Daring to Lose

I remember very clearly a conversation I had in rabbinical school where I stated (with a healthy measure of pride and defiance) that I would rather say no to a member and lose them as a congregant than bend a rabbinic ideal or Jewish value just to please or accommodate them. “Someone has to be able to say no,” I declared. And who, if not the rabbi?
Of course, I had no idea then what it would really mean or feel like to have my own members and congregants; of all the complicated factors; of the reality that my own livelihood is inextricably tied into synagogue membership; of how it would feel to say no to someone I care about…
But despite the harsh realities of the “real world”, I find myself clinging to the thought: Who, if not the rabbi?

I’m on a plane heading to California for the CCAR convention. Our topic: Rabbis leading the shift in a rapidly changing Jewish world. Who if not the rabbis? Hopefully this is one of the many ideas we will discuss – the tremulous tension between membership retention and values retention. (I sigh as this sentence leaves my fingertips. It is heavy work sometimes. Heavy indeed.)

I’m multitasking as I fly. CNN on my airplane screen is discussing the Catholic Church and whether or not there is a call for reform with the changing of the guards (as it were). I’m listening to discussions about celibacy and women in the clergy and at the same time I’m reading an article that popped up in my Facebook feed about the Episcopal Church’s female Bishop and how their organization decreased significantly when she backed a openly gay male clergyman on being more welcoming of the gay community. “Over the next four years, almost a quarter of a million congregants departed, leaving a church that’s about ten percent smaller – and more harmonious.”

In the values retention vs. membership retention battle for this bishop and her (national) church, values won out big – AND IT’S A GOOD THING. Churches had to close, finances had to be navigated, but at the end of the day, the loss of people who’s values are not in line with those of the community is not being mourned. Nor should it be. That’s what I meant back in rabbinical school. That’s what I was talking about. The need for religious leaders (clergy AND lay) to be unafraid to draw lines in the sand; to dare to lose (or leave behind) others in the noble attempt to save and preserve ourselves and our ideals.

Believe it or not, self-preservation is a mitzvah – not just permitted but obligated by Jewish tradition. The Talmud discusses how one is obligated to survive a life or death situation even at the cost of another’s life (if it can’t be helped)! This is radical, and it should inform not only the life or death choices of Jewish individuals, but also the “life or death” choices of Jewish communities.

The article moves on to examine our own Reform Movement. What difficult choices will our new URJ President, Rick Jacobs have to make with his leadership? What lines will they have to draw in the sand? What or who are they willing to lose to keep us not only alive but also to keep us honest – to keep us us?

Its a little scary to think about but it’s also exciting and inspiring. I find myself hoping that Jacobs is daring enough to brave potential losses for the sake of preserving the values and integrity of our movement. I think he’s up to it. I hope he is.

I hope I am too.

Who, if not the Rabbi?

GEARING UP FOR CCAR CONVENTION

So excited to be heading off to CCAR’s annual convention in Long Beach, California! This year, the topic is:

“Rabbis Leading The Shift: Jewish Possiblity in a Rapidly Changing World”.

This is particularly exciting as this topic is something I think about

    A LOT

I’m a notorious worrier and an obsessive planner. They go hand in hand I guess. I’m always planning ahead and, more often than not, I have more than one plan in the works – just in case.

Plan A. Plan B. Plan C. It’s never-ending. And exhausting. And probably something I should discuss with my therapist (did you know all clever rabbis have therapists?). But I digress.

This tendency to worry and plan extends from planning my own life to a continuous silent dialogue with myself about how to prepare for the rapidly changing Jewish landscape. How do I navigate the shifting trends and how to I help my congregation to navigate them? What is a congregational rabbi to do if congregational life is truly on the decline? What should I be writing? Publishing? Learning? Teaching? What Jewish texts and values can guide me and my congregation and my colleagues as we face the sometimes exciting sometimes scary future of (Reform) Jewish life in North America (and don’t get me started on Israel!).
Whew! You can see how a rabbi might get tired!

In any case, I’m excited to move this dialogue out of the silent, overly-anxious realm of my own brain and into a more productive and public realm. I’m hoping the CCAR and the speakers they’ve arranged for really do have meaningful and relevant things to share with those of us “in the trenches”. I hope that I will feel not just renewed and refreshed but also relieved; to not be alone in this thinking; to feel a sense of collaboration and hope.

But whether or not the convention lives up to its title, it’ll be wonderful to see rabbi friends and family and to have some time to schmooze, catch up, learn and pray together.

Planning to share what I learn and do so stay tuned!

Pearls & Pitbulls

I never thought I’d be a woman who wears pearls
They’re so…
conventional
and I’ve never seen myself that way

I liked “funky things” as a teenager
I tried to be original
I tended toward the unique
and interesting
I hated wearing what everyone else was wearing

and I definitely would have told you that pearls were for grandmothers

But now I battle a daily awareness
I’m 32 but I look more like 23
I’m a rabbi but I look more like your daughter
or granddaughter
or favorite niece
or so they like to tell me.

My 5 foot stature doesn’t help much either
and I refuse to cut my hair in a bob….
so…I wear pearls
I LOVE pearls now
They’re my “rabbi-wear”
for any days when anyone might be in doubt
(although usually it’s probably just me)

I wear the pearls and I hide the tattoos
(shhh. Don’t tell!)

I wear heels and I still
have to stand
on the Bar-Mitzvah kids’ stool
so people can see me

I wear lipstick and suit jackets and I don’t always recognize myself in the mirror

I wear the pearls
and I walk my PitBull down the street
defiant and
contradictory and
loving it

The pearls are my armor
The pearls are my confidence
The pearls are nothing

In the end I’m a rabbi
in pearls
in pajamas
in my Birth-Day-Suit

My smicha doesn’t get tucked into my jewelry box at the end of the day

and yet

I wear the pearls
and hide the tatoos
and walk the Pitbull

Defiant and
Contradictory and
Loving it