Friday, December 29, 2023

TBE Milestones: A Quiz 37 Years In the Making

 1)      Who of the names below did NOT speak here as part of the Hoffman Lecture series?

Wolf Blitzer

Alan Dershowitz

Elie Wiesel

Thomas Friedman

Yitz Greenberg

(Answer is 5. Rabbi Greenberg was here as a scholar in residence)

2)      Our first weekend scholar in residence was...

Peninnah Schram

Neil Gillman

Moshe Waldoks

Steve Greenberg

Burt Visotzky


(Answer is 1. Peninnah Schram, the great Jewish storyteller, came for a weekend while I was still assistant rabbi. The first who came when I became senior rabbi was Waldoks, the rabbi and humorist (and he was very funny)). Storahtelling came here several times, during our Synaplex era.

3)      TBE Shabbatons were memorable. List the one place where they were never held....

Holiday Hills

Camp Sloane

The Nevele

Camp Eisner

Camp David

(Answer is 5. We were never invited.)

4)      In which Confirmation Class photo did my hair begin to turn silver-ish?






(Answer is 4.)

5)      Of all the things said from the pulpit during my tenure, this line drew the most laughs - and I didn't say it. Who did, and when?

"I'd like to thank the rabbi. He's been like a father to me."

(Answer: Ethan at his bar mitzvah)

6)      Which was my favorite bar/bat mitzvah class ever?

1) 1988

2) 1999

3) 2111

4) 2525

5) 5775

6) Are you kidding me? They all are!

(answer: 6)

7)      In 30 years, I've missed exactly one bar or bat mitzvah. Why did I miss it?

Saturday, the rabbi slept late

The kid stuck gum on my chair

Hey, she missed my bar mitzvah.

To go on the March of the Living

(answer: d - and she was given 9 months advance notice and a chance to switch dates. Just sayin')

8)      Which of the following was the worst usage of the term "Shabbat" in our eternal efforts at marketing Shabbat?

Tot Shabbat


Synaplex Shabbat

Shab-N-Schmooze (for teens)

Shabbat Unplugged



(answer: none of the above!)

9) Which large retailer did I cite during a High Holidays sermon early in my tenure, mentioning that, because of their serious moral lapses, I would not be shopping there for a year (I never called it a "boycott...")

1) Bloomingdales (there was a Bloomingdales?)

2) Stop and Shop

3) Stew Leonards

4) Bernie Madoff's Superstore

5) Amazing Stores in Norwalk

(answer: You think I'm crazy?  Ask someone who was here!)

10) Most of our recent Israel trips have been run by Keshet Israel Tours.  What company ran the first few?

Answer: "Hearts of Pam," lovingly run by our very missed and loved Pamela Cohn Allen

Thursday, December 28, 2023

In This Moment: How Antisemitism Distorts Our Vision; TBE Milestones: A Signature Mitzvah


In This Moment

How Antisemitism Distorts Our Vision

This Shabbat we conclude the first book of the Torah, Genesis, with a portion describing the deaths of Jacob and Joseph. Next week we begin the epic tale of Exodus, as the descendants of Jacob become slaves in Egypt. Trying to transition from the more genteel family saga of the last chapters of Genesis, where Joseph and his kin are literally treated like royalty by Pharaoh, to the pure evil encountered in the next book, the commentators take great pains to locate hints foreshadowing the calamities to come even in these peaceful pages, even with all the royal treatment. You can read about it in this week's parsha packet, which we'll be discussing on Shabbat morning. 

Click to read the full packet and see the first page below.



The key questions for the commentators revolve around verses 8 and 9, which I've circled above. Why did Pharaoh send horses and chariots to escort Joseph on this long arduous journey back to Canaan to bury his father? And why were the little ones left behind?

The context would suggest that Joseph was being given a royal escort, that he would be protected by Pharaoh's finest. But the commentaries suggest otherwise, that in fact the armed guards were escorting him to ensure that Joseph would return to Egypt, and that his children remained behind as hostages.

