Last week, Rabbis Without Borders, Clal’s pluralist rabbinic network, welcomed its new cohort this year at its yearly retreat for first-time members.
This was one of RWB’s most diverse cohorts, and as such the group beautifully reflected its mission to create a truly pluralist group of rabbis who can learn and glean information they otherwise never could in another setting.
I am sitting on a plane on a flight home from Baltimore. I spent the last three days at a Jewish retreat center with nineteen dynamic, passionate, mostly young rabbis in the first face-to-face gathering of this year’s cohort of Rabbis Without Borders (RWB). This is a very intentionally diverse group of Orthodox (3), Conservative (9), Reform (4), Renewal (3) and a Secular Humanist Rabbi (1).
This 10-year-old initiative comes out of CLAL, the National Center for Learning and Leadership, an inter-disciplinary and inter-denominational Jewish leadership training institute, think tank and resource center.
In preparation for the gathering, we read a number of stimulating articles and an insightful book by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, President of CLAL, called, “You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.” It is a penetrating auto-biographical reflection on the challenge of embracing genuine pluralism in one’s life. You will be hearing about these provocative ideas from the book and the day of study with Rabbi Hirschfield (probably during the High Holy Days) once I have properly digested and integrated them.
It was so stimulating to meet and begin to get to know a particular cross-section of rising stars of the American Jewish Rabbinic world. These colleagues, and hopefully many new friends, are doing a lot of exciting work. They are smart, out of the box thinkers with different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives.
They lead conventional and unconventional congregations, communities and organizations. Some of their profiles include: Rabbi-in-Residence at a modern Orthodox school, Director of Jewish life at a JCC, Deputy Director for the Jewish Welfare Board Jewish Chaplains Council working directly with Jewish military personnel and their families, several college professors, and a rabbi/scientist/therapist who consults for the International Trauma Healing Institute, the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and for Jewish educational initiatives around the world. There were rabbis with a wide range of talents including one young man who is on the verge of becoming a musical star on the national Jewish landscape. There was a courageous rabbi who made national headlines when she and her community in White Fish, Montana were targeted by Neo-Nazis. I had read about her strength and dignity in the face of these ongoing threats and it was very moving to spend time with her and begin a friendship.
It was not all simply engaging study and joyful connections though there was certainly an abundance of each during our intense days of study and discussion. We were living the challenge of our diversity and there was a particular morning prayer that most of the women rabbis experienced as exclusive and off-putting. We had to work through this as well.
We were guided by a very thoughtful, creative, high energy leader of RWB, Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu. She challenged us to show up, to step up, to declare what is the Torah we have to share and who we are sharing it with.
This is a note of thanks to our Beth Chaim community for continuing to support my development as a rabbi through these kinds of encounters and learning opportunities. I have two more face-to-face gatherings with this group during the year as well as webinars and other ongoing engagement and dialogue.
This energized, experiential learning is essential for me as your rabbi and challenges me to stretch myself and continue to grow. I greatly appreciate your support and thank you with a full and loving heart.
And here are some images from the gathering: