I spent the last week with 5,000 other Reform Jews in San Diego, attending the Biennial Convention of the Union for Reform Judaism. As always, it was an amazing experience to join fellow professional and lay leaders of our movement in inspiring learning, thoughtful dialogue, joyful song and meaningful worship.
In many ways, this was the “Ron Wolfson Biennial” with his presence at numerous seminars and learning sessions and an overwhelming focus on the theme of his latest book, Relational Judaism. Last spring, I had the opportunity to hear Ron speak and to read his work. I was so inspired that Relational Judaism was the centerpiece of my Rosh Hashanah sermon, I bought copies for every member of my executive board and it is at the heart of a number of my synagogue initiatives this year.
In essence, Relational Judaism teaches that meaningful, compelling Jewish life is all about relationships and the community that emerges from them. It is a lesson that was made very real by the unexpected journey home from San Diego. It was a journey defined by two very different funerals for loved ones of dear friends who are also Rabbinic colleagues.
Though one was for a child whose life was cut short, while the other was for a retired adult who left behind a life of accomplishment, they shared in the outpouring of love and care from our rabbinic family. In each case interconnected rabbis came from far and near to support their colleagues in their times of grief. Others, who could not be present in person, reached out through Facebook and Twitter, phone calls, texts, and e-mails. We came together in love and care to offer our support, prayers and presence. We came to console the bereaved and offer comfort to each other as we absorbed the pain of those who have become an important part of our lives.
If, as Wolfson teaches, Judaism is all about relationships, then over the past few days our family of colleagues has been a model of that ideal. Looking back on these two moments of grief, I am proud to be part of such a caring cadre, to have been able to bring some small measure of comfort to those for whom I care deeply, and to have been able to support my friends as together we sought to bring consolation in the midst of loss.
We are a relational rabbinic group whose relationships were forged in school and at camp, at conventions and in seminars, over dinner and late night drinks, and through social media and family events. From those relationships, a caring community of untold strength and beauty has emerged.
It is also a microcosm of the relational communities we all seek to create in a our greater synagogue families. What might our synagogues look like if every one of our members felt the love and care of that larger community that we rabbis felt in our smaller community. How much more connected would our congregants feel if they could have even a taste of the ties that bind us in good times and bad? What if Relational Judaism truly moved from the ideal of a book into the reality of our congregational lives?
The Psalmist wrote, “Those who sow in tears, will reap in joy”. Our harvest of joy is still a ways off, but in sowing our tears, may we speedily reap the blessings of our relationships: The blessings of love and care, of community and strength, and of sharing and support.
A Reminder – Please Help!
At the end of October, Rabbis Phyllis Sommer and Rebecca Schorr had a crazy idea: what if thirty-six Reform rabbis would shave their heads to bring attention to the fact that only 4% of United States federal funding for cancer research is earmarked for all childhood cancers as well as raise $180,000 for this essential research. Two weeks after this conversation, Phyllis and Michael learn that Sam had relapsed and that there were no other treatment options for him.
I am proud to be one of 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, a group of slightly-meshugene, but very devoted rabbis who are yearning to do something in the face of this tragedy. We couldn’t save Sammy; perhaps, though, we can save others like him. And spare other parents like Phyllis and Michael from the pain of telling their child that there is nothing that the doctors can do to save his life.
When confronted with the fact that I have so little to shave, I have jokingly used the tag-line “I’m just trying to raise the most dollars per follicle!” But childhood cancer is no joke and this effort to now memorialize Superman Sam through our fundraising is quite serious.
I implore you to help me reach, and even exceed, my personal goal of $5000. Any donation, whether $18 or $1,800 will make a difference in helping to save the lives of future Sammy’s. Simply follow this link to make your donation: http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/660571/2014
Thank you in advance for joining me in doing something to make a difference.