Women Rabbis Lean In at JTS

I was one of sixty women, all members of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, who gathered at the Jewish Theological Seminary on Monday and Tuesday, December 9 and 10 to connect, learn and replenish our minds and souls.  The title of the conference was “Leaning In, Leaning Out, Learning from Each Other.”  The learning, prayer, and opportunity to connect were all valuable.

Women Rabbis Lean In

But that is not what is on my mind as I think about the conference in the days since it ended.  I am thinking about what it means to be present, completely and wholly present. In her opening talk, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first ordained woman of the Conservative Movement of Judaism, explained to us that her work has been about cultivating compassion. That work, she asserted, can only happen through true listening, through being present to another and thereby to God. She reminded us that careers in the rabbinate are guided by what we believe God wants of us more than by ambition.

I spent the rest of the day asking myself how I could ever know what God wants of me. As I listened to fellow rabbis, talked in small groups, and took notes, I asked myself the question about what God wants. And then the answer came to me as I pictured myself in our sanctuary at the OJC. Above the ark, the words are carved: “Shiviti Adonai l’negdi tamid.”  I place God before me always.

I can know what God wants of me by being quiet enough, in the sanctuary of my soul, to listen. And to do that?  I must be present.  I must be in the moment with each of you, with the children of the Religious School, with the youngest children and their grown-ups at Early Kabbalat Shabbat.  I must be fully present in your loved one’s hospital room, at your kitchen table or across the table from you at Starbucks. I must be present in the moments we share on the telephone.

And then, at the end of our moment, I must listen to my soul deeply enough to reassure myself that I am doing what God wants of me. Did I listen to you? Was I fully present to you?

It is not easy to be fully present in the year 2013.  As we rabbis sat in a room, sharing our dreams, our insecurities, our prayers, many of us focused on the faces of whoever was speaking. If I place God before me always, then I must look for God in the faces of my fellows.

But a great number of us were typing away on i-pads, laptops, phones.  Several in the room were tweeting.  A difficult conversation erupted about this fact when confidentiality was breached with tweets that quoted what specific women were saying. Those who were tweeting defended their actions by stating the importance of sharing what was happening in the room with the public. I wonder how we can be in this moment, however, when we are already shaping it to share it with a nameless public. I understand that tweeting is meant to connect us, but doesn’t it distance us instead?

One rabbi said that she is more focused when she is tweeting than when she is just listening. There is a difference, however, between being focused and being present. Rabbi Eilberg had just told us that we must remember to be present to others. The result of the conversation was to shut down the tweeters. Sometimes it is valuable and important to get the word out. I understand the value of social media; after all, here I am blogging to you all! But sometimes it is much more important to get the word in.  Lean in, lean out.  Utimately, we chose to lean in, to lean within, to be present to each other and to ourselves — with the hope and prayer of being present to God.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Women Rabbis Lean In at JTS”

  1. J. Scott Strauss says :

    As a reminder to our rabbis: there a time for everything and every action in its own merit. One cannot be constantly on the social network nor can he/she be completely isolated from this wonderful technology that’s supposed to bring us all together. So how can one makes a careful balance between? That real balance can be only done by direct human contact with others. The human contacts reveals the innerness of ourselves and the closeness with each other. That is the reality that HaShem is asking us to create and recreate.

  2. carol blau says :

    Such beautiful words—our family feels so blessed to have you as our rabbi. It sounds like you had an incredible experience learning and exploring your spirituality with your colleagues. Shabbat Shalom to you and your family.
    xoxo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: