CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 10
WE HAVE COMPANY:
Rabbi David Stern's Address to the URJ Biennial 2017
I grew up in a rabbinic family, and it was our
custom that when a visiting scholar would be at
Temple for the weekend, my parents would host
that speaker for Shabbat dinner before services
on Friday night.
with them, to listen to them, to allow them their
joy and allow them their pain, to teach them
and love them and then love them some more,
I believe the vaunted metrics will take care of
One unforgettable Shabbat, we were gathered at
the dining room table for the blessings, eminent
guest scholar included, and my father the rabbi
called on my younger sister Elsie, then about
five-years-old, to recite the motzi, which she did
flawlessly. And that's when my father, swelling with
pride and pushing his luck, asked my sister, "And
Elsie, when do we say the motzi?" To which she
dutifully replied, "When we have company."
So here is another story from my childhood,
about how my synagogue shaped my Jewish soul.
But it is not about youth group, and it is not about
camp. It is about a synagogue president.
Why is this Biennial so powerful? Because we
have company. We are surrounded by thousands
of other Reform Jews, from North America and
around the world. Some of us are here in the
company of memory, following the example of
parents or mentors who showed us a living and
vibrant example of this sacred work. We stand on
mighty shoulders-of the rabbis who taught us,
the lay leaders who inspired us, the beacons for
justice who lit our way. We have company.
But company means something more tonight.
It means every face you saw in that video, each
personal testimonial we heard, every story you
know of a kid who learned to live and love
Judaism in one of our camps or programs, every
NFTY kid at this convention.
Because those kids issue a reminder and a
challenge to every grown up here: you may
think you're an empty-nester, but you've got
company. You may think you have aged out
of responsibility for creating a vibrant youth
community in your congregation, but you've
got company. You may work on the finance
committee or the building committee so you think
that youth is somebody else's department. Well,
guess what: Look at the screens and hear the
stories. You have company, too.
Because children are not our future. They are
our present. And the more we treat them not as
hothouses to be experimented with to achieve
some demographic end, but as living, breathing,
laughing, thinking members of our communities,
the better off they and we will be.
The more we ask them what they think about
worship or Jewish learning, the more we put them
on search committees and task forces, the more
we invite them to be synagogue social justice
interns for the summer or song leaders for the
younger kids, they will help us be better at what
And the more every single one of us accepts the
responsibility to be company to them-to walk
Because when I was thirteen, the president of
our congregation was an amazing man named
Al Ronald. For my bar mitzvah, I received from
Mr. Ronald an envelope, and in that envelope
were twelve postdated checks, dated to the first
day of the month for each month of the coming
year. Each check was made out for ten dollars
and signed by Mr. Ronald, but the "Pay to the
Order Of" line was blank. In that same envelope
was a handwritten note with my instructions-I
was to choose a different tzedakah recipient
each month, then fill out and send the check.
Mr. Ronald forbade me to write him a thank-you
note. Instead, I was to send him a periodic report
indicating which charities I had chosen and why.
I was thirteen-years-old. I had never filled out a
check in my life. And because of Al Ronald, the
first checks I ever wrote were for blessing. I still
have the muscle memory of sitting at my desk
in my mid-1970s suburban New York bedroom
with the blue and green checked carpet and the
smoked Lucite chandelier and filling out those
checks each month. Part of the reason I am a
rabbi today is because Al Ronald looked at me,
and decided he had company.
Our kids need to know they are in our lives, and
they need to know we are in theirs. Because we
can all recite the litany of conditions they face:
They are over-extended, over-programmed,
with stress and anxiety as common companions.
All the concerns we had as kids-about our
appearance, our friends, what people did or
didn't think of us-are magnified by social media,
by the screens which we sometimes worry have
kidnapped their souls altogether.
something called Six Points.
And in a consumerist culture which too often
manipulates them and renders them passive, we
are going to give them something called L'Taken,
and the agency to make a difference for justice in
And every time they feel alone, we are going
to say, "You have company." And maybe we'll
mean us. And maybe we will mean something
far greater than we-maybe even a whisper of
holiness-when the sun sets on a Friday night
over an outdoor chapel, or a teacher listens, or
a friend shows up at the door for a shiva minyan
because they have learned that that's what Jewish
So here's another story. This one is from this past
Sunday at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. Our youth
learning program was getting out at noon, and
as I stood in the gathering space, I noticed a
mom with kids in tow, the seven-year old brother
and the five-year old brother fussing at each
other. And just as the older brother was about to
escalate the situation, he stopped in his tracks.
Because coming the other way was his madricha,
a high school senior who serves as the teaching
assistant in his class. "Hey Jack, how'd you like
our activity today?" Jack's scowl turned to a
completely awed smile: "It was fun!"
Because at the moment that young Jack was
going to do something not particularly loving to
his little brother, he realized: He had company.
And his company was a cool teenager who knew
who he was, and cared what he thought about
throwing rubber balls into a barrel with some
Jewish connection that I can no longer recall.
I stand here tonight not just as the child of Jack
and Priscilla Stern or the student of Alfred Ronald
or the proud parent of that high school senior
I just mentioned. I am honored to speak with
you as the president of the Central Conference
of American Rabbis, and to tell you that our
community of rabbis stands with you in standing
with our kids.
In an age where kids feel like they have no time,
we are going to show them how enriching their
time can be.
Our rabbis at camp, our rabbis in Hillel, our
rabbis who teach on college campuses or
inspire teens from the pulpit or lead them to lifechanging experiences in Israel, our rabbis who
teach Confirmation and get good and silly at Tot
Shabbat -we are with you and we are with our
kids every step of the way. None of us can do it
alone-not our kids, not our professionals, not
our families. We need each other.
In a generation where our Jewish kids somehow
think that their achievements in the classroom
or on the playing field exist independent of
their Jewish identity, we are going to give them
One more word about adult responsibility
towards our kids-it begins with responsibility
for our own Jewish lives. The great wisdom of
the Federal Aviation Administration is that you
And that is the glorious chutzpah of this
movement and this night. Because in an age
where kids are at risk for isolation, our Reform
Movement has the spiritual creativity and courage
to invite them into authentic connection.
(Continued on page 11)
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 1
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 2
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 3
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 4
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 5
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 6
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 7
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 8
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 9
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 10
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 11
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2018 - 12