Well the conference is over and on the whole it was pretty good. Some of the speakers were particularly great – ask me about the session with 23andme and with Facebook’s VP of Global Policy. Getting to hear from Howard Gordon was also a highlight.
The theme of Rabbis Leading the Shift in some ways lived up to my expectationsand in others did not. A lot of the “new thinking” was not new to me, but it was good to see that all of my colleagues were engaging in the conversation, and there were some great text studies that left me with a lot to think about (more on that in another post).
At last night’s concluding service however, led by my good friend Rabbi Marci Bellows, I experienced something really profound. Services at Jewish conventions are always good. The energy of people who love to pray and want to pray is always exciting and rejuvenating. This service, at the end a of long program, at the end of a long day, at the end of a long convention, only had a small crowd in attendance. I was sitting int the front row – something I almost never do, but I wanted to support Marci by being front and center. Usually I’m more of a back row kind of girl – in class, on buses to NFTY events, in services (when I’m not on the bimah of course!) – so it was usual for me. Part of why I like the back of the room is because I like to people-watch (being ont he bimah is good for this too). But at the front, you can’t see the crowd. You can feel them though. As the service progressed, I began to feel aware of the presence and energy of my colleagues behind me. Even though I couldn’t see them, I could feel and hear that they were there, and I felt a part of something bigger than myself in a way that I don’t when I’m caught up in being an “observer apart”.
I began to think about the theme of the conference – Rabbis Leading the Shift – and I thought, “it should really be Rabbis Leading the Shift Together.” Afterall, we’re not alone in this. As I mentioned last week, I think and worry about the future of Judaism a lot. But what I realized in that moment of togetherness was that I’m not alone in this crazy, rapidly changing Jewish world; the fate of the Jewish People doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders. My colleagues are with me. They are behind me. We are all in this together.
As I thought about this, I reflected on the music we were making together in that moment. Most were singing the melody – holding steady; the status quo. Others, myself included, ventured to add harmonies. First one, and then another. Over the course of the song, some of those who started out singing the melody recognized the beauty and success of the harmonies, or were inspired by them, and shifted from holding the status quo to joining the counterpoint. Together all of us created beautiful, layered, balanced music. And it was good.
We need to be like this with the shifting Jewish landscape too.
We need rabbis to hold to the status quo; to hold us accountable; to hang back and be sure the new ways of thinking and doing are successful before plunging in.
And we need rabbis who are daring visionaries; who will see and hear what could be, and who will experiment and try and fail and try again.
And we need rabbis who will recognize the success of different models, and who will take themselves from the old way of doing things to the new.
And we need rabbis who will never change, so that we don’t forget what the original melody sounded like to begin with.
As I sang with my colleagues – facing forward, eyes ahead – feeling their energy behind me and hearing their voices in conversation and counterpoint with my own – I felt safe and reassured and peaceful. If we stick together, if we support and listen to and learn from each other – then we will successfully navigate this shift together, and Judaism will survive and, more than that, it will thrive.
How blessed I am to be a part of such a holy group of people. How grateful I am to know it.