October 22, 2019

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Noach with Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein

Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein

Our guest this week is Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, Co-Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut. Rabbi Lichtenstein, son of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, made Aliyah with his family in 1971 from New York. From 1979-1985, he studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion while serving in the IDF Armoured Corps. He received Semicha from the Israeli Rabbinate and a degree in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Rabbi Lichtenstein has been a Ram in Yeshivat Har Etzion since 1992. While on sabbatical in Cleveland during the 97 and 98 academic years, he served as Rosh Kollel of the Torat Tzion Kollel. He also taught at Bruria, an Advanced Program for Women in Jerusalem from 1992-1997. Rabbi Lichtenstein is the author of Moses: Envoy of God, Envoy of His People and Netivei Nevua, an analysis of the haftarot.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32) – features the famous story of Noah’s ark and of the great flood, as well as the story of the Tower of Babel. Our talk focuses on Noah as the resolution of the basic problem of human existence in Nature, a theme that runs like a thread through Parshat Bereshit.


Our past discussions of Parashat Noach:

Rabbi Sarah Hronsky on the powerful notion of one language for all humanity

Rabbi Lucy Diner on Noah’s curious proclivity toward alcohol

Rabbi Mishael Zion on Noah as a precursor to Abraham




Rosner’s Torah Talk: Yom Kippur with Rabbi Arie Folger

Rabbi Arie Folger

Our special guest for this Yom Kippur talk is Rabbi Arie Folger, Chief Rabbi of Vienna. Rabbi Folger was ordained by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, as well as by the Szmigrader Rebbe of Antwerp, Belgium, and he holds an MBA from NYU‘s Stern School of Business. Prior to his current position, he served as the senior rabbi of the Israelitische Gemeinde Basel and of the Israelitische Kulstusgemeinde of Munich and Upper Bavaria. Rabbi Folger is active in several organizations, such as the Conference of European Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany.

In this Yom Kippur discussion, we focus on Rav Kook’s understanding of repentance (Teshuva), an interpretation that is radically different from what most of us are used to.


Our past Yom Kippur talks:

Rabbi Walter Homolka on the relation between Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, on God as a source of forgiveness and on the different mindsets that lead us to atonement

Rabbi David Gelfand on the Kol Nidrei prayer and on the special power of the communal experience this prayer offers for members of Jewish congregations

Rabbi Meir Azari on the Book of Jonah and its relevance to Yom Kippur

Chatima Tova!

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech with Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

Our guest this week is Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, leader of the Anshe Chessed congregation in Manhattan. Rabbi Kalmanofsky was ordained in 1997 by The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow, and joined Anshe Chessed in 2001. He regularly publishes essays on Jewish thought and practice, and he serves on the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) – begins with Moses gathering the people of Israel to enter them into a covenant with God. Moses then warns of the great desolation that will befall them if they stray from the covenant, but he assures them that if they repent God will bring them back together again from the ends of the world. Our discussion focuses on the idea of acknowledging our human imperfection and choosing life.


Our past discussions of Nitzavim Vayelech:

Rabbi Morley Feinstein on the difficulty of doing mitzvoth, repenting and making Jewish choices

Rabbi Marc Margolius on the evolution of Moses as a leader

Rabbi Richard Block on the nature and scope of Israel’s special covenant with God


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Ki Tavo with Rabbi Michael Ragozin

Rabbi Michael Ragozin

Our guest this week is Rabbi Michael Ragozin, leader of the Shirat Hayam congregation in Swampscott, MA. Before coming to Shirat Hayam, Rabbi Ragozin led Congregation Sha’are Shalom in Leesburg, Virginia for six years. Outside of the congregation in VA, he was an active participant in Loudoun Interfaith BRIDGES, a board member of Hillel at George Mason University, and an On-Call Chaplain for Loudoun Hospital. Prior to becoming a rabbi, Rabbi Ragozin was a Teach for America corps member (teaching algebra in Baltimore, Maryland), worked as a technology consultant in Seattle, Washington, and was the Development Manager at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.

This week’s Torah portion — Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) — begins with Moses instructing the people of Israel to bring the first fruit they reap in the holy land to the Holy Temple in gratitude to God. The portion continues to state the laws concerning tithes given to the Levites and to the poor. Moses then gives the children of Israel instructions on the blessings and curses they must say at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (the “Mount of the Blessing” and the “Mount of the Curse”). At the end of the portion, Moses gives lists of good and bad things that will happen to the people of Israel if they follow or stray from the Torah. Our discussion focuses on meaning behind the ritual offerings given by the people of Israel to the community and on what we could learn from this today.


Our past discussions of Ki Tavo:

Rabbi Paul Lewin on the confession of the farmer when he presents the first fruit to the Holy Temple and on the message of historic memory.

Rabbi Serge Lippe on the immigrant experience and professing gratitude

Rabbi Hayim Herring on the order of the curses mentioned in the parasha


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Ki Tetze

Photo by REUTERS/David W Cerny

While we don’t have a new Torah Talk for you today, we have collected all our past talks on Parashat Ki Tetze.

This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) – features a vast number of laws and commandments, including inheritance laws;  judicial procedures and penalties for adultery, rape and husbands who falsely accuse their wives of infidelity; laws concerning credit and debt; rules on the treatment of escaped slaves; and divorce laws. Overall, this week’s portion contains 74 of the Torah’s 613 commandments.

Here is Rabbi Michael Werbow on the command to remember Amalek and on the role of remembrance in the Torah in general:


Here is Rabbi Dovid Gutnick on the command to destroy Amalek and on the idea of vengeance as part of Jewish tradition:


Here is Rabbi Jennifer Krause on treating the mitzvot mentioned in the Parasha as a way of helping us uphold the dignity of all people:


And here is Rabbi Aaron Alexander on the eternal ban of the Ammonites and Moabites from the assembly of the Lord:

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Mattot Massei with Rabbi Elisha Friedman

Rabbi Elisha Friedman

Our Guest this week is Rabbi Elisha Friedman, leader of the Kesher Israel congregation in Harrisburg, PA. Rabbi Friedman, the son of a Rabbi, is a graduate of Yeshiva University’s (YU) Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and is completing a doctorate in Modern Jewish Philosophy at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.

This Week’s Torah portion – Parashat Mattot-Massei (Numbers 30:2-36:13) – begins with Moses presenting the heads of the tribes with rules concerning the annulment of vows. War is waged against Midian and the Torah lists the different spoils Israel took hold of in their victory and describes how they are distributed. The tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Menashe ask Moses for the territory East of the Jordan as their portion of the promised land, and Moses eventually agrees on the condition that they first help conquering the west part West of the Jordan. The boundaries of the Promised Land are stated, and cities of refuge are designated as havens for people who commit inadvertent murder. The portion ends with the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad marrying men of their own tribe (Menashe) in order to keep the estate which they inherited from their father within their own tribe. Our discussion focuses on the curious story of the two and a half tribes.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Pinchas with Rabbi Alexander Davis

Rabbi Alexander Davis

Rabbi Alexander Davis is the senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, MN, where he previously served as the associate rabbi. Rabbi Davis received his B.A. in German Studies from Grinnell College and in 1999 graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary with rabbinic ordination and an M.A. in Jewish Education. Since moving to the Twin Cities, Rabbi Davis has served on a variety of local boards and has participated in national conferences on Judaism and spirituality and synagogue leadership.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) – begins with Pinchas being rewarded for his problematic act of killing the Israelite and his Midianite paramour in the previous portion. A census is then conducted and God tells Moses how to divide the land between the tribes and people of Israel. The five daughters of Tzelafchad ask Moses to grant them the land of their father, who died with no sons, and God accepts their claim and adds it to the Torah’s laws of inheritance. Moses names Joshua as his successor, and the Parasha ends with a detailed list of daily offerings and of offerings brought on different holidays. Our talk focuses on the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua.


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Chukat with Rabbi Alan Green

Rabbi Alan Green

Our guest this week is Rabbi Alan Green of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg, Canada. Rabbi Green received his BA and MA in the History of Religions from UCLA, and studied Rabbinic Literature for three years at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder and Dean of the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal, in 1991. Prior to Shaarey Zedek, Rabbi Green served as spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Emet in Montebello and as spiritual leader of Winnipeg’s Beth Israel Congregation. Rabbi Green has been Senior Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek since the fall of 2000.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) – Features the death of Aaron and Miriam, brother and sister of Moses; the famous story of Moses striking the stone; and Israel’s battles against the Emorite kings Sichon and Og. Our talk focuses on the odd Red Cow decree and on the important role of death in the parasha.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Korach with Rabbi Raysh Weiss

Rabbi Raysh Weiss

Our guest this week is Rabbi Raysh Weiss, spiritual leader of the Shaar Shalom congregation in Halifax, Canada. Rabbi Weiss was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary and served as a rabbinic intern in Brooklyn, Long Island, and Tel Aviv. Rabbi Weiss also founded and helped lead a Jewish spiritual community in Minneapolis during her years as a doctoral student in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Minnesota. In 2001, Rabbi Weiss was a Bronfman Youth Fellow in Israel; in 2006-2007, she was a J. William Fulbright research fellow in Ethnomusicology in Berlin; and, throughout her years in rabbinical school, Rabbi Weiss was a Wexner Graduate Fellow and served on the board of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Rabbi Weiss has contributed numerous essays and articles pertaining to Jewish culture, values, and history, including pieces for www.myjewishlearning.com, www.jewschool.com, Tablet Magazine, and Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews (PBS).

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) – tells the dramatic story of a mutiny incited by Korach against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach is joined by Datan and Aviram as well as by 250 distinguished members of the community who offer incense to prove they are worthy of the priesthood. The earth opens up and swallows the mutineers, and a fire kills the incense offerers. Aaron subsequently stops a plague by offering incense of his own and his staff then brings forth almonds, proving that his designation as high priest is divinely ordained. Our discussion focuses on the purge of Korach’s followers and on Moses and Aaron’s reaction to the episode.



Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Nasso with Rabbi Thomas Gardner

Rabbi Thomas Gardner

Our guest this week is Rabbi Thomas Gardner, leader of the Riverdal Temple in NYC. Rabbi Gardner was ordained in 2008 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. He’s the recipient of the Sarah and Samuel Chernick Memorial Prize in Halakhic Literature and the David G. Sacks Scholarship Prize. Rabbi Gardner also has a M.A.H.L. from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, an M.A. from the University of Michigan and a B.A. from Oberlin College. Prior to the Riverdale Temple, Rabbi Gardner served as the senior rabbi at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for 8 years.
This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Nasso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) – begins with the completion of the head count of the people of Israel. God then gives Moses instructions concerning the purification of the camp, ‘wayward wives’ (wives which are suspected of being unfaithful to her husband) Nezirim (Jewish ascetics who take a vow to devote themselves to God), and the priestly Blessings. Toward the end of the parasha the tabernacle is consecrated and the chieftains of the different tribes bring their offerings. Our discussion focuses on the perplexing Sotah (wayward wive) ritual in an attempt to examine how cultural context affects our reading of the Torah.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Bamidbar with Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Rabbi Amy Bernstein

Our guest this week is Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Senior Rabbi of the Kehillat Israel congregation in Pacific Palisades. An Atlanta native, Rabbi Bernstein has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Cultural Anthropology from Northwestern University, where she also earned a certificate in Women’s Studies. She is also an alumna of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Before coming to KI, Rabbi Bernstein was the rabbi of Temple Israel in Duluth, Minnesota for 14 years. She served two terms as president of the Arrowhead Interfaith Council and six years on the Board of Trustees of the College of St. Scholastica, where she was also on the founding board of the Oreck/Alpern Inter-religious Forum. She was a scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Chautauqua Society and lectured widely throughout the Northland. Outside of her rabbinical work, Rabbi Bernstein performs as a member of Three Altos, a vocal trio.

This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20) – is the first portion read from the book of Numbers. The Parasha tells us about an elaborate census of the tribes of Israel conducted by Moses in the desert and continues to discuss the priests’ ceremonial duties. Our discussion focuses on the meaning behind the counting of the people of Israel and on their long, gruelling transformation from slaves to a nation of priests.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim with Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky

Our guest this week is Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, leader of the B’nai David-Judea congregation in LA. Rabbi Kanefsky was ordained in 1989 at Yeshiva University, where he also received a master’s degree in Jewish History. He began his rabbinic career in 1990 as the associate rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York, where he worked under the tutelage of spiritual activist Rabbi Avi Weiss. He came to B’nai David-Judea Congregation in the summer of 1996. He is a past president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, which he helped found. He is a teaching fellow for the Wexner Heritage Foundation.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27) – describes the Tabernacle ceremony of the Day of Atonement, establishes general rules for sacrifice and sanctuary, and lays down specific laws about sexual relationships. Our conversation focuses on the role of holiness, justice, and mutual trust in communal life.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Tazria-Metzora with Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

Our guest this week is Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Rabbi Aaron received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater from Emerson College in 1983. He later attended Hebrew Union College, where he received a Master’s Degree in Jewish Education in 1993, and a Master’s Degree in Hebrew Letters in 1994, and was ordained as a Rabbi in 1996. Since ordination, Rabbi Aaron has served Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills in several roles; first as an Assistant, then Associate Rabbi, and now as Co-Senior Rabbi. He has also been Director of Education, and served as the Head of Temple Emanuel Academy Day School for almost a decade. Rabbi Aaron serves as a sworn-in Police Chaplain in the Beverly Hills Police Department, and is on the Board of Directors at The Maple Counseling Center in Beverly Hills. He also has been a visiting professor at Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, where he has taught speech to second-year rabbinical students for more than 10 years.

This week’s double parashah – Parashat Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33) – features rules concerning the purity and impurity of women and the horrible disease of leprosy. Our discussion focuses on the priests’ curious attitude toward people inflicted with skin disease.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Shemini with Rabbi Daniel Fellman

Rabbi Daniel Fellman

Our guest this week is Rabbi Daniel Fellman, leader of Temple Concord in Syracuse, NY. Rabbi Fellman formerly served as Assistant and Associate Rabbi at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ. He graduated from Colorado College with a degree in political science in 1996 and the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion with a master’s degree in Hebrew Letters in 2004 and was ordained in 2005. He was selected for Forty Under Forty in Syracuse in 2011. He currently serves on the Board of Interfaith Works and on the City/County Human Rights Commission. He also serves on the board of the Jewish Federation, the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Central New York, and the University Hill Corporation. He served as a White House intern in the Clinton administration and was a Japan-US Senate Scholar.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Shmini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47) – tells us about God’s acceptance of Aaron’s offering, the deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Aviu, and regulations concerning clean and unclean animals. Our discussion focuses on the themes of grief, silence, and holiness in the parasha.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Tsav

As we don’t have a new talk this week, we will be revisiting a couple of our past discussions. This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) – features instructions given to the priests concerning sacrifices, the holy fire and the rites of ordination.

Here is Rabbi Joshua Rose on the character of Aaron and on the question of why he received the role of Cohen Gadol (Head Priest) even after his involvement in the Golden Calf affair:

And here is Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt on repetition, ritual and holiness:

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Vayikra with Rabbi Shaanan Gelman

Rabbi Shaanan Gelman

Our guest this wek is Rabbi Shaanan Gelman, leader of Kehilat Chovevei Tzion in Skokie, Illinois. Rabbi Gelman was born in Buffalo, NY and grew up in the Bronx. He earned a B.S. in Computer Science at Yeshiva College and Semicha from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Theological Seminary. He spent three years studying in Israel, two at Yeshivat Hakotel and later on at the Gruss Institute in Bayit Vegan. He was a Kollel Fellow in the Boca Raton Community Kollel, where he served as spiritual leader of the Explanatory Service as well as held the Gimmelstob chair in Education at the local Jewish Federation.  Rabbi Gelman is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and serves on the executive board. He is an active member of the Chicago Rabbinical Council as well as serving on the board of the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago. Rabbi Gelman is a fervent Zionist and is active in AIPAC.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Vayikra (Leviticus 1:1-5:26) – is the first portion of the book of Leviticus. The portion introduces the sacrificial service and describes five different kinds of sacrifice. Our discussion focuses on the Moses and Aaron relationship and on sibling relationships in the Bible.


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei with Rabbi Tom Heyn

Rabbi Tom Heyn

Our guest this week is Rabbi Tom Heyn, leader of Temple Israel of the Greater Miami. Raised in a secular Jewish family in Baltimore, Rabbi Heyn underwent several transformative spiritual experiences before returning to and embracing his Jewish roots. He earned his BA in History and Hebrew Studies from the University of Wisconsin and his MA and Rabbinic Ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He also completed his clinical education and training in pastoral care (CPE) through leading institutions such as Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Rabbi Heyn has served both urban and rural communities (most recently in Brattleboro, Vermont) as a congregational rabbi, Jewish educator, hospice chaplain, professional musician and spiritual guide.

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei – (Exodus 35:1-40:38) – begins with Moses commanding the people of Israel to observe the Shabbat and continues to tell us in great detail about the building of the Tabernacle. Pekudei, the last reading from Exodus begins with an audit of how the contributions for the Tabernacle (the Mishkan) were used. The portion goes on to describe the completion of the Tabernacle and its assembly and concludes by depicting the glory of the lord entering it. Our discussion focuses on the similarities and differences between the Mishkan and the temples of today.

The Leading Congregations exchange, part 3: ‘Today, a congregation with a bland mission is at risk of going out of business’

Rabbi Hayim Herring is an author, consultant and nonprofit organizational futurist. Rabbi Herring has worked with over 300 rabbis and congregations of all sizes and denominations throughout North America on issues including assessment, volunteer leadership development, strategic planning, organizational foresight and innovation. He has served as a senior rabbi of a congregation, assistant director of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, and has published dozens of scholarly articles on the American Jewish community. Rabbi Herring holds degrees from Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he was ordained, and a doctorate in Organization and Management from Capella University’s School of Business.

