Rabbi Scheff and I arrived in Boston on Sunday afternoon, December 8, 2019 for the USCJ/RA (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Rabbinical Assembly) conference and planned to have our first dinner together with OJC leaders Sharon Aach, Michael Pucci and Hara Hartman. What an additional pleasure to be joined by Michael and Hara’s two daughters, Greta and Sophia, who are both students in Boston. Sophia is a freshman at Northeastern University, and Greta is studying optometry at New England College of Optometry. As Greta filled me in on what it is like to be studying optometry, I reflected on how perfectly apt was the name of this year‘s conference: 20/20 Judaism.
As we are on the cusp of entering a new decade, Conservative Judaism’s leaders, professionals, clergy, and educators need to see clearly. With our vision corrected for 20/20, we will be able to make sense of today’s great challenges.
At this tumultuous time of change, threat, and discord the conference provided an optimistic space for sacred dialogue, for harnessing our collective wisdom and strength.
While there are many who claim that the Conservative Movement is broken, I see us instead in a period of transition. We are the Ramah Camping Movement, United Synagogue Youth, Day Schools, Nativ Year Course, seminaries and graduate schools, synagogues and their supplemental schools. We are powerful communities, institutions, and places of higher education bound together by a collective belief in the covenant we hold with God. Within our movement, there are many ways to understand this covenant, but we are all bound by it.
It seems to me that the unique task of Conservative Judaism among the many rich streams of Judaism is to hold the center. Tradition and change, practicality and spirituality, prayer and action, halakha (law) and autonomy… in each pair of values held in tension, we strive to be balanced.
It is not easy to hold the center. It is not as seductive as claiming one side or the other. But after spending days praying, learning, debating, and singing with the people of my particular brand of Judaism, I believe that it is the essential way to live Judaism today.
If the meaning of community has changed, still the need for meaning is stronger than ever. We must go deep and we must be real.
If Judaism is the creative application of Torah across the generations, then Abraham Joshua Heschel was correct: It is not required of us to take a leap of faith but rather a leap of action.
B’yedidut, With friendship, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, answers the question of who is truly honored in Chapter 4: “Who is honored? One who honors his fellows.” Rabbi Scheff and I were honored this past Monday night at the annual dinner of the METNY District of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. We both felt pride in being singled out and the joy of being celebrated. We were prouder still of Javier Rosenzwaig, one of five laypeople from the entire district honored as an emerging leader. We all know how much heart and soul Javier gives to the OJC and to our mission.
Yes, Rabbi Scheff and I felt honored. What we felt even more powerfully, however, was that in accepting the accolades of METNY, we were acknowledging our extraordinary OJC community.
We were honored because we honor all of you. And you are honored because of the way our synagogue continually strives to honor our neighbors, our fellow Jews in Rockland, in Israel, and the world, and all people created in the image of God.
Rabbi Scheff spoke about the partnership of Joshua and Caleb in this week’s parasha, Sh’lach L’cha. If there had been just one spy alone against the majority, would he have had the strength to stand up and say, “Let us by all means go up”? Relationships are the key to a synagogue that operates with optimism and courage. Lay leadership and clergy work together to meet the needs of the community. At the OJC, we are saying, “Let us by all means go up” every day!
I spoke about God’s command to Moses to send men to spy out the land. In that word L’cha (for yourself) lies the difference between the fear of ten spies and the vision of Joshua and Caleb. Ten men went only for themselves, with their own personal worries and concerns. They forgot that they were part of an endeavor larger than their own worldview. Joshua and Caleb might have been just as concerned as the other ten, but they remembered that their mission was God directed and the outcome was promised in advance by God. They remembered that “for yourself” is complete only when “yourself” and “others” are linked into a common commitment. At the OJC, we strive in every ritual, minyan, program and interaction to remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No less than the spies, we are on a mission directed by God.
Todah rabbah, METNY District, for this great honor.
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill