The Rabbinical Assembly's Response to the Attack on the Jewish Community in Overland Park, KS

In response to the shooting at the JCC and Village Shalom in Overland Park, KS, Rabbi Gerry Skolnik, President and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly, issued the following statement:

Jews around the world join hearts and minds tonight as we mourn the tragic deaths of three innocent victims in Overland Park, Kansas on the eve of the festive Passover holiday. Passover is a time when the Jewish People around the world will gather together in joy and song to tell the sacred story of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom by God’s own outstretched arm. Two rituals performed at every seder around the world will be excruciatingly poignant tomorrow night. We will do as our tradition requires, and as our people have done for centuries. Every seder participant will dip a new spring vegetable in salt water to remember the tears of slavery and will remove ten drops of wine from our their cups in commemoration of the suffering of the Egyptians through the ten plagues. Our tradition teaches infinite compassion for every human being and the infinite value of every life. This year, we fill our bowls with our own tears and pour out our wine cups in mourning the senseless murders of the innocent. But we wll do it together as one worldwide Jewish people, steadfast in our resolve. Though our joy may be marred this year with sadness, we are resolute in our commitment to carry forth God’s covenant with the Jewish people to bring justice and goodness into the world and to honor the infinite value of every human being many times each day through our actions. 

May we strengthen our commitment to eliminating the scourges of gun violence and hatred in our society so that no holy day in any faith or any day in the life of any person, shall ever be marred by this sorrow again. May we earn the merit to honor the memory of the dead by keeping alive the highest values that the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom embody. May God comfort the families of the victims with the all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Are You Hungry for Shabbat?


It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

-Brother David Steindl-Rast
We want to believe that gratitude develops quite naturally. We imagine that when things are good we will instinctively feel grateful. When we are prosperous, healthy, and connected, we presume gratitude will emerge from these blessings.

Except that’s not how gratitude works.

Do you remember the last time that you actually tasted the food that placed in your mouth? Do you recall the last time that you were aware of how a simple touch may have felt to your child, partner, or friend? Day in and day out we are assaulted by so many sensory experiences that it takes tremendous effort to become aware of them. As a result, we experience daily loss. We miss opportunities to appreciate the simple blessings of our lives and world.

In the same way that we must focus our attention in order to notice the splendor of a bare tree whose branches wear casts of pure white snow, we must direct our hearts to notice the blessings in our lives for which we are grateful. Like anything else in our lives that is important to us, we must work at doing this. Noticing our gratitude is not automatic.

The rabbis teach us that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come. They imagine that life can be defined by an appreciation of how we live, not what we toil to produce and acquire. In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity (Heschel's The Sabbath).

We reclaim our dignity by realizing that we are more than our successes and acquisitions. We are also more than our problems and worries. We are living, breathing, soul filled beings with the capacity to live in harmony with humanity and our world. No matter what we have or lack, we will always “be thus.” When we pay attention to this, we begin to reveal a deep gratitude that has been buried under layers of muck. This is what we do on Shabbat. We make time to reclaim our dignity, to realize how grateful we already are, and we chew on this slowly, tasting the world-to-come.

Make time for this tonight. Come to synagogue and sing and reflect with us. An hour is all that it takes. Scoop up your kids. Take the hand of your loved one. Or come by yourself, because here in our sanctuary, you are never alone. I hope to be with you on our island of stillness this evening.

Shabbat Shalom.


David

Enough with Thanksgivingukkah! 8 MEANINGFUL Conversations to Have with Your Kids on Hanukkah

It’s almost time to break out the dreidels and light the hanukkiah, and if you are anything like me, you are already tired of Hanukkah. We haven’t even lit one candle or gorged ourselves on latkes (oh, the sour cream), but I am ready to move on to the next holiday. The culprit for my Hanukkah exhaustion is the darling of social and traditional media sites alike: Thanksgivingukkah.

Ugh. Not again. I can’t stomach one more recipe for sweet potato and brisket latkes with cranberry sauce. Please, just give it a rest.

I am on a mission to refocus my attention on something meaningful that I can bring to these eight nights despite our bizarre interest in this holiday mashup. I have a feeling that there may be a few other parents out there who would be happy to leave the Manishewitz-brined turkey recipes aside and try to recapture something significant with our children as we prepare for the Festival of Lights.

Hanukkah is a wonderful opportunity for parents to have some important conversations with their children. As every parent knows, some of our most challenging work is finding the right time to have a meaningful conversation with our kids. If your children are anything like mine, these conversations have to be snuck into car rides, nighttime tuck in, and in the bread aisle while shopping. That’s okay. The important thing is that we have an opportunity to talk to our kids about things that really matter to our relationship, show them that we want to listen to what they think and feel, and help them connect to a heritage that we hope will make them proud as they get older.

The following are eight conversation starters that we can have with our children to make this holiday something more than dreidels, candles, and presents. Pick a few and to discuss them with your children (*adjust and tailor them to the age of your kids-think of these as sparks for conversation*).

1. Hanukkah is a story about a small group of people finding tremendous spiritual and physical strength. We live in a culture that celebrates big things (big cars, big homes, more “stuff”). Talk to your kids about the importance of small acts. What are the small things in your life that are deeply important to you? What are the small things that your kids do that make you tremendously proud of them?

2. Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates a group of Jews who were unwilling to give up their heritage despite tremendous pressure to do so. Ask your kids what they love most about being Jewish or Judaism, share your own answer to that question, and ask them what other things are worth fighting for in their lives.

3. The rabbis of the Talmud tell the famous story of the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days instead of one. Do you believe in miracles? Is a miracle a phenomenon of the past or do miracles still happen today? Discuss the miracles of your lives. If you don’t believe in miracles, discuss the things in your life that make you feel overwhelmed with joy when you experience them.

4. Hanukkah takes place during a time when the days are short because it gets dark early. We light candles to remind ourselves that despite the darkness, we have the power to bring light into the world. What are the things that you do to help people in need? Help your children understand that they have the power to help other people not just by giving tzedakah (charitable donations) and participating in social justice projects, but by being kind to other children. Make a commitment with your kids to participate as a family in a social action project as a Hanukkah gift to others.

5. Hanukkah is a story about people with power (the Greek Assyrians) tormenting a seemingly weaker group (the Jews). Talk to your children about bullying and about the power that they have as individuals to stand up to bullies. Teach your kids about the responsibility that they have to make sure that kids who are “different” feel included.  

6. Hanukkah is a celebration of Jews maintaining their own unique culture and religious tradition when it would have been easy to let it go and become more like the larger society. As someone who is Jewish living in a Christian country, what are the things that are challenging for you about being different than the majority of people in America? What are the things about being Jewish that feel special because they make you different than other people? Can you imagine visiting Israel, a place where Jews make up the majority of people?

7. [For Interfaith Families] This is a time of year in which many interfaith families feel pulled in lots of different directions. Use these holidays as an opportunity to speak to your kids about what has been enriching about being a family with roots in different traditions, and discuss some of the challenges that this may pose. Talk to your kids about how you make the decision to celebrate in the way that you do, and for parents who feel uneasy about how they are building their family’s religious life, this may be a good opportunity to seek some support and guidance to help navigate these larger issues.

8. Both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are holidays that celebrate the significance of fighting for religious freedom. What are the freedoms that ought to be fought for and how can we as American Jews ensure that all Americans are afforded these freedoms? Do we have a responsibility to fight for these freedoms for people in other countries who do not have them? If so, how can we do that, and if not, why doesn’t this responsibility extend beyond our borders? 

If you can manage to discuss these questions as the Hanukkah lights flicker by the window and you eat jelly donuts next to the fireplace with your dog curled up at your feet, that’s wonderful. But if your life is less like a Norman Rockwell painting and more like controlled (on a good day) chaos, then take advantage of any time that you have for these conversations. It would be a shame to squander them because you are waiting for the perfect time.

Perhaps the most challenging part of these conversations with our children is that we often feel some ambiguity in our own feelings about Judaism. That’s okay. In fact, it is quite possible that through these conversations with our children they may teach us a thing or two about faith, courage, and pride. Now that would be nothing short of a miracle.

Wishing you a חג אורים שמח- a wonderful Hanukkah!