This exchange focuses on Rabbi Herring’s new book, Leading Congregations in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purposes (co-written with Dr. Teri Elton). Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.


Dear Rabbi Herring,

Near the end of your last answer, you wanted some clarifications about what I meant when I asked you if thinking in marketing terms doesn’t hurt the purity of the tradition.

Now, of course I didn’t mean that all modern synagogues should strive to promote a “Haredi sect” vision of Judaism (if I believed that, I would never have hosted you and dozens of other progressive rabbis in my Torah talks)… What I was referring to is the idea that, for many people, the notion of treating faith and religion as a product, as something that needs to be “marketed” or “rebranded,” can be quite off-putting. I assume most people would like their shul to be a place free from everyday corporate lingo and wouldn’t like to imagine their Rabbi as having marketing in mind when he or she preaches from the pulpit, supports community members in times of need, or advances communal initiatives.

For my third-round question I’d like to ask you to elaborate some more on the idea of mission. In your previous answer you stated that: “people’s lives are so cluttered with excellent opportunities for programs, entertainment and socially valuable causes that unless a congregation or nonprofit has a mission that is so clear and so compelling that can cut through the clutter, marketing efforts are questionable.”

Now, your book tries to address issues facing both congregations and nonprofits. But while in the case of nonprofits the need to state a mission and set goals is understandable, what does having “a clear and compelling” mission mean in the context of a synagogue? What kind of missions can synagogues have besides just being a place of worship, Jewish learning, and community life (as in the days of yore)?

Thank you again for participating in this exchange.




Dear Shmuel,

Thanks for pushing the discussion about congregations and nonprofits with increasingly difficult questions. Following up on our debate about “marketing,” you clarify: “I assume most people would like their shul to be a place free from everyday corporate lingo and wouldn’t like to imagine their Rabbi as having marketing in mind when he or she preaches from the pulpit, supports community members in times of need, or advances communal initiatives.”

True-and that’s a great segue into today’s question: “What does having a clear and compelling’ mission mean in the context of a synagogue? What kind of missions can synagogues have besides just being a place of worship, Jewish learning, and community life (as in the days of yore)?”

Spoiler alert: a congregation with a bland mission in today’s hyper-connected world of unlimited choice is at risk of going out of business. But congregations with differentiated, focused and compelling missions, that allow people to express and explore themselves Jewishly within those missions, have a better chance of thriving.

“Marketing” and “mission” are dual engines of congregational and nonprofit vibrancy. Marketing is about building relationships with people for whom you care based on causes which you share. That means that leaders of congregations and nonprofits have to define what their primary purposes are. As you suggest, the broad mission of every congregation is to engage its community in “Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Chasadim” (Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness expressed by and for members of the community). Not too long ago, most congregational mission statements were indistinguishable from one another. A typical mission statement might have read: Synagogue XXXX is a welcoming congregation devoted to creating a sacred community expressed through study of Torah, worship and acts of kindness.

That typical 20th Century mission above reflects hierarchical organizations. The missional proposition was, “join our community and here is what we, the more involved/elite group of insiders, pledge to provide to those of you who are not nearly as informed.” But when individuals sought deeper involvement, they often found a disconnect between what these standard missions professed and how they were actually expressed. There was Torah study – but it wasn’t not particularly challenging or inspiring. There was prayer – but the words of the book/siddur didn’t speak to their hearts. And these places that claimed to be “welcoming” didn’t always seem to behave that way. Congregations still work for some, but if you look at their increasing financial and membership pressures, they aren’t working for many.

Adapting the thinking of, Peter Drucker, a founder of modern nonprofit management, we suggest that the mission of a congregation or nonprofit is measured in:

– Changed Jewish lives.

– Changed Jewish communities.

– A changed world.

That’s why mission is critical and some congregations are really beginning to differentiate themselves with a focus on mission. These congregations and nonprofits are making hard choices. They have accepted the reality that trying to be all things to all people and do everything well guarantees mediocrity. Using their missions as filters, they decide where they want to focus their talent, time and funds to have the greatest likely impact on changing lives and communities, pursue those several goals with relentless excellence, and collaborate with other organizations in areas where they decide to place fewer resources so that members and potential joiners can have their other Jewish needs met through congregational partnerships.

A few examples of parts of contemporary mission statements (and I’m using both Jewish and Protestant examples from my book, as Protestants are also recognizing the need to focus less on programs, and more on purpose or mission):

Lab/Shul: Welcome to Lab/Shul, an artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional, pop up, experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC and reaching the world.

Jacob’s Well Church (Minneapolis): If church is boring, something’s broken. Instead of being a once a week obligation, we want our time together to awaken who you are – you know, your real selves. Honest, thinking, relevant and casual gatherings impact the lives we live.

Romemu (New York City): Romemu seeks to integrate body, mind, and soul in Jewish practice. Unabashedly eclectic, we engage in body practices like yoga, infuse traditional liturgy with the energy of ecstatic chant, and ground our practice with meditation and contemplation. This is a Judaism that will ignite your Spirit…

GPS Faith Community (Machesney Park, IL): (Our mission is) Finding direction by loving God and serving others. We do this by joining together for worship and fellowship and then going out into our lives and into the community to love and serve others.

These mission statements:

– Invite an individual’s involvement on personal and not institutional terms, and also make their institutional parameters and expectations clear.

– Point individuals toward becoming part of a community of greater impact.

– Assume that most of a person’s time is spent outside of the walls or websites of the congregations, and that one must live out the mission even when not in services.

A Talmudic legal principle, “if you grasp too much, you wind up holding nothing,” applies to congregational and nonprofit missions. For many reasons, it’s not possible for congregations to excel at everything, although members have that expectation. My advice based on what we have learned: better to go deep in a few areas of Jewish life and build partnerships with others who can provide excellence in others.

When that happens, I think that you’ll find more people participating in congregational and Jewish nonprofit life because their individual and communal experiences will provide them with personal, enduring and powerful purpose as they live out their communities’ missions. I know that you have much to write about, but hope that others will be stimulated to purchase Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World. Platforms, People and Purpose and delve further into your provocative questions!

