Leading a faith community

The traditional names for the synagogue–beit knesset, beit tefilah, beit midrash–connote a house of assembly, a house of worship and a house of inquiry and learning. These days, the synagogue is also considered the center of a faith community.

What does it mean to me to be a faith community? It means collectively embracing a hopeful and optimistic view of the world, where faith in God, in people, and in the potential Godliness of every person shapes values, morals and personal choices. In keeping with the ethical codes of our sages, it means giving others the benefit of the doubt without taking unreasonable risk to one’s own well being.

Judaism’s prophetic tradition envisioned a world order where all people would ultimately see God as one and recognize one another as the creation of that one God. In post-Biblical times, this vision of an era to come (olam ha-ba) was transformed into an other-worldly vision, one that could only arrive through divine intervention. Some even embraced the idea that a super-human or semi-divine figure would be needed to bring about this new world order.

Our sages of Rabbinic Judaism brought us back to our emphasis on human agency. We don’t rely on divine fiat to bring about the days of the era to come. Our messianic age is not ushered in by God, but by those of us here doing the work of God.

Israel and America are two potential entities through which this new world order can be brought about. There is nothing wrong with America or Israel wanting to put themselves “first” in this new order, so long as being first doesn’t mean being exclusive. Being first in this order means leading the way for all of humanity to ultimately be a part of the same vision, the same order. If I am first, and no one is following, then I am also last. Isolation and exclusivity did not fit with the prophets’ notion that Judaism’s values would serve as a light drawing humanity to unite as one.

As a leader of a faith community, I will continue to have faith in God; in people; and in policies that move us closer to a world order where all people search for the image of God in others. Our assembly, our worship, our inquiry and learning all point us in this direction as a worldview. Your vision of where we need to go as a society, as a country, as a world or as Jews may differ from mine; but as someone (who doesn’t see the world as I do) recently told me, I must speak the words that are in my heart. They are the wisdom of my experiences and my truths, and my responsibility to espouse in leading a faith community.

I don’t seek to be political in my views or to take sides. Different times demand that different values be prioritized and championed. I will speak out against Islamic fundamentalism that threatens my security and I will call out Jewish fundamentalism that chips away at my identity. I will warn against Islamophobia and I will defend against anti-Semitism. I will advocate for the rights of women to control their own bodies and I will demand the need for people to make responsible choices. I will educate for Jewish continuity and I will explore new ways to welcome interfaith households. I will support the rights of countries to protect their citizens, and I will march to demand the protection of the stranger, the vulnerable and those who can’t protect themselves. I will teach towards a greater awareness of the needs of people with disabilities and I will push for us to see one another as people first. I will own responsibility for my actions and I will accept the collective responsibility we have to our neighbors.

These are the values, among others, that I believe our faith community must advance in moving our world toward a better era for humankind. May that time come soon and in our day.

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Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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7 responses to “Leading a faith community”

  1. mitchkayden says :

    This is so beautiful. I will be proud to join you on this journey.

  2. mikeglassmike says :

    We love you!
    -Michael & Hillary

  3. Ruth Hess says :

    So beautifully expressed! Ruth and Karl 😍😍

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. superwoman910 says :

    Amen my wise compassionate Rebbe

  5. Lloyd Fishman says :

    At these times where intolerance seems to be gaining the upper hand, we must remind ourselves, as Rabbi Scheff has done, that as Jews we are a tolerant people. I can think of no other group that have been subjected to prejudice and hate for so long, yet we Jews continue to see the glass as half full. As for the Fishmans as a family, we thank our Rabbi for his wisdom and thoughts of this column. We support your view in this most critical time.

  6. Lydia Katz says :

    I do believe that the next to last paragraph should be copied and inserted on an inside cover of our siddur. I would love to make those thoughts my goals also and how wonderful if we could all adopt them. Thank you once again for your wisdom, compassion and understudying.

  7. Debra Kronberg says :

    Sent from my iPad

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