Reflections after the Tornado in Oklahoma


A time is set for every experience under heaven. A time for uprooting, a time for tearing down....

As I finish teaching my class on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) at the Pelham Jewish Center, I have been thinking a great deal about one essential aspect of his message: Horrible events that are beyond our control strike our world and we must face this fact of life head on, even if it terrifies us.

A time for wailing...

Our hearts are broken as we allow ourselves to reflect on the gruesome loss of so many lives, killed by the ravages of nature. We shed tears and feel a creeping despair.

A time for seeking, a time for peace...

But Ecclesiastes simultaneously insists that we remember (perhaps as an act of pastoral presence or simple observation) that there will be a time for the inverse experience as well. In the face of horror, we grasp onto the belief that we will again know beauty and inner calm.

A time for planting, a time for gathering stones, a time for building up...

Sometimes we force a season to begin by sheer will. This is one of those times. We search for remnants of life within the disaster, and we support the sacred efforts of those who dedicate their lives to the grueling work of responding to families in crisis. We focus our efforts on rebuilding, one home, one life, at a time.

A time for healing, a time for being born...

Along with you, I pray that the families scarred by the devastating loss of a loved one, especially a child, will discover that despite the darkness of our world, it contains within it a mysterious possibility for rebirth and healing. Healing is rarely an end moment in time, but rather, a process that requires tremendous patience and love from friends, family, community, and our country.

May our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma find themselves on a path toward healing, and may we all take seriously our responsibility to help in the rebuilding of their communities.

For those looking to donate to the relief effort, you may do so through the Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund of the UJA Federation of NY. 100% of the funds will be allocated to support local communities in the disaster area.

Wishing you comfort during this challenging time.

David


Below is a prayer written as a response to this disaster by Abby Jacobson, Emanuel Synagogue, Oklahoma City, OK

Lord our God, we stood before You just a week ago to receive the Ten Statements of Your Torah. We stood, as though with our ancestors, and listened to the Torah reader chant descriptions of the smoking mountain, the thunderous rumbling, and the long-awaited voice of God.

This afternoon, the people of central Oklahoma did not stand to hear the voice of God. We sat, we paced, and we huddled. We listened to the voice of the meteorologists and watched as dark clouds swirled together over a cone of destruction. The rain fell upward, not down, and the thunderous roar of the swirling winds carried, and we saw the awesome power of God. This was not Shavuot—the Feast of Weeks that marked our days of freedom. This was minutes that seemed like years and trapped us into watching the same images of destruction.

Merciful God, a great and powerful windstorm has passed, and it has torn apart the buildings and shattered the rocks before You. You told Elijah, the prophet, that You were not in the windstorm. Please, then, be in the still, small voices of the children crying out to be found. Be in the voices of the rescuers calling out for survivors. Be in the cries of those who are lost and of those who have lost.

May it be Your will that those who are missing be found alive and be cared for well, and may the people of central Oklahoma find strength in You and in one another as we rebuild what we can.

Our Hearts are In Boston


Photo Credit: From BostInno
When Tali and I lived in Israel during the second intifada of 2001-2002, Jerusalem was ablaze with suicide bombings. Buses, restaurants, cafes, and the market suddenly became places of terrible danger. It was a very challenging year, but in some ways, the uncertainty of how to react after a terror attack was almost as emotionally difficult as the fear of an attack.

It was not uncommon during that year to hear the explosion of the bomb and the wailing sirens that immediately followed. People would turn on the radio, make a few phone calls, and then continue with their day. There were fifty-three suicide attacks in 2002. There was not another feasible option. Life had to continue.

I had a terribly difficult time reacting to such horrific events by continuing my normal routine. In the immediate wake of each new bombing an intense emotional desire to stop, light candles, sit with friends, and watch the news commenced within me. My instinct to put life on hold was incredibly strong. I could not understand how Israelis continued living their lives without stopping everything. Over time, however, I learned not to confuse this behavior with a callousness to the suffering of fellow humans. I learned that it was the only wise way to deal with tragedy.

This week, we wake up in the morning and go about our business, but not as usual. We continue to live our normal lives but with an abnormal emotional tenor. We allow for a heaviness in the pauses throughout our days: a sadness while we sit on the subway; a pulse of grief in between emails; a surprising anger as we wrap our tefillin. We follow the news, we pray for justice, and we desperately hope that families whose lives have been shattered find comforting arms to hold them up. But we do all of this while waking up in the morning and living our lives as we did last week. The routine remains the same. It is the emotional tone of our days that is different; it is in the pauses that we light candles.

In my daily pauses, I have been thinking about the individuals who have been maimed. I have been thinking about the families who lost someone dear to them. I have been thinking about the first responders, medical professionals, and compassionate human beings who care/d for the wounded. I have been thinking about the law enforcement officials who are working around the clock to discover the cowards who inflicted such terror on innocent people. And I have been thinking about you, hoping that you find outlets for your grief and fellowship for comfort.

I leave you with a prayer for this moment written by Rabbi Naomi Levy. I hope that it will bring you a measure of solace during the difficult pauses in your days.


A Prayer of Hope After the Boston Marathon Bombing by Rabbi Naomi Levy

God of peace, God of healing
God of the grief-stricken,
We call You, we invoke You
We pray to You:
Oh my God, we called out to You
as a day of celebration
Turned to mourning.
Oh my God
The shock
The senselessness
Innocent lives cut short
Wounded victims
Heartbreaking cries of panic and grief.
But through the darkness came
The light
The hope
The heroes
The selfless caring of first responders
Arms extended in comfort and love,
Your messengers on earth.
God, send comfort to grieving families,
Send healing to the wounded,
Send wisdom and strength to doctors and nurses
Send calm to hearts filled with panic.
Bless us with peace, God,
Show us that we will rebuild
In the face of tragedy.
Grant us the power and wisdom
To bring justice to those who harm us.
Teach us that we will triumph over terror.          
We will not let this tragedy twist our spirits
We choose hope over fear.
We are resilient, we are strong
We are one nation under God
We will come together, hand in hand
We will rebuild.
Amen.

From Freedom to "Not Being a Slave"


ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך עולם שלא עשני עבד

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a slave.

In 1945, the Conservative Movement changed the nusach of this blessing (and a few others that we recite each morning) to the positive form: Blessed are You, Lord our God, who has made me a free person. This was the only version that I ever recited until I met children who were rescued from slavery  while I was on an American Jewish World Service service learning trip to Ghana.

I spent an afternoon at a compound that houses children immediately after they are rescued from their slave masters. It was built by the NGO Challenging Heights and hidden away in the jungle. Though we met with the social workers and house mothers who work with the children at the very beginning of their rehabilitation process, I don't remember a word that they said. I don't remember what they looked like or the amount of time that we met with them. The only thing that I can remember (and with amazing clarity) is the way that the gorgeous faces of the children belied the torture that their bodies and souls had sustained. As we shook hands and shared smiles and broken greetings, the open sores on the backs of their heads and their damaged spines conveyed the horror through which they lived. Though the despondency in their eyes was heartbreaking, there was an energy among the kids that to a clueless outsider, felt like a confusing mix of anger, restlessness, and hope. Until that moment, for me, slavery was an abstraction, a closed historical chapter. I felt a deep shame for that luxury.

As imaginations tend to do, mine conjured up the scenarios of their lives, even though I knew I could not envision anything nearly as grotesque as the reality. I could not hold my tears back as I watched the tiny, calloused fingers of the six year old boy gently rub the white skin of my arms, clearly astounded by its incongruity with our surroundings. He just sat with me, rubbing my arms and staring at me, never once returning my teary smile. I could feel the soft fingers of my own sons reflexively playing with my hair and my arms as we talked or cuddled in bed. I never wanted to hold my children so tightly; I needed them to save me from an unbearable sadness. I was so relieved when a twelve year old yelled, "Futball! America against Ghana."

On a different day, I went down to the port to see the fishing boats. The bustling market meets the seashore in an explosion of the senses. Look left and you gaze into the magnificent sea. You are overwhelmed by the fishing boats bathed in striking colors. Look right and there are women smoking freshly caught fish, street vendors peddling their wares, hawkers balancing baskets of candy and chips as they weave in between people, and all around you, people are engaged in friendly banter. The sounds are frenzied as they drown out the lullaby of the sea. At a certain point, I walked onto the sand and looked into the sea, and everything around me seemed to stop. The sight of so many boats full of children scurrying about while working the day's catch was enough to silence the noise around me. Right in front of the bustle of thousands, in broad daylight, each and every day, are child slaves, working against their will, beaten and tortured as their ten year old bodies give in to fourteen hour days. Only days before the kids dribbled the soccer ball around us like we were statues that day in the jungle, they were trapped on such boats. It was impossible to imagine.

One morning during my time in Ghana, I woke up and it was difficult to see colors. My soul felt hollow, as if it had been completely emptied like a balloon shrinking from a tiny puncture. As I began my morning prayers, I found myself saying the original version of the blessing for the first time in my life: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who did not make me a slave. This I could say because I understood that it was true: I was not a slave. I could not, however, thank God for making me free because I suddenly realized that I was not. Is one free when thousands upon thousands of children greet each morning as slaves? Is one really free when young girls are drugged and sold and trafficked again as sex workers?

We eat the bread of affliction not as a celebration of our freedom but as an act of solidarity with those still longing for their own, shackled by the terror fomented by slave-masters who still corrupt our lands. We eat the bread of affliction because we must ingest an antidote to the indifference that blossoms when we are deluded into thinking that we are free.

Let us not wait for God to rescue those living in darkness. This Passover may we reaffirm our commitment to hearing their cries and support the institutions working tirelessly to save them.

Israel and Jewish Pluralism


In my thinking, the nature of what it means to be Israeli will be determined by the degree to which Jewish pluralism will take hold. As of now, Israeli society is defined by distinct communities separated by fixed religious lines: one is either secular or religious, period. Within each of these groups there are surely subgroups (ultra-Orthodox, Religious Zionist, Religious Sephardi, secular, secular yet traditional, etc). But for the most part, Israeli social networks are essentially homogeneous. Children attend a religious or a secular school, a religious or secular youth group, and so on.

The result is that Judaism is perceived by most Israelis as being “owned” by the religiously observant. Secular and religious Jews perceive Jewish ritual, observance, and texts to be the domain of the religious (read: Orthodox). Even though secular Israelis  speak Hebrew and live according to the Jewish calendar, they are largely cut off from their own traditions. We had an Israeli au pair live with us for six months. On her first Shabbat here we invited her to Shabbat dinner. She was excited because it was the first time in her life that she heard the Friday night kiddush. She was twenty-one years old.

The only way that this will change is if secular and religious Israelis see that finding meaning in our heritage does not require full halachic (legal) observance. This is slowly beginning to happen. Ruth Calderon, a new member of Knesset from the Yesh Atid party, gave a stunning speech on the Knesset floor a few weeks ago. In it, Calderon (a secular Israeli with a PhD in Talmud) taught a story from the Talmud to the entire Knesset. Without a doubt, this was the first time many (if not most!) of the members of Knesset heard a woman teach Talmud. There was a wonderful moment during her speech in which MK Vaknin from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party interrupted her (interruptions are not uncommon for the Knesset). Calderon was teaching that in the story, the name of the rabbi is connected to the word “rechem,” which means womb. This is when Vaknin interrupted her:

Vaknin: Rechem also [has a numerologically significant] value of 248 (the number of positive mitzvot).

Calderon: Thank you. Yasher Koach. Thank you for participating.

Vaknin: I think the idea that she is saying is wonderful …

Calderon: I am happy about this participation in the words of Torah.

It doesn't translate perfectly, but essentially, this man who has never heard a (secular!) woman teach Talmud jumped in and participated with her. She welcomed this as a deepening of Torah. All of this took place on the Knesset floor.

Remarkably, one reaction to her speech was the suggestion that it was an assault on Judaism. The editorial of Kikar Hashabbat, a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news site, wrote, “…we are watching on live broadcast the new Enlightenment, the new powers that have risen and want to destroy the Haredi society as it is today...Rabbi Shai Peron, Rabbi Dov Lipman, and the "Rabbanit" [sic] Ruth Calderon are using our weapons- the Talmud, the Gemarrah, and the Poskim- against us, while simultaneously using it as a fig leaf. ” This exposes the sickest element of this dynamic: the notion that secular and liberal Jews are hijacking Judaism by finding it meaningful, and that this in turn, is an attack on Haredi Judaism. 

If it were only the haredim who believed this. Alas, this sentiment is shared by many secular Israelis who also think that we should leave all Jewish religious expressions to the haredim, as anything else is disingenuous.

This is where we come in. We American Jews can model an energetic Jewish life that transcends the labels of secular or religious. Israelis have a great deal to learn about the vibrancy of a pluralistic Jewish life from us, a model in which we should take pride. For too long the relationship between Diaspora and Israeli Jews has been one sided, with Americans "sitting at the feet" of our Israeli brethren for a dose of pride in our heritage and Jewish identity. It is time for us to balance out the relationship. It is our responsibility to help Israelis see that a rich and diverse Jewish life strengthens the Jewish people. We can teach and model this. We must.

We have been doing this beautifully every summer as hundreds of Israelis spend time at our Jewish camps. In them, they discover a Jewish life that is somewhat foreign. They expect that seeing women reading Torah, leading tefillot, and wearing tefillin will translate into an odd expression that resembles Judaism but isn't quite right. As they adjust, many of them discover a Judaism that explodes in its love of Torah, God, and mitzvot, and does so in authentic and moving ways. For many of the Israeli women, both secular and religious, it is the first time they feel that they can live a fully Jewish life in ways that were inaccessible to them. And then they return home to Israel and begin a search for a similar community, which of course, is difficult to find.

Things are changing in Israel, albeit very slowly. Jews who have seen Judaism as the domain of the Orthodox are now enjoying music that grew out of our tradition, studying Talmud alongside Nietzsche and Freud in secular, co-ed batei midrash (houses of study), attending synagogues of the Reform and Conservative Movements, and so on. But these changes require our encouragement and support. One way to invest in the future of the State of Israel is by supporting institutions working to build a society that reflects the diversity of Jewish life that we know can exist. 

From Scarcity to Abundance- Shabbat Shalom


Do a thought experiment for a moment. What is the last thing that you remember thinking about before falling asleep and the first thing that you thought of when you opened your eyes this morning?

In The Soul of Money (pp. 43-45), Lynne Twist suggests that for most of us, the answer to each question often involves some form of insufficiency. She writes, "For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is 'I didn’t get enough sleep.' The next one is 'I don’t have enough time.' Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don't have enough of…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we're already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn't get, or didn't get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life."

Constantly living within a world constructed from what we lack takes its toll on one's soul. A persistent "argument with life" causes one's head to drop ever so slightly, each day a little bit more and then a little bit more, until all we see is the muck on which we stand. The openness of the skies above or the limitless space ahead constricts when we live in an internal condition of scarcity. So do our relationships.

Shabbat reliably enlarges our world and reminds us that we are actually surrounded by abundance. We welcome shabbat with the words that we say each night in the evening prayers, "Help us lie down, O Lord, in peace." The word peace, shalom, comes from the Hebrew root that means "whole." In the second half of the verse, we ask to rise up in the morning l'chayyim, to life. In other words, we begin shabbat with an expression of our yearning to lie down with a sense of wholeness, not scarcity, and rise up with vitality, not inadequacy. I can't think of a more effective way of reframing our internal condition toward wholeness and vitality than a 25 hour refuge of contemplation, rest, long meals, prayer, and time with friends and family.

Shabbat Shalom  

An Experiment in Not Using Email


Below is a copy of a letter that I sent to my synagogue describing the way in which I would like to communicate with them. Email became too much of an administrative burden that was preventing me from doing rabbinic work. I feel blessed to be supported by a board of directors willing to allow me to experiment with no longer using email. We will see how it goes... 

Dear Friends,

When rabbinical students interview with me for the position of rabbinic intern, one of the first questions that I ask them is what they want to do in their internship. Invariably they tell me that they would like to see what the life of a pulpit rabbi is like by shadowing me. I get a good laugh out of this. I tell them that I spend a majority of my day responding to emails so unless they want to watch me type at the computer, they should re-imagine the way they want to structure the internship.