Thank you,


Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Tetzaveh with Rabbi Peter Stein

Rabbi Peter Stein

Our guest this week is Rabbi Peter Stein, leader of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY. Rabbi Stein was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, studying in New York City and Jerusalem. His undergraduate studies were at Cornell University, and he also completed the Jewish Leaders Program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Prior to B’rith Kodesh, Rabbi Stein served as rabbi of Temple Sinai in Cranston, RI and as associate rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA. Rabbi Stein is an alumnus of the Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship of CLAL and the Brickner Fellowship of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

This week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10) – continues giving us the instructions concerning the tabernacle, focusing on the role of the priesthood. Our discussion focuses on the perpetual light as a symbol of hope and responsibility.



Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Yitro with Rabbi Ari Weiss

Rabbi Ari Weiss

Our guest this week is Rabbi Ari Weiss of Cornell Hillel at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Rabbi Weiss received his rabbinical ordination from YCT Rabbinical School. He has studied philosophy and Jewish studies at graduate schools in New York and Jerusalem and received his B.A. from Yeshiva College, where he studied Philosophy and Religion. Rabbi Weiss recently served as the Interim Managing Director and Senior Director of Jewish Education at NEXT: A Division of the Birthright Israel Foundation. Prior to joining NEXT, Ari was the Executive Director of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, and grew it to engage tens of thousands of people in 15 cities.

This week’s Torah portion – Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23) – begins with the advice given by Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, to the people of Israel, and continues to tell us about the gathering of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai and about the giving of the Ten Commandments. Our discussion tries to find out how many commandments there really are in the Ten Commandments.

So you’ve decided to become a rabbi…

Dear Friend,

I understand you’re thinking of becoming a rabbi. Mazel tov!

Getting into a seminary shouldn’t be too hard. During the decade between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, four consequential new rabbinical schools opened in America: the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in Riverdale, N.Y.; the Conservative movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles; and two nondenominational seminaries, at Hebrew College near Boston and at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles.

Ironically, these schools are now competing for fewer students.

Between Hebrew College and the six schools affiliated with the non-Orthodox denominations, the number of incoming students has fallen by 28 percent over the last decade, according to Rabbi Amber Powers, who tracks the data as assistant vice president for enrollment at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. In 2004, those schools enrolled 118 new rabbinical students. In 2013, there were just 84.

Even if you don’t make the cut this year, don’t fret: Admissions staff at most schools will work with you to find programs to enhance your Hebrew or Jewish literacy so you can get in next time.

“I would like to oversupply the Reform movement with rabbis — to meet the needs of congregations but also to have other folks who have graduated and can do other things,” says Rabbi Aaron Panken, the new president of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which has three campuses and accepts about 60 percent of rabbinical program applicants.

Worried you won’t find a school near you? It’s true the only U.S. cities with accredited rabbinical schools are New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and Cincinnati. But now you can become a rabbi online! Aleph, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, offers a five-year distance-learning program.

If what you really seek is the title, you can become a “rabbi” in just two semesters at the online Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute. Or there’s Rabbinical Seminary International, run out of a Manhattan apartment and with graduation requirements consisting of the ability to conduct services that “include Hebrew” and “familiarity with the Bible, including the main themes of the Torah.”

But let’s get serious. If you’re looking for an accredited, brick-and-mortar institution, you will need to make a four- or five-year commitment, often including a year in Israel, depending on the school.

Do you have cash? The Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which is ordaining 14 rabbis this year, costs about $28,000 per year; the movement’s Ziegler school in L.A. (17 rabbis this year) costs $26,500. Hebrew College (14 rabbis) is $25,000. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside of Philadelphia (six rabbis) is $21,000. HUC (35 rabbis) is about $20,000. Financial aid and student loans are common.

If you’re Orthodox, you can breathe a little easier. Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (graduating two rabbis this spring) has no tuition and offers students a “generous stipend” for living expenses. Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, which ordains about 50 rabbis per year, also is free.

“We’ve had a 100-year tradition of not charging for rabbinical school,” said Rabbi Menachem Penner, the acting dean of RIETS. “It’s Y.U.’s gift to the community.”

Of course, attending an Orthodox school comes with its own burdens — like commitment to upholding ideological principles. (RIETS, for example, recently made clear that it would not countenance its students participating in partnership minyans.) Other schools have their own ideological commitments. JTS stresses egalitarian Jewish observance, with both men and women required to lay tefillin every day. (If you’re an Orthodox woman, your only ordination option is Yeshivat Maharat, the New York school founded in 2009 that ordains Orthodox clergywomen.)

The Reconstructionist movement’s seminary is less specific in its demands.

“Our requirements include deep immersion in Jewish modalities,” says Rabbi Deborah Waxman, RRC’s president. “We don’t mandate what Jewish immersion looks like.”

Before you go any further, you may want to give a thought to the rabbinic job marketplace. The best-paying jobs are pulpit positions, but those jobs, while still the single-biggest destination for graduates, are hard to get. Outside Orthodoxy, the number of synagogues is shrinking, thanks to the lingering effects of the recession, disinterest in organized religion among younger Jews and dwindling Jewish populations in small cities and towns. Some synagogues are merging; others are shutting down.

“There’s no jobs for these kids,” says Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who teaches rabbinics at Ziegler and serves as senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif. “When I was growing up they told us this was a great field, a burgeoning market. Now it’s shutting down.”

Rabbi Elliot Schoenberg, international placement director at the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, says about 100 Conservative rabbis in North America are seeking employment right now — including the 31 graduating JTS and Ziegler this year — but only 50-60 synagogue jobs are available.

By contrast, about 80 percent of Reform rabbis ordained by HUC find congregational work, according to HUC’s president.

In the Orthodox world, most of the pulpit openings are “out of town” — that is, outside metropolitan New York. Y.U. says only 25 percent of its newly minted rabbis these days find work in congregations, though 80 percent are involved in some kind of religious or Jewish communal work. The remaining 20 percent go to secular trades — like accounting, law and medicine.

If you do score a pulpit gig, don’t expect an easy ride. Many shuls can afford only part-time rabbis, so you may have to take a second or third job working as a schoolteacher or hospital chaplain. In small Reform congregations, you might serve as cantor, too. (I hope you can play guitar!)

It’s helpful to be young, and not just because you’ll be working weekends. With synagogues desperate to attract the under-40 set, many congregations eschew hiring older rabbis.

“Age discrimination starts earlier than it ever has before,” Schoenberg says. “The assumption is, if I hire someone who’s 30, all those who are 30 and live in the neighborhood will come to the synagogue. But it might very well be that what a synagogue needs is a rabbi who is a good educator, and a good educator might be 45 years old.”

You’re open to a job outside the pulpit? Terrific, because by choice or compulsion, more rabbis than ever are working in day schools, on college campuses, as hospital and military chaplains, in Jewish organizations, even at Jewish community centers. The bad news is job growth in those areas has stalled. Blame the Great Recession.

Now, let’s talk about why you want to be a rabbi. Is it the pursuit of scholarship? If so, you might not get what being a rabbi is all about: Most American rabbinical schools are placing more emphasis on leadership and professional training, not just Talmud and Torah study.

“A rabbi is not just a religious leader, but CEO of the synagogue,” says Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, Y.U.’s director of rabbinic placement.

“So much of their job is working with people, being available to people, responding to people,” says Rabbi Dan Judson, director of professional development and placement at Hebrew College. “It’s not necessarily about the best piece of Torah learning they can come up with.”

At JTS, half of the program’s final three years is devoted to professional and pastoral skills, including communications and nonprofit management. You’ll also have to get a master’s degree.

Wherever you go, expect to intern — and not just at synagogues.

“Over the last 20 years, the movement has been toward field education,” says Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at JTS. “That’s more time out in the community, whether doing critical pastoral education in hospitals or internships in synagogues and schools and camps and agencies.”

I don’t want to sound like your dad, but have you thought about your long-term future? Rabbinic tenure has fallen by the wayside, making rabbi jobs far less secure than in the past, according to Jonathan Sarna, a historian of American Judaism at Brandeis University.

Still want to be a rabbi? Fantastic! It’s really a calling, isn’t it?

That’s how Sam Taylor feels.

“Early on in college I discovered I have a love of teaching, of people, of Judaism and Torah. I don’t think I’d be satisfied with accounting,” says Taylor, who will be graduating Y.U.’s rabbinical program this June.

Was Taylor nervous about finding a job? You bet. That’s why he did rabbinic internships, summer programs and fellowships. It paid off: He’s accepted a position in his native London, as an assistant rabbi at Western Marble Arch Synagogue.

“A lot of it is you just got to have faith in the hand of God,” Taylor says. “Faith counts for a lot.”

Danish, Swedish Jews hold first joint Limmud conference

About 160 Swedes and Danes attended the first inter-Scandinavian Limmud Jewish learning event.

The March 11 event was held at an adult education center in Lund, a Swedish city situated 23 miles north of Copenhagen.

“Last year we held the first Lund Limmud and this is the first time that the event has gone international,” said the event’s co-organizer, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian.

“Many Swedes can understand Danish and visa versa, but to completely eliminate the language barrier each time bloc included at least one session in Danish or English,” said Lillian, an American Reconstructionist rabbi who immigrated to Malmo from Chicago two years ago.

The event was promoted on social media in Swedish, Danish and English. The 2014 Oresunds Limmud will be held at a bigger venue, Lillian said.

She added the majority of participants were Swedish but a few dozen Danes also came, including former Danish chief rabbi Bent Melchior. In his address, he encouraged Jewish communities to embrace families with only one Jewish spouse.

Reimagining religious school

From my first interview at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) in 2009, when the search committee declared, “We want revolution, not evolution!” to the visioning work I do with families today, my purpose at the congregation has been clear: to help families build deeper relationships to Jewish community, Jewish living and Jewish learning.

When I came to TIOH, the community was well under way in its work to redefine what religious school could mean. Parents were calling for the usual changes: more flexibility in scheduling, more options, more opportunities for deeper meaning and more chances for parental involvement and connection with other families. Essentially, the congregation was looking for a way to redefine supplemental Jewish education — one that would move Jewish learning past the merely supplemental and reconceive it as central. In 2010, guided by the Experiment in Congregational Education’s RE-IMAGINE Project, TIOH’s Shabbaton program was created. 

Shabbaton is a family program for third- to sixth-graders and their parents that meets on Shabbat afternoons. The program includes opportunities for students and parents to learn together and separately. As Shabbaton parent Peter Marcus states, “Shabbaton has opened a door for many, offering some the opportunity to learn aspects of Judaism for the first time, and others the opportunity to explore more deeply Jewish traditions within a strong community of friends and family.”

As parent Jonny Mars explains, “What was compelling about the Shabbaton program was that there was a connection to sacred time.” Indeed, each gathering begins with Kiddush, Motzi (blessings over grape juice and challah) and Shabbat singing, and ends with Havdalah (a ritual that separates Shabbat from the beginning of the new week). 

Each year, the program has a different curricular focus, with each age group studying the same theme each day. This year’s focus on middot (Jewish virtues) has introduced learners to new bodies of Jewish text and tradition, including mussar literature.

We seek to make Shabbaton as multigenerational as possible, by welcoming kindergarten to second-grade siblings to participate in their own parallel learning program and by employing seven teenagers to work as madrichim (high school aides) in the classrooms. Additionally, third- to sixth-graders in the program learn Hebrew in small groups (three to five students per group) during the week, meeting in participants’ homes or at the synagogue. 

“Revolutionary” might not be the best word to describe the program; it’s modeled on other family education endeavors that exist throughout Los Angeles and the country. But Shabbaton has certainly been revolutionary for our congregation, deeply affecting the lives of the 50-plus families who have participated in it each year for the last three years. As parent Dorrie LaMarr says, “Shabbaton has become a part of our family culture, fostering a deeper connection to Judaism and the Temple Israel community.” 

We engage in a formal reflection process at the end of each year. The results of last year’s feedback not only instructed us on how to improve our program, but also highlighted some of the success points we had hoped to achieve. Parents wanted more contact with Shabbaton learning at home and throughout the week, more leadership opportunities within the program, and new ways to connect with each other. 

