Wednesday, July 31, 2013

JTS Leaders Are Inspired By Their Visits To Ramah Camps

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National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary 
July 31, 2013
24 Av 5773
JTS Leaders Are Inspired By Their Visits To Ramah Camps

"Visiting Ramah is one of the most enjoyable things I get to do all year. Ramah is incredible. It does an amazing job of building the Jewish future and Jewish leaders. Ramah is a critically important part of JTS's mission."
- JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen

Each summer, leaders from The Jewish Theological Seminary visit Ramah camps and have the opportunity to spend time with campers and staff. Topics of conversation range from questions about their own personal Jewish journeys, to the future of Conservative Judaism, to study opportunities at JTS. We are delighted to be able to share with you some of what those JTS leaders and Ramah campers experienced in recent weeks.
eisenRamah Poconos Hosts JTS Chancellor
 by Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director   

Chancellor Eisen and I spent the Shabbat of June 28-30 at Camp Ramah in the Poconos
, and inspiration was everywhere. Each year, Chancellor Eisen comes with me to visit at least one camp. Being at Ramah Poconos was especially moving to Chancellor Eisen. "I grew up in Philadelphia but my parents didn't send me to Ramah," he said. "I always wished they had. I finally feel like I've come home."

Dr. Eisen, a scholar of Torah and modern American Judaism, spoke to the entire camp during Kabbalat Shabbat services, and taught various groups of staff and campers throughout Shabbat. During Friday night singing, Chancellor Eisen commented, "I love watching the youngest campers looking wide-eyed as the camp erupts with ruach. Clearly this forms a deep impression, leading to their desire to grow up here." After Shabbat, he said, "I was so moved on Friday night in the chadar ochel when the counselors blessed all their campers prior to kiddush. Watching young counselors then go up to their former counselors to ask for their blessing showed how much of a family there is at Ramah."
Camp Ramah in the Poconos
(L-R) Rabbi Mitchell Cohen; Andy Markowitz,
Rosh Gesher; Chancellor Arnold Eisen;
and Rabbi Joel Seltzer, Director
We were also lucky enough to share the camp's joy when two young alumni, Matt Kanoff and Liz Steele, celebrated their aufruf during Shabbat morning services. "Ramah is where our relationship blossomed and it is wonderful to be able to celebrate with these young campers," said Matt. Matt and Liz are getting married on August 25, surrounded by their Ramah friends.

On Sunday morning, Chancellor Eisen addressed the Ramah Poconos Board of Directors, praising the camp and their dedication as lay leaders to the future of Ramah.

Whether in conversations with young Israeli mishlachat members or while teaching the hanhalah (senior camp leaders), Chancellor Eisen shared his great optimism about the future of Ramah, JTS, and the Jewish community. JTS and Ramah are working together more closely than ever, and it was my personal pleasure to accompany Chancellor Eisen to camp and hear his thoughts and reflections. 
nevinsDean of JTS Rabbinical School Visits
Ramah Berkshires, Ramah Canada,
Ramah Darom, and Ramah Nyack
Ramah Canada 2013
Rabbi Danny Nevins at Ramah Canada
with children Sam, Leora, and Talya 
Rabbi Daniel Nevins, the Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and Dean of the Division of Religious Leadership at JTS, spent time at
Berkshires, Canada, Darom, and Nyack this summer. His reflections on his visits appear below:

"While the primary purposes for my visits to four Ramah camps this summer were to reinforce the relationship between JTS and Ramah, and to scout for new talent to recruit for our undergraduate and graduate programs, I also went with an ulterior motive. Well, two, to be truthful, since I was certainly eager to see my own three kids at Ramah Canada. But I also wanted feedback on a prayer that I have written for the forthcoming Siddur Lev Shalem. It is an environmental prayer for Shabbat designed for the end of the Torah service, and I have written it in both Hebrew and in English. At three camps--Berkshires, Canada, and Darom--I taught the prayer to a small group of camp educators and asked for their feedback. Each time I was treated to some positive response followed by constructive criticism. And each time I went back to the text and edited it a little more so that it could benefit from the collective wisdom of our Ramah community. In addition, the beautiful natural setting of many prayer services at the various camps helped me access the blend of awe and textual allusion that could enrich this prayer throughout the year. I am grateful for the  opportunity to study and pray with the campers and staff of Ramah and will hold these memories dear as we enter into the new Jewish year."