I have now reached the point at which I too would like to re-imagine the way I structure my rabbinic work. A rabbi should spend his/her time doing the most important elements of clergy work: visiting people who are sick and homebound, studying and teaching, counseling, building relationships with people in real time (in person or on the phone), playing a leadership within the local community, and writing.  Alas, in my day to day work, I answer email more than doing any of the above. Despite all of the time I put into emailing, my inbox is virtually always overflowing and I am almost always late with my response.

MY VISION FOR COMMUNICATION

I realize that electronic communication is presently a major medium for being in touch, but I am not convinced that it is the most effective method for the purposes of clergy work. I care deeply about the relationships that I have built with members of our congregation, and I realize that email has been one of the ways in which we communicate with one another. I hope that we will be able to deepen the content of our interactions and communication even if we reduce the quantity of them. My hope is that sharing a cup of coffee or speaking together in my study will replace hours of emailing about matters that can be more efficiently handled in an administrative manner.

THE NEW SYSTEM

After much consideration and with the blessing of the PJC Board of Directors, we have created a new system to manage my email traffic. All emails sent to me will be screened by our new Office Manager Kimberly Lewis, and she will respond to most of them on my behalf. This means that Kimberly will see all of the emails sent to me, including the emails that are of a confidential nature. We have a new service that will filter all emails that are sent to me for the first time. You will receive an automated email in response asking you to verify your email address and reminding you that another person will receive these emails on my behalf from this point on.

Kimberly will protect the confidential nature of your email in the same way that I do, but if you are uncomfortable with another person reading the email, I encourage you to call me directly in order to discuss the matter at hand.

The basic presumption of my rabbinate is that the relationships that I build with individuals in our community are at the center. This administrative change is meant to free up time for me to deepen those relationships and create a new medium in which they can develop: phone calls and in person conversations. I believe that I will serve you more effectively with this change by having more time for my pastoral and rabbinic work and cutting down on the administrative burden of email.

THIS IS AN EXPERIMENT

I am aware that some people may find this change off putting. It is in no way a signal that I want to be less accessible. It is, in fact, the opposite: I want to be more accessible in more meaningful ways. However, this change is an experiment and I am asking for your patience as it is implemented. We will survey the congregation after six months of this change in order to assess its impact and your feelings about it.

Thank you for your understanding regarding this issue. I have felt for some time that email has become a tremendous burden, and I would like to take better control of my time to best serve you. I appreciate your openness to this experiment. I look forward to cups of coffee together. Give me a call so we can set it up.

L'shalom,

Rabbi David A. Schuck

Shabbat Shalom


This summer, one of my sons noticed that I was walking slower than usual. "I am on vacation," I told him. "Abba, what does that have to do with walking slowly?" I explained that when I am working, I am completely focused on an endless list of tasks that must be completed by a certain time. But after a few days of vacation, I can let go of these things and just "be in the world and go with the flow." When we left Tel Aviv to return home, I took the boys to the airport by train and he noticed that I was walking to the station very quickly. My gait had changed. "I guess our vacation is over," he sadly remarked.

How quickly we lose our sense of balance. How we dash back into an endless stream of rushing and moving. The secret to a good vacation is learning how to hold onto it and bring it back into real life.

In his brilliant book Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology (p.127), Michael Fishbane suggests that the intentionality of shabbat outlives the 25 hour period of shabbat. He writes, "One enters the Sabbath rest in order to cultivate a mindfulness of inaction that can gradually suffuse one's entire consciousness...and one may therefore hope to return to the workweek with this divine gift in one's heart...Considered in this spirit, the self can take something of the unitary repose of the Sabbath into the divisions that cleave our lives in the everyday. The heartbeat of repose may thus suffuse the mind and limbs of one's being, and generate an inner balance poised on quietude and a settled spirit."

Shabbat is not prayers, meals, afternoon walks, and naps. It is not friends and family. These are the tools of Shabbat. Shabbat is a mindfulness of inaction; it is the heartbeat of repose. When we open ourselves to shabbat, even if it is just the smallest of possible steps toward it, we may find ourselves walking into work on Monday slowly, and with a settled spirit.

Shabbat Shalom