Tag: convention

Why Rabbis Need Rabbinical Conventions

I’m just back from the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention, a gathering of 600 Reform Rabbis from all over the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe, South America and elsewhere. Four fabulous days of inspiring worship, thought-provoking speakers, pastoral skill-building sessions, and insightful study of our Jewish texts.

I return home with Evernote(books) filled with ideas and insights for the many roles I live as an American Reform Jewish congregational rabbi. In fact, each day was so packed with large plenary gatherings and small group meetings that my mind was working in overdrive from 7:00 am through midnight.

One of the most poignant events occurred at a location twenty-minutes away from the Convention Hotel. That night, eleven people gathered at a local restaurant in a private room for dinner.

The dinner took place during intentionally set time for “dinner with friends and colleagues.” Along with other sessions and the plenaries, this dinner allowed us to address one of the most significant reasons we rabbis need to attend rabbinical conventions: to find solace and strength in the company of colleagues.

Over dinner, we laughed, joked, kvetched, kvelled, commiserated and counseled each other. We reflected upon the distinctive role and responsibility of being a rabbi in our contemporary Jewish community.

As we played musical chairs – switching places between courses – we shared triumphs and tribulations. This one sought advice on how to deal with a particularly thorny pastoral problem, while that one teased out new approaches for a difficult issue of organizational governance. These two compared notes on the challenges of youth engagement as those two shared strategies for keeping our own young ones from becoming too encumbered by the challenges of living in the Jewish public eye.

These four discussed new ways to think about the congregational rabbinate, while those four debated the perspective on Israel in Avi Shavit’s book, My Promised Land. From the personal to the professional, the macro to the micro, we wove memories of our past through the realities of the present and into the hopes for the future.

I left dinner sated: full of delicious food, helpful advice, meaningful insights and a clear sense that the shared challenges we face are surmountable because we have others to guide and support us.

Why do rabbis need rabbinical conventions?
While being a rabbi is an especially rewarding profession, it can be challenging, exhausting and emotionally depleting. Only in gatherings of rabbinic colleagues can we let our metaphoric hair down – of course, I have none left because I shaved my hair to raise money and awareness to fight pediatric cancer (but that’s another blogpost). In this safe space among people who know and understand can we find sessions and support to rejuvenate ourselves and lift each other up spiritually.

So four days away is both a short time and a lifetime, because in those brief moments away from the 24/7 responsibilities of leading a sacred community of our holy people we regain perspective and gain new perspectives to dive back in and lead and partner anew.

So to my dinner companions – my friends – I say thank you for rejuvenating me.

To our CCAR leadership and the Convention Program Committee, I say Todah Rabbah (thank you so much) for creating moments to find new meaning.

And to my synagogue – Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas, CA) – I offer my profound appreciation for making it possible to leave and come back. I and we will benefit greatly from this experience.

Why Rabbis Attend CCAR Conventions

So much work to be done, classes to prepare for, articles to write, administration to supervise, and yet I am going away for four days to the national convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Why?

Innovation Requires Retreat Time for Reflection
To serve as rabbi of an innovative, engaging 21st century religious institution like Congregation Or Ami requires I constant effort to remain ahead of the curve (or as we say now, “ahead of the shift”). Rabbis do this at national gatherings of rabbis, where – egos left at the door – we can explore best practices, engage in critical and self-critical thinking, and become current in the literature and scholarship of Judaism and contemporary religious thought.

Torah Speaks in Many Evocative Voices
We explore how Torah and Jewish texts speak to the most significant issues of our day. We reconsider how to engage marginal subgroups including people recovering from addictions and divorcing couples, from newer generations of young people to the aging Jewish population, and from other American religious groups to other denominations of Jews.

Attending a Circle of Practice for technologically proficient rabbis led me year ago to introduce into our congregation the use of Facebook, Twitter, Visual T’filah, and even High Holy Day mid-service texting. A CCAR conference workshop a few years back began the shift in my thinking that, when combined with Rabbi Julia Weisz’s ideas and the Union for Reform Judaism’s vision, led to a top-to-bottom revamping of our youth engagement program. Another convention session pushed me down the path toward complete integration and inclusivicity for people with special needs.

Becoming a Better Rabbi
I have learned how to be a better administrator, a more caring pastoral rabbi, and a better husband and parent (many discussions on balancing work and family). I rediscovered my social justice commitment at one convention and my dedication to pro-Israel organizing at another. Practical rabbinical sessions have addressed staff supervision, program financing, leadership partnerships and fundraising in a difficult economy.

Chevruta: Other Rabbis as Sounding Boards
Then there is the chevruta (collegiality/friendship). One study places clergy as the profession with the fourth highest rate of burnout, high levels of depression and stress, and prevalent bouts with anxiety and weight issues. Being with other colleagues, people who understand the unique challenges of this calling, creates a safe, sacred space for self-reflection, in a place where mentor and veteran rabbis are easily accessible for discussion and guidance.

Stepping away from the daily processes of the synagogue for these four days is challenging, but with the help of our Cantor Doug Cotler and an Or Ami leadership committed to ensuring the clergy remains fresh and rejuvenated, I know that this time spent away will recharge my batteries and reinvigorate my rabbinic presence.

Todah Meirosh (thank you ahead of time)
So I say Thank You to Or Ami’s temple board and our staff, for allowing, even insisting, that their rabbis attend these rejuvenating conventions. Each time I have returned to the congregation with ideas to deepen and transform our community.

I wonder what I will bring back after this convention?!?