President’s Message

It has become axiomatic that to be a Jew is to care about the world around us. To be a Reform Jew is to be engaged in the ongoing work of tikkun olam, striving to improve the world. The ancient command to seek justice has led to a long and proud tradition of political activism by the Reform Movement. But, here is a challenge –within this framework, how can we make space for and respect politically diverse voices in our Movement, and in our own congregation, including politically conservative Reform Jews? Several of us who attended the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) Biennial in December had a chance to hear how the Religious Action Center (RAC) and Commission on Social Action (CSA) address this issue and this allowed me to consider how we do the same at CBHT.

The CSA, a joint commission of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism, provides guidance to the Movement as it faces the challenge of applying our progressive Jewish values to public affairs. It oversees the work of RAC in Washington. At Biennial, the senior leaders of RAC and CSA spoke to the importance of consulting thoughtful conservatives who share our enduring Jewish values.

They regularly turn to politically conservative Reform Jewish leaders to vet position papers and resolutions on topics that are ultimately voted on at the Biennial’s General Assembly. In doing so, they ensure that the basis of our stance on any issue is religiously informed, not politically motivated. The resolutions adopted by the URJ do not bind the members of individual congregations, nor do they presume to speak for all.

Joining a Reform congregation does not mean that one subscribes to a particular political perspective. In any group, there will be divergent opinions.

How then, do we as a congregation assure that members with conservative views feel like they have a voice? One speaker suggested that equating community with homogeneity is flawed reasoning, and that the bonds of faith should be strong enough within a community to sustain disagreement. I personally have made the mistake of assuming that everyone in our temple community shares my progressive political views. In doing so, I found out that I offended people who deserve to feel as connected and supported in our community as anyone else. In fact, it is a community’s responsibility to make all members feel connected all the more when there is disagreement. Our rabbi’s right to “freedom of the pulpit” brings with it acceptance of our members’ right to respond, or their “freedom of criticism.”

Reform Judaism does stand for certain principles. Many members of our congregation take pride in our long history of “speaking truth to power. It should be expected that our congregation will bring our progressive, reform Jewish values to bear in the community at large. We will be engaged on issues of local, national and global concern; we will participate in interfaith coalitions and activities; we will speak out on behalf of the vulnerable.

This is who we are. Our politically conservative members have made a decision about the totality of the Reform Movement and about our congregation. There is something that draws them to Reform Judaism, despite the stance we take on certain issues. I have learned that, the way to respect those voices in our congregation is to be curious. Batting around issues with our conservative members will certainly result in a deeper understanding of all sides of those issues. And, approaching those discussions from a place of trust that our religious values transcend our politics will result in a meaningful, respectful discussion that will strengthen our community.


 February, 2018

Between You and Me

We are taking a break, a thoughtfully considered, time‑sensitive break from singing music penned by the well-known Jewish Rabbi and musician, Shlomo Carlebach.

After a thoughtful discussion with the Sacred Music Team, we came to the conclusion together that in light of this moment, when the abuses of artists are becoming public and the wider society is taking swift actions to distance itself and condemn those behaviors in order to address the larger issue of sexual harassment, that our services are a place where it is important to affirm those efforts. We will join hundreds of other congregations who are wrestling with this question and concluding that this is not a time to shut our eyes and stay silent. Plus, we have survivors of Carlebach’s abuses and survivors of others’ abuses in our congregation. If there is a time to stand with them, it is now.

As you may know, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was one of a few revolutionaries born in the twentieth – century Chassidic world who stepped out of the insular confines of his community to bring the joy and ecstatic experience of Judaism into the wider Jewish world. His niggunim and his music were part and parcel of a revival of Jewish music and experimentation in Jewish life and practice that reverberated within all of our movements. Ironically, the same man whose hugs of minors lasted too long and didn’t understand the boundaries between wanted and unwanted touching, also alienated himself from his own religious community for advocating for women’s equality. According to Anat Hoffman, he was the only male Rabbi at the inaugural gathering of the Women at the Wall in 1989. He even performed an impromptu solidarity concert for them in a Jerusalem gymnasium after local authorities threatened to pull the kosher certification from the hotel venue they had booked when they heard women would be dancing with the Torah.

Carlebach taught Torah alongside his wife, sang publicly on stage with his daughter, acts that remain scandalous in fundamentalist corners of Jewish life. He was also a typical charismatic and, as is an all too common flaw of people who gain a following for it, his “loving” knew no boundaries.

It is important to note that we are not permanently banning Carlebach’s music from our services, but agree that at this time, it doesn’t feel right to overlook the artist’s moral character in favor of the art itself. Sometimes timing is everything.

In this case, that feels true. I do wonder, and this has everything to do with us as a community and a society, what does the world have to look like for us to bring Carlebach’s music back? What kinds of things need to change for it to feel different? When might the wounds be healed enough? I don’t know but let us together find the way, not for Carlebach, but for us.

February, 2018

Grin first. Then a head nod and broader smile.

Joey Bishop (raise your hand if you remember Joey) told a story about Frank Sinatra, who was dining out one night when a young high school lad came to his table.

“Mr. Sinatra,” said the teen-age boy, “my name is Bernie Rosenberg. Would you please do me a favor?”

“What kind of favor?” Sinatra asked.

“Well, I’m here with my girl, and I want to make a good impression on her. I certainly would appreciate it if you would drop by my table and say, “Hi Bernie!”

“OK, kid, I’ll try said the singer, smiling.

A little later, he dropped by the boy’s table, and said “Hi, Bernie!”

The boy looked up at him and snapped, “Don’t bother me now Frankie, can’t you see I’m busy?”

Short reads, hearty laughs. Perfect for starting 2018

A Jewish man lies on his deathbed surrounded by his children. “Ah” he says, I can smell your mother’s brisket – how I would love to taste it one last time before I die.” So, one of his sons hurries down to the kitchen, but he returns empty handed. “Sorry papa. She says, “it’s for after the funeral.”

A boy comes home from school and tells his mother he got a part in the school play.
”That’s wonderful!” says he mother. “Which part?”
“The part of a Jewish husband,” says the boy, proudly.
Frowning, the mother says, “Go back. Tell them you want a speaking role!”

A Frenchman, a German, and a Jew walk into a bar.
“I’m tired and I’m thirsty” says the Frenchman. “I must have wine.”
“I’m tired and I’m thirsty,” says the German. “I must have beer.”
“I’m tired and I’m thirsty,” says the Jew. “I must have diabetes.”

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