If all of this sounds a bit creepy, add to it a literary allusion that is just screaming out at anyone familiar with the Torah and who can read the Hebrew; for in just a few weeks we'll encounter Pharaoh's chariots and horsemen once again, in the same order. in a much more threatening situation but in almost the exact same place. This peaceful scene is foreshadowing one of the most terrifying moments of our national existence, and is also an example of how we are held captive by our fears.

At what might be arguably one of the most heartwarming moments of our early history, where the leader of the civilized world is bending over backward to comfort his right hand man, all the commentators can think about is how lousy things are going to get.

It's a perfect Jewish response. Sort of like Eeyore.... Things can always get worse...

But here we part ways from Pooh's kvetchy friend. Because we respond: Things can always get worse...


There are many things to be concerned about right now in our world, including the stunning rise of antisemitism here in the United States, especially on college campuses.

It's become a lot scarier to be a Jew. There are times when I might be more circumspect when, say, wearing my kippah in public. I should add that nowhere in Jewish law is covering our heads even remotely commanded. It is a custom and demonstrates what we call Yirat Shamayim, the fear of God. There is absolutely no reason to wear it in a situation where one might harbor a legitimate fear. So if I were window shopping in Teheran, I would remove mine.

But really, how often are we confronted with such intimidating situations? Even now?

Last week my home was without power for three days, following the big storm. Fortunately, the temple had power. On the third night, with the thermometer plummeting, I awoke at 2 AM and I walked over to my office at the temple to warm up. I stopped off in the organ loft to get some hot water for tea and as I glanced over my shoulder, I looked into the sanctuary, which was pitch dark except for the eternal light. It was intense, but not scary. I'm used to being alone in the building, though rarely at such an hour and totally alone. But I wasn't preoccupied by imagining muffled voices calling out to me from a burning bush. I wasn't listening for ghosts. What I was thinking about was that the prior weekend, hundreds of bomb threats had been directed against synagogues all over the country, and over the past three months, many have been attacked or defaced.

I wasn't terrified but I confess to having a pang of fear. A mini pang. A pang-let.

Was I tempting fate by being in the building late at night? Perhaps, but ultimately, I was more concerned about tempting fate of getting pneumonia by shivering in my bed, so I went into my office and locked my door. (Mara and the dogs, you should know, are much heartier souls than yours truly).

So yes, there are reasons for us to be scared. But as Eeyore would say, it could alwas be worse. No earthquakes yet.

And no Hamas rockets.

Have you caught yourself looking toward the sky and wondered what it would be like to live like Israelis have had to live? Have you looked into the woods and wondered if a few thousand Hamas genocidal murderers and rapists are preparing to attack?

Yes, antisemitism here is a legitimate concern that must be addressed. But at the same time, our world is not crumbling before our eyes. America remains as welcoming a home as Jews have ever had. We may be more marginalized than we had thought, especially by others who consider themselves to be marginalized. But we do not run the risk of attack every time we walk the streets of New York. There have been incidents, to be sure. But we need not and should not live in fear.

Now is not a time to focus on our own oppression, but to double down on protecting others. First and foremost, that means Israelis, who are living every moment of their lives in harm's way. They face danger every moment, and an existential threat that will remain until deterrence is restored to all their borders.

And, in the middle of that, they still have a real threat to their democracy looming.

In this country, we have real concerns about the intimidation we face on campus, in social media and from mass rallies, but we can get into our cars and drive anywhere and never get pulled over for the "crime" of driving while being Jewish. Most of us have no concerns about going to sleep hungry tonight, or cold (something that I experienced last week and it was not fun - but also not permanent). Most of us are not refugees, not knowing where our next home will be - as so many hundreds of thousands are feeling right now who have fled toward America's borders and from Israel's.

Antisemitism is real and increasing. But we can't allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear. Stash your kippah in the glove compartment, if need be - but don't cover your mezuzahs.

We can't allow the fears of antisemitism, however legitimate, to distort our vision.

Maybe it's time for Joseph to give Pharaoh the benefit of the doubt. he was just trying to help.

Israel's Front Pages

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

(If Friday's front page does not appear, try again a little later this evening)

TBE Milestones: 2009 - A Signature Mitzvah

Back in 2009, the world was reeling from the financial meltdown and for the Jewish community especially, the Madoff scandal took an enormous financial and emotional toll. Knowing that from crisis emerges opportunity, on the High Holidays I proposed a reset - and a chance to reimagine the meaning and role of mitzvah in our lives. A number of Conservative congregations were focusing on the theme of mitzvah that year, responding to a challenge from JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen. And for us the Mitzvah Initiative became a year-long theme of adult ed classes, articles and sermons.

In this sermon I suggested that everyone choose a "signature mitzvah" to work on over the holidays, and beyond.  Several on the board shared their signature mitzvot.

At a time when antisemitism is rampant, Jews (and not just young Jews) need to be reminded about what is beautiful and kind and good about our traditions. That's a key reason I chose to share this TBE Milestone now, as I look back at my time here.

You can listen to the sermon (and read more of it) hereExcerpts below:


So what’s your mitzvah? Everyone has a signature mitzvah, a mitzvah that defines us. 

I teach children – therefore I am. 

I feed the hungry, therefore I am.  

I take people to Israel, therefore I am.  

That mitzvah becomes our immortality. Our legacy. Our footprint in the sand. It is, to quote one of this summer’s celebrated heroes, Julia Child, when talking about cooking, “what I dooo.” 

There is a midrash that when a person is asked in the world to come, “What was your work?” and they answer, “I fed the hungry,” that person will be told, “This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry…. The same goes for those who reply that they raised orphans, performed acts of tzedakkah, clothed the naked and embraced acts of lovingkindness (Midrash Psalms 118:17).” 

So what will you say when you reach paradise? What will your descendants be saying about you? What do you dooo?”

Once you discover your signature mitzvah, the key is to take that mitzvah, to live it with all your soul and all your might – and to share it. 

Think about it: There are, according to Maimonides’ count, 613 mitzvot in the Torah and we have nearly three times that many people here today. By my calculations, then, if each of us were to take on one mitzvah on behalf of the community, then all together, we would make up three complete Jews! 

Well, in fact some of the 613 mitzvot are no longer in play and others are only meant to be observed in Israel – but the main thing is that most of us actually might want to do MORE than one. We do many mitzvot, after all, and often without knowing it.

But let’s each of us begin with one. Everyone start with one.


And if we bring that one to this community it will bind us as one.

And if we project our mitzvah out from this sanctuary out into the world, its positive impact will have all of us behind it. They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas… but what happens here impacts the world. 

So what will your mitzvah be?

To attend morning minyan? To make Beth El greener? To read Torah or to tutor? Or maybe to coordinate letter writing for Israel or to help with our Sukkah or Purim carnival. Maybe it’s to run a support group for those who struggle with addiction. 

This year, Beth El has responded so supportively to the needs of those out of work that job networking has become our collective signature mitzvah. Our neighbors have been thanking us simply because we belong to Beth El. 

Call it Mitzvah by association.  

There are a number of mitzvah heroes here. This one is helping with job networking, and that one is helping with the food drive. This one is paying anonymously for a famous scholar to teach a series on prayer, and that one visits people in the hospital. We’ve got Beth El mitzvah-makers all over the world. This one is teaching Adon Olam to a bunch of schoolchildren in India that one is serving up vitamins to Ethiopian kids in Netanya. And we’ve had congregants volunteer countless hours to realize the dream of the renewed social hall and lobby we are enjoying today. 

The UJC has created a Mitzvah Heroes website and has been asking people to vote among a number of nominees, for people like Anne Heyman who is responsible for a youth village in Rwanda that cares for orphans.  And Sadie Mintz, a Hollywood resident since 1929, who has risen at 4 AM once a week to prepare for her early-morning volunteer shift in at the cancer ward of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 

Think about it – if every person here took upon him or herself one mitzvah – one way to bring a little more love and holiness to our community and to the world and just did that, imagine what an impact that would make.

So what is your signature mitzvah? What others can you bring into your life? I asked board members that question and their responses are on our website.

As a rabbi, I consider myself somewhat of a general practitioner, but I’ve also got more than a few signature mitzvot.

One that I embrace is the one listed as #16 on Maimonides’ list of 613; it is a mitzvah for everyone to write a Torah for himself. I see my own writing in that light, as an attempt to bring the Torah to life through the prism of my own experiences. I also like #28, not to harm anyone in speech, though it’s hard and I often fall short. And there’s #39, to care for animals, and the 150’s, which all deal with aspects of Kashrut. And then there’s the 170’s, which all deal in business ethics. I care about those. 

And I can’t forget #114, the mitzvah of making pilgrimage on festivals to the sacred soil of Israel. I’ve come to see that as truly my signature mitzvah.  As you know, we are planning our next TBE trip, and we decided to postpone it from this December to next July in order to give more people this chance to go to Israel with our congregation family. We’ve cut costs to the bone while still providing a five-star trip. I implore you to talk about this over lunch today and consider this amazing opportunity. 

And one more signature mitzvah: #53. Love the stranger. The Torah repeatedly commands us to love the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. Often, this refers to the Ger Tzedek – the convert. And indeed, we make it our business here to welcome converts and to make the process of becoming a Jew by Choice one of tremendous spiritual growth. But there is another type of stranger found in our sources – theGer Toshav – the person who, while not taking on Judaism as a faith, has elected for whatever reason to reside in our midst, and who, often with a Jewish spouse, has chosen to participate in this grand experiment called Jewish destiny. Maimonides could not imagine a world like ours, but the sentiment expressed in that mitzvah – to love the stranger – has made # 53 it one of Beth El’s signature mitzvot.

For those who are here today who are not Jewish, I embrace you warmly and unconditionally and invite you to share in this crucial work of world repair. No strings attached. We need all the help we can get!

So this is going to be our year of the mitzvah. 

And to start it off, I’d like to ask everyone here to do a mitzvah this week, between now and Yom Kippur, one that you have never done before. And make it a challenging one. No cupcakes! Anyone can put a few coins in a tzedakkah box. How about lighting candles this Friday night? If you do that already, how about separating milk and meat – for a day? For a meal? For a course? I’d be happy to help explain it to you.   

OK, and if you can’t do that because you are blogging your way through Julia Child’s cookbook, how about taking an hour away from all that butter to study the Torah portion?  Or maybe visit a local hospital or nursing home and see people you don’t know. Or, hey, I don’t know, if you’ve never come to shul on the second day of Rosh Hashanah – come here tomorrow to participate in the mitzvah of hearing the shofar – that’s number 132! 

Come to minyan and maybe try on tefillin – that’s #20. If you’ve never built a sukkah, it’s not too late. We’ll help! Or simply have a meal in our temple Sukkah; that’s mitzvah # 142. And even easier, buy a lulav set – # 141. We’re really pushing this one this year, because it’s so much fun and we’ll have a huge lulav parade here on the second day of Sukkot, which falls on a Sunday.

If you return a lost item, you’re doing a mitzvah – # 276. So if someone lent you something years ago and you just came across it, but you weren’t really sure what to do – return it!  If you have one of my books, for instance, I’m declaring an amnesty period until Yom Kippur. No questions asked. 

If you care for an animal, you’re doing a mitzvah. So adopt a dog and name it mitzvah. Throw a yarmulke on it and have a bark mitzvah…. If you’ve been carrying a grudge, end it. #32.  If you’ve been gossiping, stop it (#28); if you are known for angry outbursts (and who isn’t these days!), cool it – #30. If you’ve given tzedakkah, give more – #52. If you’ve never performed a bris… …maybe hold off on that one… but it’s #17.  

Find a mitzvah, do it and do it on behalf of all of us.

Many of the 613 mitzvot are obscure, some have become obsolete, and others are downright objectionable. But the act of struggling with mitzvah in itself connects us to our roots and to one another. Maimonides wasn’t the last word on Torah, which is fortunately a living document. The mitzvah map is changing all the time. There are plenty to choose from, though. So find one that means something to you. 

Then just do it. This week. 

I know of one rabbi who asked his entire adult ed class to go home and light candles that Friday night. The response was amazing. – sort of like the response we had last year when several congregants hosted others for Shabbat @ Home, something we’re planning to do again in a few months.

One student came back and said “My family laughed at me.”

Another said he went upstairs and lit them in the closet. (I don’t recommend that).

And a third told the teacher, “I went home and lit candles last Friday night – and my husband cried.”

You know, it’s interesting that we always use the expression that we practice mitzvot. We’re always practicing. We never get it right! 

In Judaism, Practice never makes perfect. But practice makes something much more important. 

Practice makes purpose.

Practice makes holiness. Practice brings hope. Practice brings bonding. Practice brings people together. Practice brings communities together. 

Practice brings heaven and earth together. So just do it!

Recommended Reading

  • Marc Schulman's Tel Aviv Diary - Events seem to be dangerously escalating in the North. Today, Hezbollah launched repeated attacks on Kiryat Shmona, inflicting further damage on what has now become a ghost town. Previously, the town of Kiryat Shmona was home to 22,000 residents. Of particular concern was the launch of a suicide drone headed southward towards Akko and the “Krayot,” a cluster townships, north of Haifa. The initial drone was successfully intercepted, and subsequently, another drone was shot down over Lebanon. It appears that neither Israel nor Hezbollah desires an all-out war. Nevertheless, both parties are involved in a dangerous game, each under the assumption that the other does not want a war. This situation is fraught with danger, as there is a substantial risk of a misjudgment by either side.

  • Avii Issacharoff argues that Hamas’s leaders have fatally misread Israeli intentions (YNet) - and their hopes of freeing Barghouti and similar figures “lack a firm grip on reality.” The firm stance of Hamas stems from the belief that [it has] a unique opportunity to extract significant concessions from Israel in terms of the duration of the ceasefire and the identity of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for the Israeli hostages. This attitude has been particularly evident since October 7, marked by assertiveness and a lack of grounding in reality. True, many Hamas terrorists have survived [the initial Israeli invasion] and continue to launch attacks on IDF forces. While voices in Israel clamor for an immediate prisoner exchange, signs of impatience are evident regarding the realization of the ground operation’s objectives. Yet [Hamas’s top official in Gaza], Yahya Sinwar, and his cohorts have not fully grasped that the Israeli public will not accept anything less than the dismantling of Hamas’s rule in Gaza. Moreover, the Netanyahu government will not endure a long-term ceasefire without significant military achievements. Thus, whether intentionally or not, Hamas’s refusal to enter negotiations on the hostage issue before the cessation of hostilities only serves Israel's military interests. The IDF continues to achieve significant military gains daily. Even though it is far from a decisive victory or a collapse of Hamas, more and more of its tunnels are damaged, and more and more terrorists are killed.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

In This Moment: A Time for Embracing; Defining Ourselves as a Conservative Congregation


In This Moment

click for pdf of Jpost front page.

As you can see, six more IDF soldiers were killed today.

Marc Schulman reports that things are also heating up in the north, and there is no end in sight.

A Time for Embracing

The news from Israel could not be more depressing right now. High casualties on both sides and slogging battles amidst the wreckage and in Hamas tunnels. While it appears that Israel is making progress in degrading Hamas, it is hard to measure it, much less understand whether it brings Israelis any closer to safety - and the release of the hostages.

For a people of words, there are no words right now. And that, perhaps, is how it should be.

