbis can be vulnerable with each other. We all know that at times it
is challenging to be honest and open with other rabbis. We fear being judged or shamed; we worry that our
honesty will impact our reputation or job prospects. In recent months I have seen you share deep feelings
with each other time and again-feelings that are affirmed and held with gentleness and compassion by
others. The deep need presented by this "challenging moment" has pushed us to an openness we couldn't
We are abundantly generous with each other. More than ever we are looking to learn from the experience
of other rabbis. We are sharing ideas, ways of thinking, texts, and materials with humility and a desire to
support our colleagues. And those things that are shared are met with gratitude and without judgment. To
be a CCAR rabbi is to be part of a community that learns with and from each other.
And finally, I have learned that we take care of ourselves the least when we need it the most. (In truth, this
is not something I just learned. To be a rabbi, to work with rabbis, is to be constantly confronted by the
challenge of self-care.) But more than ever I am worried about our chevrei. Virtually everyone I speak to
reports working harder than they ever have. Anxiety and challenges around living alone, parenting, personal
health struggles, caring for aging parents, and mental health are real and acute. Vacations and sabbaticals
have been shortened or postponed. Personal and professional boundaries are harder to maintain than ever.
Providing opportunities for spiritual and emotional renewal and exploring how we can make a sacred
commitment to care for ourselves must be a very high priority.
I am writing this after spending months thinking about the Holy Days with you, and the day after Tishah
B'Av. The journey from Tishah B'Av to Simchat Torah has markers along the path: grief, reflection, hope,
forgiveness of self and others, gratitude, and joy. This is the flow of our calendar and, as I have learned, of
our rabbinates and our lives. May 5781 bring you the blessings, sustenance, and nourishment that you so
richly give to others.
(Continued on page 3)
CCAR Newsletter September/October 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter September/October 2020
CCAR Newsletter September/October 2020 - 1
CCAR Newsletter September/October 2020 - 2
CCAR Newsletter September/October 2020 - 3
CCAR Newsletter September/October 2020 - 4
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