garyJTS Executive Vice Chancellor
Spends Shabbat at Ramah New England 
Camp Ramah in New England
(L-R) Rabbi Ed Gelb, Director; Michelle and Marc Gary;
and Josh Edelglass, Assistant Director
Camp Ramah in New England had the privilege of hosting Marc and Michelle Gary as guests the Shabbat of July 12-13. Marc is the Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer of JTS. In addition, Marc and Michelle are Ramah New England parents and Michelle is a Ramah New England alumna.

Marc shared words of Torah with the high-school-aged Machon and Nivonim campers, speaking about the power of words to shape an experience. As we strive to do at Ramah, he tied together our Jewish and American identities, connecting the beginning of Moses' speech 
אלה הדברים to the 130th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. He challenged campers and staff to use speech like Moses and Lincoln in order to sanctify our experiences both at camp and in our lives year-round. 

Micah Cowen, a Nivonim camper, said, "I feel like the Garys' visit was beneficial both for Nivonim as a whole and for me personally. I think that his speech was applicable to people in our day and age, and really spoke to our edah. Having someone from JTS come to speak to us was very meaningful to me because I feel like he is an important leader in the Conservative Movement, and it shows what it means to be a leader of a people." Yoni Gelb, a Machon camper, added, "I like how he connected the Torah with American history because we study American history in school and that made it very relatable."

Later in the day, Marc greeted former and current JTS students for a Shabbat afternoon oneg overlooking the lake. Among the group were not only incoming and graduating students, but also rabbis and cantors already in the field, including a recent JTS graduate en route to her naval chaplaincy post off the coast of Japan. Marc and Michelle joined the camp in closing out Shabbat with the poignant experience of seudah shlishit and havdalah, capping off a Shabbat of intellectual and emotional encounters enriched by the Garys' visit.
cooperRamah California Hosts JTS Provost 

Dr. Alan Cooper, the Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies and Provost of JTS, spent the Shabbat of July 12-13 at Camp Ramah in California. During his visit, he led a discussion with Solelim (entering 8th graders) about the words, "Shabbat Shalom." In addition, he spent time talking to madrichim and mishlachat on topics in
Jewish education and leadership.

Campers and staff members were delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Cooper. "He has an incredibly broad spectrum of knowledge and he truly understands the wisdom of the Conservative Movement. It made me feel more empowered as a Conservative Jew and that I had more say in the future of the Jewish people," said counselor Gabe Kachuck. 

Tzevet member Emma Maier added, "Dr. Cooper was so down to earth and willing to talk about anything. ... As I come from a Reform background, hearing from someone high up in the Conservative Movement really changed my perspective. He also spoke briefly about performing at Woodstock, and it was amazing to see how someone could have two different sides that really complement each other." (Emma's reference to Woodstock alludes to the fact that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Cooper performed in the band Sha Na Na.)     
Camp Ramah in California
JTS Provost Alan Cooper with
Wendy Rosenthal, Yoetzet 
Dr. Cooper found his visit to be rewarding and inspiring. He said, "I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for your important work. ... my moments of engagement with kids and staff alike were a delight. My biggest regret was not having allotted more time, especially for conversation with the members of your extraordinary staff (including the shlichim)." 

Monday, July 8, 2013

I am Not Free When my Sister is Silenced

I am Not Free When my Sister is Silenced
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Today I am a sad Zionist. I am not free when my sister is silenced, when my mother is in exile, when my sister is assaulted.

Today women were cordoned off from their People, not even allowed to approach our Wall. The prayers of every Jew are null and void today. No voice counts unless all voices are heard.

Today God cries. It's the month of Menachem Av, a month of sadness. The Talmud tells that God coos like a dove amidst the ruins of Jerusalem, saying, "Oy to my children, who caused their own exile from My home." Today God wails with that two-thousand-year-old cry again.

Oy for our children, who deny the prayers of their mothers.
Oy for our sisters, who throw eggs at their sisters.
Oy for our People, who writhe with anger at difference.
Oy for our spirit, placed in exile by the Police in the Jewish Homeland.
Oy for God, who still cries because our sins.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Arthur Glauberman: Time to Start Thinking About the Future

Dear Fellow Members of the Shefa Listserv, 
I have rarely written but have enjoyed reading the discussions on this listserv for many years.  Recently I have been debating responding to the posts regarding the discussion about the USCJ and their upcoming "Conversation of the Century".  A few years ago, in the Spring of 2009, I was involved in organizing a "rebel'" group called, Bonim, whose purpose was to attempt to lobby for major changes in the USCJ. Our group formed at the same time that 25 of some of the largest congregations were creating a group that became known as Hayom and would later join forces with the USCJ as partners working together in hopes of creating a more transparent organization.  As a founding member of Bonim, I felt that after Rabbi Wernick had been selected to lead the USCJ, we should disband our group and be supportive of the new leadership.
There were many Bonim members who felt that we should stay active and act as a "watchdog" but I felt that we needed to give the new team time to regroup and did not want to risk undermining the future of the USCJ.  On reflection, I wonder if that was such a wise move. Prior to Rabbi Wernick's tenure, the USCJ had accumulated huge expenses agreeing to pay out exorbitant pensions and "golden parachutes" to former leaders and executives.  They also spent $14,000,000 to buy two floors at 802 Second Avenue, one of the most expensive business districts in New York City.  These huge expenditures were made at a time that the USCJ was feeling flush with cash, having sold their buildings on Fifth Avenue and were able to make executive decisions without thinking (or caring) of how it might impact on their long term planning.
In 2008, when I was finishing up my term as president of my synagogue, I was invited to join the METNY Board.  Although I wasn't an accountant, I was curious about the finances of the USCJ and thanks to Rabbi Charles Savenor, who was then Executive Director of METNY, I was encouraged to make an appointment to meet and spend a few afternoons with Brian Boczko, who was the Chief Operating Officer of the USCJ.  Mr. Boczko shared with me the specifics of the actual budgets and explained that it was costing the USCJ $13,000 a month in maintenance to maintain their new office space.  While the present leadership might say that I am sharing "old news" that is no longer relevant given all the changes that have occurred over the last few years, I wonder how much change is possible when the costs of operating their structure and paying salaries for retired staff as well as their pensions, takes such a huge bite out of their annual budget?
After Rabbi Wernick and his new team had time to review the costs and expenditures of being in such expensive space and the costs of paying out pensions that were out of his control, he could have urged that they move out of their headquarters.   Synagogues all over the country have had to downsize and change their strategies given the changes in our economic climate.   If the USCJ had opted to walk away from their emotional and psychological need to being next door to the Israeli Consulate and just steps from The United Nations, they could have won a great deal of respect from their member congregations that were facing similarly difficult financial decisions.  Instead they have refused to budge and instead have been forced to keep firing dedicated and gifted professionals and to continue to eliminate programs. It's possible that even after downsizing, they still would have had to make more difficult staffing decisions but instead their focus seemed to turn to semantics, making a great fuss about how  "congregations" would now be called "Kehillot" and focusing on how all they needed was to create a new group of philanthropists who would make up the millions they needed to continue to thrive.
About a week ago, I received a letter from Harvey Rosen, Chair of the Development and Marketing Committee of the USCJ.  It was one of those mail-merged letters that looks personal, but was sent to every lay leader and many rabbis who may have served  on a board or in some other region over years. The letter was written with the hope that if we were still on the fence about whether to  attend the convention, this letter would make the decision a no brainer.  it certainly had that effect on me.  The letter begins by announcing their plans to honor me:
"In Honor of your service to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, for our next academic year, we will institute, in your name, a day of learning at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. On that day, the Yeshiva students will honor your legacy with vigorous debate, study and discussion, and will acknowledge your support of our movement…." 
Is this the best way for the USCJ to try to "market" the Conversation of the Century"?  And if the letter was a sincere attempt to announce this "day of study", why would the USCJ's marketing committee send it out?  Unless the point of the letter has nothing to do with study and everything to do with how the USCJ chooses to spend its money?  Many of my friends who received at least one copy and in some cases as many as three, were disheartened and frustrated by what they felt was just another sign that the "changes" so many of us are looking for and the reasons for attending this great "conversation" seems to be more about rewrapping the old, rather than exploring new ways of engaging a truly serious discussion about why we should look to the USCJ for those solutions.
While the core of the letter was describing the issues that will be addressed at the convention, the final paragraph was written to try to touch lay people where they really need to be reached.  Here is a brief excerpt:
 "…., I would like to personally invite you to attend the Centennial Celebration so we may recognize you in person at dinner on Sunday evening, October 13, 2013. Your efforts and commitment to USCJ have helped us reach this time in our organization's history.
While the expenses of running the USCJ organization has grown, their staff continues to shrink, and their bigger problems remains unchanged.   If the chair of marketing and development thinks that the best way to bring past and present  "leaders" of the USCJ to the "Conversation of the Century " is by suggesting that Yeshiva students will honor their service with vigorous debate and that their names  "may be recognized" at the dinner during the event, I can't help but wonder how many thousands of dollars was spent on this letter writing fiasco?  Members of the USCJ care less about having naming opportunities and more about where is the USCJ leading us and what will their structure look like in the next few years?
Reading the recent posts makes me worry that while the "officers" of the USCJ are still very loyal about broadcasting how wonderful the new USCJ is but the infantrymen and women in the trenches see the future of the USCJ with a far more pessimistic perspective.   I disbanded Bonim four years ago because I didn't want to be part of the problem of undermining the USCJ, but hoped to see the new leadership work towards a successful transformation.  On reflection, as the USCJ keeps shrinking its staff and programs and promising a brighter tomorrow, I think it might be time to start thinking about which organizations can help bolster the future of Conservative Judaism instead of trying to embark on reframing an old conversation by calling it something new.
Arthur Glauberman, past president of Shaarei Tikvah, The Scarsdale Conservative Congregation and former member of the METNY and national board of the USCJ.

Masorti Foundation: Peres Promises RA Change is in the Wind Regarding Recognition Policy

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the masorti (conservative) movement in israel - promoting religious pluralism and building community through inclusive, traditional, egalitarian Judaism
Masorti Movement's Rabbi Andy Sacks with President Shimon Peres. Photo: Mark Neiman/GPO
Dear Supporters of the Masorti Movement in Israel,
Thanks to the hard work and effective lobbying by our talented Movement Executive Yizhar Hess and his excellent staff, this past week's Rabbinical Assembly Convention successfully advocated in the halls of the Knesset, the President's residence and the Ministry of Religious Affairs on behalf of full, religious pluralism for the Jewish state.
Minister of Religion, Naftali Bennett, with (left to right) MM's Yizhar Hess, Emily Levy Shochat and RA members.
Due to the Masorti Movement's superb efforts, paralleled by progress within the Reform Movement, in the latest polls 7-8% of Israel identify with either of these two streams. This is a number virtually equivalent to the 8% who identify with the Haredim, and reasonably close to the 18% who identify as National Orthodox. These results reflect dramatic progress during the past decade and our growing influence in political party primaries and Knesset deliberations in matters of religious life. (Click herefor article)
Masorti professional and lay leaders now are well known to their Israeli counterparts!
Recreated below is an article from The Jerusalem Post, reflecting upon some of the highlights of the RA Convention.
We congratulate Yizhar Hess, Emily Levy-Shochat, Rabbi Andy Sacks of RA Israel and RA International President and Masorti Foundation Board member, Rabbi Gerry Skolnik, along with RA Executive Vice President, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld.
With pride,
Rabbi Alan Silverstein                                                                     Laura Lewis                       
Chair                                                                                                 Executive Director
Masorti Foundation                                                                          Masorti Foundation
President Shimon Peres promises Rabbinical Assembly members that change is in the wind regarding recognition policy

"Pluralism is already in process," President Shimon Peres told leaders of the Conservative/ Masorti Movement, indicating that he sees recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism as already underway in Israel.
Peres's remarks were addressed to a gathering of close to 200 members of the Rabbinical Assembly, an umbrella group representing Conservative rabbis from around the world, who came to discuss issues of religion and state with the president at his official residence in Jerusalem.
In response to his comments, the president was told by several rabbis that their stream supports Israel unconditionally and regards itself as a Zionist movement, but is pained by the fact that it does not have what it considers proper recognition.
Peres commented that there has been some progress and that a dialogue is taking place.
He had no doubt that eventually the different approaches of all non-Orthodox streams of Judaism would be recognized in accordance with their equal rights as citizens of the country.
"Every Jew has the right to be a Jew as he sees fit," said Peres. "We've always had different streams within Judaism."
As for differences among Jews, Peres noted that the debate as to whether Israel is a Jewish state or a state for the Jews remains unresolved. Herzl wrote about a state for the Jews, he said.
Whether it is a Jewish state or a state for the Jews, Peres was adamant that the only way to preserve the Jewish character of the state is by carrying out the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A one state for two nations solution would eventually result in the Jewish population being demographically dwarfed by the Palestinian population, he cautioned.
Other Israeli leaders also expressed their sympathy for the concerns of the Conservative movement.
Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett, who is Orthodox, addressed the visiting rabbis in the Knesset, telling them that since Israel is "the home of all Jews in the world," he feels "the magnitude of the responsibility" when Jews "do not feel at home here."
Bennett stressed the need for unity among Jews and said that all Jews, "in their own way," can "contribute to the chain of generations of the Jewish nation."
Sectarian discord sowed the seeds for the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Bennett asserted, citing a Rabbinic tradition. Accordingly, he said, "We will not let the Third Temple be destroyed" by such internecine conflict.
"We agree on seventy percent" of the issues but have "a talent for fighting over the rest," he said, asking the audience if they think he agrees with coalition partner and Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid on everything.
"I don't have all the answers or the solutions, so we need to form a dialogue as equals and in partnership. I'm committed to a roundtable with all denominations and every part of the Jewish people, until we can feel like we are one family once again," said Bennett.
"I am not just the minister for the national-religious but for all of the Jewish people," he explained.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who also addressed the rabbis, said that in matters of religion and state, it is important to know how to manage disputes.
"When one side wins, the Jewish people lose," he said.
Executive vice president of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly Rabbi Julie Schonfeld said she felt that Bennett's words indicated real progress was being made in terms of the relationship of non-Orthodox movements and the state.
For a head of an Israeli party to talk in terms of roundtable discussions and that no one is above anyone else is real change," Schonfeld told The Jerusalem Post.
"We have, though, seen over the years a failure to fulfill promises, and the proof of progress is only in people's actions."
Schonfeld emphasized that the Conservative Movement would continue to demand equal funding, equality before the law and freedom of religious conscience for non- Orthodox movements in Israel.
"The goal for the Conservative Movement is for us and our leaders here in Israel to build an indigenous non- Orthodox religious expression in this country," she said.
However, the playing field is not equal, she said, given the fact that non-Orthodox movements do not receive state funding for their rabbinic leaders or communal activities.
"In a democratic country everyone is equal before the law, so there should be equal funding and freedom for people to practice religion in ways their conscience dictates.
"Anything else does not meet the standards of Judaism or democracy," said Schonfeld.
"Given the legislative difficulties in such steps, Schonfeld said that the Conservative
Movement would continue to seek redress with the High Court of Justice but said that legislation on the issue was still a better option.
"In many democracies, the court is the avenue of last resort for minorities around the world, but it is preferable that legislatures legislate justly," she said.
Attorney Yizhar Hess, the director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, said that the meeting between Bennett and the Rabbinical Assembly itself, as well as Bennett's comments, demonstrated a new beginning in the relationship between "official Israel" and non-Orthodox Jewish movements.
Hess attributed these developments to the increasing numbers of Israelis who say that they affiliate or identify with non-Orthodox Judaism.
"This number has doubled in the last decade, and this change also has political and electoral ramifications, and the first people to feel this are the politicians.
Masorti Movement's Rabbi Mauricio Balter prays mincha (afternoon service) with RA participants.
To learn more, please contact:
Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 832
New York, NY 10115-0068
(212) 870-2216; 1-877-287-7414;