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*SPECIAL EDITION* Convention 2017
Rabbi David Stern

Boker tov. What a magnificent service, what a beautiful
k'hilah, what a terrified rabbi. It is more than daunting to
stand before this gathering of rabbanim v'rabbotai and try to
say something worth your while (all the time with my heart in
my throat). I ask your forgiveness in advance for telling you
things you might already know. I can only hope that you will at
least resonate with the teaching of our late beloved colleague
and professor Michael Signer, alav hashalom, who liked to
describe the difference between a great lecture and a brilliant
lecture as follows: a great lecture is a presentation filled with
keen observation, incisive analysis, and profound insight; a
brilliant lecture is a presentation filled with keen observation,
incisive analysis, and profound insight that you've already
thought of before.
I stand here profoundly grateful-to this community of rabbis
for your trust in me; to the CCAR staff, led by the wonderful
Steve Fox, for your patience with me; to this gifted new
board-what a privilege to be in this together with you. To
Denise Eger-for your inspiring example of courageous and
powerful advocacy for rabbis and for all the causes for which
rabbis should stand. It has been a privilege to serve with you,
and it gives me great comfort to know that you will still be
around during my term as president. To the community that
is Temple Emanu-El of Dallas-to my clergy colleagues
(I am truly honored by your presence here today), the staff,
and lay leadership, who are my teachers each day.
And to my amazing family, the greatest source of blessing in
my life. My unbelievable Nancy, who in addition to changing
the world one quiet revolution at a time each day, has also
driven me everywhere for the last twelve weeks as I have
recuperated from ankle surgery; our kids Jacob, Nina, and
Lili and my brother Jon-your being here really is the best
part of this day; my sister Elsie is traveling in Israel, but she's
awesome too.
I also stand here in the presence of the generations that
preceded me, aleihem hashalom-my father Jack Stern and
grandfather Jacob Philip Rudin, both revered presidents of
this conference; my mother Priscilla Rudin Stern, who was
the daughter of a rabbi, the spouse of a rabbi, the mother
of a rabbi, and the mother-in-law of a rabbi, and was quite
clear that the last was best. Their legacy blesses and inspires
me every day. They are collectively either in the yeshiva shel
ma'alah, or having a martini somewhere nearby. (And I
confess that when I prayed to the Holy One of Blessing to
make me a rabbi more like Jack Stern, I wasn't counting on
the white hair and the limp.)
Between the CCAR presidential sermons given by my family
and those given by three of my rabbinic predecessors at
Temple Emanu-El, I have read enough to know that just about
every rabbi who stands up here remarks that the convention
gathers in uniquely challenging times. One of my Dallas
predecessors, David Lefkowitz, said to the convention in 1930,
"We meet in a very depressing period of Jewish life the world
over." My grandfather, addressing the convention in 1958,
referred to the "terrible, nightmarish world in which we live."

Levi Olan, another predecessor in Dallas, described the
context for the 1968 convention as "our terribly confused and
fear-ridden time." We rabbis are a cheery bunch.
But while the tzurus faced by past gatherings might give us
some humbling perspective, it makes no less accurate the
theme of this convention. We do serve as rabbis in a turbulent
time, and that feels like an understatement. We all know
the litany. Civil discourse in America has disintegrated. Civil
rights are under siege-the rights of women, of immigrants,
of minorities, of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters; the right
and capacity of news organizations to tell the truth. Racist
white nationalism has moved from the fringes of society to
a frighteningly hospitable center. Islamophobia continues to
escalate, and with each desecrated cemetery and JCC bomb
threat, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 continues
to reach unprecedented heights.
In Israel, our home of the heart, our greatest living experiment
in Jewish ethics, Jewish peoplehood, Jewish power and
Jewish promise, we have too often traded in the nobility of
vision for the narrowness of political calculation. Israel has
an indisputable moral right to exist, and an indisputable
obligation to exist morally.
If you're like me, you don't know where or what to protest first.
You know we can't go it alone, so you face all the complex
questions of coalitions and alliances. If you're like me, you
are trying to balance a sense of urgency with a sense of
non-anxious presence for people on the brink of despair. If
you're like me, you want to lead a diverse community in a just
direction. You want to shry gevalt, but effectively-to somehow
cut through the cacophony and not simply add to it. If you're
like me, you resent the fact that tweets and ill-considered
impulses not only establish national policy, but seem to be
setting my rabbinic agenda each day before I even get out of
bed. The 24-hour news cycle is yet another reason to get in
your modeh ani first thing in the morning.
We are buffeted by challenge, and in the safety of this
chevrah, we can admit how hard it is. Wherever we are on the
political spectrum, wherever we live, whether it's issues related
to Israel or America or whatever place we call home, we stand
amidst some strong and swirling crosscurrents and try to find
secure footing. Try not only to stand, but to stand straight;
try not only to stand straight but to lead. We seek to anchor
ourselves not only in the smart or strategic or professionally
prudent-all of which have their value-but in something
greater, something deeper, some mooring in the timeless
amidst all the troubles of our time.
We might recognize ourselves in a Baraita in B'rachot 30a.
While the Rabbis instruct us elsewhere on the daf to face
towards Eretz Yisrael and the Holy of Holies in prayer, they
make special allowance for the suma, the blind person,
and more broadly, for "one who is unable to determine the
directions of the compass." The Bavli's idiom for that second
category is "mi she'eino yachol l'chavein et haruchot"-in our
crosscurrents context, we might say it is someone who is wind(continued on page 2)


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