A few innovations that came out of these parents’ requests are: We now send text messages to Shabbaton participants throughout the week, offering questions for reflection or prompts for family conversations. We have split participants into chavurah groups of seven to eight families and asked parents to lead conversations within their groups. Parents will even plan one Shabbaton session for their chavurah group, working together to design their own learning experiences.

In addition to the impact Shabbaton has had on participants’ lives, it has produced a number of significant results for the congregation.

Parent participants have been inspired to engage in further Jewish learning and leadership. Six parent participants have elected to become adult b’nai mitzvah, one parent has enrolled in the Florence Melton Adult Mini School, and another non-Jewish parent is studying for conversion. Program parents participate in weekly Torah study, attend the synagogue’s men’s retreat and its women’s retreat, and offer teachings at congregational holiday celebrations and services. Five Shabbaton parents now sit on the temple’s Board of Trustees.

Shabbaton families have gathered in each other’s homes for Shabbat meals, they have organized dinners, celebrated together, cared for each other during times of grief and illness, arranged play dates and regularly attend congregational Shabbat services together.

Once we created Shabbaton with a clearly articulated mission of family education, we were able to reimagine the traditional religious school, as well. Family education in our traditional program is now focused on helping families bring Jewish rituals and experiences into their homes and incorporates an off-site learning day into each grade.

With Shabbaton’s third year now in session, one outcome is certain. Shabbaton is in no way supplemental Jewish learning. For its participants, it is quickly becoming a way of Jewish living. And for our congregation, it is nothing short of a blessing.

Rabbi Jocee Hudson is rabbi educator at Temple Israel of Hollywood (tioh.org), a Reform congregation.

LimmudLA honors founders

LimmudLA honored its founders, Linda Fife and Shep Rosenman, in an evening of dinner, music and study on Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens.

LimmudLA is the local outlet of an international model of interdisciplinary, interdenominational, no-boundaries Jewish conferences and events. Founded in the United Kingdom more than 30 years ago, Limmud now conducts 60 conferences in 30 countries, all of them almost entirely run by volunteers.

Fife and Rosenman conceived of bringing Limmud to Los Angeles about seven years ago, after they participated in a Limmud conference in New York. They rallied volunteers and funders and five years ago held the first conference in Southern California over Presidents’ Day weekend, with close to 700 participants converging at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa. The conferences have continued there each February since then.

In 2013, however, LimmudLA plans to forgo its annual marquis conference, instead holding smaller, local events ranging from cultural to academic to family-oriented.

“We’re trying to be localized and organic to the communities where we’re doing different events,” said Yechiel Hoffman, executive director of LimmudLA, the only paid staff member. “Rather than taking people out to Orange County for an event, this gives us a way of being able to provide different options and different access points where people are.”

More than 400 volunteers have stepped up for LimmudLA since its inception. Hoffman said about 120 people are currently active volunteers. LimmudLA plans to hold a multi-day event next summer and is aiming to put on the full conference again in the winter of 2014. 

About 175 people came to honor Fife and Rosenman at what was LimmudLA’s first gala fundraiser. The organization met its goal of raising $75,000. 

The event featured music, text study and an examination of Jewish narrative. Rather than a plaque, Rosenman and Fife each received the newly published Koren Talmud, Tractate Brachot, and rather than a traditional acceptance speech, they staged a musical collaboration that had the audience responding to Rosenman’s “oom-pa-pas” and “ba-da-das.” Fife said it was, like LimmudLA, an example of volunteers stepping out of their comfort zones to produce something meaningful.

Jewry’s Myopic Plan

The call for “Jewish continuity” sounded by American Jewish communal leaders more than a decade ago as an antidote to rising intermarriage rates and other signs of weakening identity has spawned a veritable industry aimed at making American Jews more Jewish. There has been an ever-more impressive array of endeavors to promote day schools, send kids to Israel, transform synagogues and bolster adult Jewish learning, to name just a few.

No one has ever doubted the formidable organizational prowess of American Jewry. But it would be too bad if the lesson we take from this decade of effort is reduced to the simple formula of the more Jewish exposure and experience, the merrier.

From here it’s far too easy to fall into an all-or-nothing mode about the future of Jewish life. Doing more — that is seeking to deepen and enrich the Jewish experience of American Jews — threatens to devolve into a message to do only Jewish, as if this were truly a communal goal of American Jews. This would be a great danger for an American Jewish community that dearly needs to find an animating vision for the 21st century.

It’s amazing how myopic things have gotten. The trends that get routinely tracked about American Jewish life — about volunteering and charitable giving, choices about schooling, the long list of religious behaviors and cultural practices — tell only part of the story. They are used to signal a person’s Jewish commitments, but if used exclusively, they end up being insular.

Is it really a communal goal to have “all Jewish friends,” as news reports about the correlates of strong Jewish identity typically imply? While this may be one feature of living in an environment where Jewishness is taken seriously, the religion of your friends says nothing about the values and beliefs you hold dear. A person can just as easily go shopping or chill out in front of the television with one’s Jewish buddies as with non-Jewish pals.

The overly simplified approach to counting the Jewish blessings threatens to dumb down the profound challenges of being Jewish in America. What we need most is a picture of how people connect the multiple aspects of themselves — being a Jew, being an American, being a human being. Our ideal should be to create a community that is particular without being parochial.

In their quest to strengthen the identity of American Jewry, communal leaders would do well to study what visual artists call negative space. In painting or drawing, the space around the object is just as important as the object itself. A good artist strives for a balance between the positive space, the object and the negative space around it, the background. The art is in the interplay between the two, rather than in over-attending to one aspect over the other.

There are two orientations about Jewish identity today in America: The rejectionist, zero-sum view that either you reject America in order to remain exclusively Jewish or else you disappear into America through assimilation, and the view that these two aspects of identity can be truly integrated together.

The zero-sum view of identity, which forces American Jews to choose between religious life and partaking more broadly of the world, is exemplified today by charedim on one end of the spectrum and the completely assimilated on the other. The integrated view of identity, by contrast, is shared by a wider spectrum of American Jews who are engaged as both Jews and Americans — and who might even see the two aspects as enhancing each other. At the very least, they see them as compatible.

Such is the case with a jaunty, baseball-loving rabbi I know, who explains his penchant for tuning into televised games on Shabbat, while otherwise shunning the tube on the seventh day, with the following logic: “There are nine months of the year for God and three for baseball!”

The question before us is what does the rabbi’s adjustment of his Shabbat observance during the baseball season reveal about the challenges of being Jewish in America?

No doubt some communal arbiters will express outrage at the tradeoff, finding scandalous the idea that a rabbi allows baseball to trump his normally television-free Shabbat observance. They will deem him to be inconsistent and will impugn his motives, arguing that he is being religious merely when it’s convenient.

But they would, unfortunately, be offering too myopic a reading of the rabbi’s story, one that assumes being a good Jew is a bit like maintaining an all-Jewish, all-of-the-time way of life. Consider what this story shows about the person as a whole. There are two essential parts of his being: his Jewish religious self and his passionate identity as a Red Sox fan — that ever-suffering baseball team being more aligned to the Jewish soul than any other.

His Red Sox allegiance goes far in explaining his acute need to tune in live and in color. He doesn’t forego Shabbat in the summer months; rather, he splices these into a single whole and avoids a life broadcast on two different channels.

Perhaps he even says a regular blessing for his team and his tribe.

Bethamie Horowitz, a social psychologist, is research director for the Mandel Foundation. Copyright 2004 (c) The Forward

Ramah’s Happy,

During that first weekend, we found nourishmentfor all parts of our Jewish psyches. Religious services weretraditional but encouraged participation: I had my first-ever aliyahthere. The camp’s weekend scholar-in-residence gave us grown-upsserious food for thought. The children had their own programs, but weall came together for a wild and wacky Saturday-night carnival and aSunday Maccabiah in which points were awarded for ruach (a favoriteRamah word, meaning “spirit”) as well as for athletic skill. And, ofcourse, some lazy hours were reserved for swimming, snoozing andschmoozing. After all this, it was hard to go home.

Some folks never do quite go home again. Checkingout Ramah’s flourishing summer-camp program recently, I was impressedby how many families have made the camp a permanent part of theirlives. Campers grow up to be staff members; eventually, they bringtheir own children with them to camp, and the cycle begins anew.Thus, the notion of a summer committed to living Judaism passes fromgeneration to generation.

There are actually seven Camp Ramahs scatteredthroughout North America, all of them affiliated with theConservative movement. The oldest Ramah, in Wisconsin, has justcelebrated its 50th anniversary. California’s Ramah, now in its 41styear, has become so popular that, by December, most of itssummer-camp slots are filled.

The 520 campers attending each session are servedby 225 full-time staff members, many of whom are professionaleducators. What makes Ramah unique among summer camps is its seriouscommitment to Jewish learning for everyone. This means that allcampers spend an hour a day in study sessions, grappling with suchmeaty topics as Jewish heroes and peace. Older campers delve intosacred texts and improve their Hebrew-language skills. (Thanks to therise of day schools, a growing number of campers, in all age groups,can handle the curriculum entirely in Hebrew.)

But learning doesn’t cease when you stop being acamper. Teens coming onto the counseling staff via the mador program(for high school seniors) spend 10 to 12 hours per week in class,studying both Judaica and interpersonal skills. And all otherstaffers engage in ongoing learning on a weekly basis.

Elon Sunshine, a rabbinical student who heads themador program, explains that “camp isn’t only about the camper butabout the personal and Jewish development of staff on all levels.” Hefurthers his own education by studying Torah with the residentscholars every Shabbat afternoon.

Camp Director Brian Greene is a rarity in that hedidn’t grow up at Ramah. But he introduced me to many staffers whodid. A prime example is Jeremy Rosenthal, a senior at UC Berkeley.His parents met at Camp Ramah, and his mother, Wendy, has been onstaff each summer for as long as he can remember. He himself became acamper in 1985 and has stayed with it ever since, following the Ramahteen’s usual path of spending one summer at a Ramah program in Israeland then returning the following year to take up a junior staffposition.

Now, at 21, Rosenthal is a counselor in Ramah’sspecial Tikvah program, which allows developmentally disabled Jewishyoungsters to know the fun of sleep-away camp. He’s already wonderingwhat assignment he’ll draw in summer 1998.

Rabbi Ron Shulman and his wife, Robin, are membersin good standing of the “I met my spouse at Ramah” club. In the1970s, as young Ramah counselors, they fell in love. For the lastseven summers, during Shulman’s vacation from Congregation Ner Tamidof Palos Verdes, they have returned to the site of their courtshipwith their two daughters in tow. Robin works as a counselor/trainer,while Ron is officially known as a rabbi-in-residence, whose functionis to teach older campers and staff.

But at Ramah, no one stands on ceremony. Shulmanspeaks of his family’s annual month at camp as “the only time we getto live in an integrated Jewish community without pretense or title.”He insists that he would be happy participating in any capacity: “Ican sort mail, clean up the kitchen….” If this sounds far-fetched,consider that one of the rabbis on staff has the job of driving andservicing the camp bus.

Over lunch, I met a young man in a suede kippahand tie-dyed T-shirt. This was unit head David Stein, a Ramahnik forthe past 17 years. David and his sister, Emily, now a Ramahcounselor, are originally from Orange County. As kids, they wouldreturn from camp each summer with new Jewish ideas to contribute tothe Stein household. First, David talked his mother into lightingShabbat candles. Then, because he had made a havdalah candle at camp,the havdalah ritual became part of the family’s routine. And in his13th year, he taught his father to put on tefillin. Now his parents,too, consider themselves part of the Ramah family.

It was when Stein joined the counseling staff thathe became truly religious. Inspired by Ramah spiritual mentors whotaught him to see even a baseball game as a Torah experience, hedecided to enter rabbinical school. He now has a mission: to show hiscampers how they, too, can take Judaism home from Camp Ramah and makeit part of their world year-round.

Beverly Gray writes about education from SantaMonica.

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