Ecclesiastes wrote that there is a time to speak and a time for silence. This is a moment when very little that we say can be helpful. All we can do is extend our arms and embrace. This is a time for embracing.

In "normal" circumstances, we would already be beyond the time when a ceasefire would be in order. But despite the enormous death toll in Gaza, the fact that Hamas embeds itself among civilians makes almost any response justifiable until Hamas relinquishes control of Gaza and returns the hostages. And we are not close to that yet, it seems.

And even if "justifiable" does not equal "justified," and even if we now have every reason to believe that Netanyahu is acting more for political survival than military or moral considerations, there is still nothing we can say that would seem right at this moment. We can't pressure Israelis, even if we feel a proposal, like the one currently being circulated, reportedly, by the Saudis, makes some sense, given the trauma they are still experiencing every waking moment. We can only hug them, as President Biden has continued to do, at least in public.

As I was driving today, a song randomly came on my playlist. It was a version of a popular Israeli hit from a few years ago, Yihye B'Seder, "It will be OK," sung by the mixed Israeli-Palestinian Youth Choir based in Jerusalem's YMCA. I've spoken about them before. It was perfect - just what the doctor ordered.

But then I wondered: Are Israelis still saying B'Seder at all? it was the classic response to any dilemma, any hard time. It will be OK. Not only that - but it will be Sababa! Things will be great!

I swear, Israelis used to be born saying b'seder. If they happened to say Abba or Ima first, it was an anomaly. Now not even cabdrivers are saying it.

I'll venture to guess that no one in Israel is saying Sababa much these days, either. But how can Israel be Israel without B'Seder?

Listen to the Arabic-Hebrew song below, with English subtitles. It's a great song, especially when sung by that group.

Maybe that song sung by that group can give you hope. It gave me a little.

But it reminded me that Israelis have lost much of that hope, that optimistic, can-do spunk that sustained them for so long. And for good reason. They've all lost loved ones, and for them, everyone is family. All those faces in the daly newspapers. They have lost so much and are at a loss as to what has happened.

I've been saying it all along. The devastation of Oct. 7 is without precedent. The trauma is beyond measure. It doesn't give Israel license to commit war crimes (not that I'm asserting that any have been committed thus far). But it also doesn't give us license to treat this as some military chess game where we are just hoping Israel can gain a strategic advantage. This is not business as usual, and on some level, even Israel's detractors get it. Even the Egyptians and Saudis seem to get it.

There will be no celebration among Jews when the guns stop firing. The question we must ask is not whether there will be a celebration if, say, Israel earns a clear victory and the hostages all come home, but whether, even if that happens, Israelis and diaspora Jews will ever be able to celebrate again. Will we ever be able to march around and dance with the Torahs on Simhat Torah again? Will things ever be b'seder again?

I can't answer that. But I suspect that it will get better, because if we could find a way to sing, dance, get married and have babies after the Holocaust, we can find joy, somehow, even after this.

But in the meantime, there are no words.

This is a time for embracing.

TBE Milestones:

Defining Ourselves as a Conservative Congregation

As we reach my final months as TBE's senior rabbi, I'm sharing some key moments and events from the past 37 years

In the last years of the 20th century, the Conservative Movement tried to define itself, something that it never really had done before. The publication of the product of those efforts, Emet V'Emunah (you can read the pdf of the entire document here) was a true landmark, but its flaws reflected the drawbacks of the movement as a whole. The document tried to be all things to all people and to paper over major areas of conflict. It was a valiant attempt to take seriously the ideology of a movement that had been created less from ideology than sociology. Conservative Judaism was intended to be waystation between the restrictive Orthodoxy of its forbearers and a more modern expression of tradition that would enable new immigrants to make it in America. 

By the late 1990s, well into my first decade here, Beth El underwent its own identity crisis. While it was true that we were members of the United Synagogue and while our liturgy was well in line with the movement, many of our practices were outliers with regards to how the movement was evolving. We used the organ, which was a source of much consternation, and in fact had led, over the span of decades, to many Conservative-oriented Jews not joining here. We also were formal and monolithic in our style of prayer. There was little room for pluralistic expression and none at all for some of the innovative styles being developed within Havurot (fellowship groups that had been founded during the '60s counter culture in Boston and elsewhere), and its D.I.Y. bestseller, "The Jewish Catalog," and also among those involved with Camp Ramah and other bastions of counterculture creativity. When I arrived, it felt as if the '60s had never had happened here.

So the generational change I brought in the '90s came as a shock to the system. What was doubly shocking was that as Associate Rabbi, I could only go so far in introducing change, so when I became Senior Rabbi, and began implementing some reforms, some people felt like "another Josh" had taken over my body. And in a way it was, a Josh whose vision reflected the innovation, pluralism and activism that was the Conservative Judaism that I grew out of, in countercultural Boston, as well as at Ramah, Brown and JTS.

But however different I seemed, and I was hardly a radical, even that mattered little, because whenever a new rabbi takes over, it's always going to be a shock to the system. It's not just true for rabbis. I was told by a colleague and close friend, Gary Brown, pastor of First Congregational Church, that the point of friction usually happens between years three and five of a new clergy's tenure - for those lucky enough to stick around that long.

And sure enough, that's precisely what happened here, in the mid to late '90s. It was a classic battle of the "old guard" vs the new, with new leadership clamoring for more innovation (which for many meant less organ) and opportunities for diverse and more lay led services - a staple of the havurah movement. We experimented with different formats, which people accepted as long as it was relegated to Shabbat (since, frankly, those whom it would bother were rarely here to see it on Shabbat). But once the suggestion arose to offer an alternative service on the High Holidays too, it was not well received. Rumors sprung up of a conspiracy to make us "orthodox," which couldn't be further from the truth.

There was also a financial aspect to this friction, with the old guard seeking to implement strict financial controls to get us out of a hole (as they had recently done at the JCC), and the younger leadership opted to change the paradigm completely, assessing the congregation $200 per family to get us out of the red and then implementing new, more democratic and transparent fundraising strategies, which led to our first High Holidays appeal. It was a complete overhaul that energized the congregation, but at the same time made some feel uncomfortable, feeling that the synagogue they had grown up with had changed irrevocably.

It was at that point that I tried to draw the entire congregation into a conversation about what Conservative Judaism is - and to engage in strategic planning as to what TBE should become. I sent out a packet that included a fact sheet pertaining to some of the issues we were dealing with then, along with a chapter from a book explaining Conservative Judaism in detail.

I'm sure some of you are cringing at my dredging up prior moments of tension. The fact is that such moments are completely normal in an organization in transition. The key is to be able to recognize the dynamics of what is happening, to hear people's concerns and mitigate against any unnecessary damage.

As TBE faces the coming transitional years, there be similar moments of institutional tension. I guarantee it. You can call me in 3-5 years and let me know. I'll be on the beach. And while this transitional tension will be manifested in any number of ways, it always comes back to the rabbi. Even when people say it is about something else, it always comes back to the rabbi. That's why we get the big bucks.

Even in the healthiest of situations, it happens. I know, because our situation was about as healthy as it gets. I may have been "another Josh" in practice, but I was still the same person, and we knew each other well by the time I became senior rabbi in 1992. Your next rabbi will not have that advantage, and neither will you.

We have once again affiliated with the Conservative Movement. Over the next several years, you and your new rabbi will be engaged in a vigorous exploration of what that means. That conversation, which has never really been completed from the late '90s, needs to happen again and again.

See below the first page of the material I sent out to the congregation back in the late '90s below: Click here for the rest of the material, which includes my rebuttal to the accusation that we were becoming "Orthodox." (the chapter is somewhat dated but still relevant).

Three more timely parodies from Eretz Nehederet

Israel's Front Pages

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

Recommended Reading

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