Keynote Address - NAORRR 2014
Rabbi Edward Zerin

In 1798 Benjamin Franklin in a letter to a French historian wrote: Our Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency, but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

According to Franklin the founding fathers did not look for a wager with a guaranteed outcome. Instead they were willing to put their trust in a bet worth taking.

Tonight I open a discussion on faith, an issue which like death and taxes, no person can escape no matter how wise they may be. When I speak of faith, I speak of faith not as "belief in God" nor with reference to "religious faiths." I speak of faith as the "bottom line" of a process and not as the "outline" for a structure. Faith has to do with "How do you know you know?" Faith deals with the foundation upon which people erect the building blocks of their ideas and establish a way of life and institutions to maintain the ideas they hold to be of abiding value. 

I am asking Reform Judaism to examine this process of faith and make it a bet worth taking. Let me explain.

Historians warn us of the law of unintended consequences – I don't do what I say I want to do. I have raised the issue of faith, but what I really want to talk about tonight is the existence of the Jewish people. The challenge today is not God or no-God. The crisis is whether there will be an Am Yisrael in the Disapora future. But it is an issue in which faith also plays a vital role. Theists, atheists and agnostics will continue in the future. The question is: will they be Jewish theists, Jewish atheists and Jewish agnostics?

The issue of Jewish survival is not new! What is new – the bet worth taking – is  whether the Reform synagogue, a primary institution in the infrastructure of Diaspora Jewish life, becomes a home not just for theists but also a home for atheists and agnostics who "have a passion for their Jewish identity and who want to project their Jewish identity into the future." 

Reform Judaism’s bet worth taking is the challenge to bring God-Jews and non-God-Jews together – in a way that they will acknowledge each other as essential parts of the totality of the Jewish people. 
I am mindful of an estimate that within the next 20 or 30 years the liberal synagogue, presumably as currently organized and programmed, will experience a radical decline in membership. Some dispute this claim;  however, there is no denying that Jews in increasing numbers are moving with their feet out of Reform congregations. And especially today, as the scientific superstructure of faith keeps growing and capturing the imagination and the pocketbook of our people.
In 2001, the President of Bar-Ilan University, a modern Orthodox institution, presented ten challenges to narrow what he thought represented a considerable gap between strict observance and modernity. I present two for our consideration: 
One, The Establishment of New Religious Parameters on Relating to the Secular – Secularism, he states, is "an entrenched way of life. Observant Judaism cannot ignore this fact and must find a way through halachah to coordinate secular Jewish commitment with klal Yisrael. Non observers can no longer be dismissed as malfunctioning, lost Jews." 

I prefer to refer to the president's "malfunctioning lost Jews" as "outsourced Jews", Jews who have either been ignored or excluded from the synagogue or by default been forced to go elsewhere to find expression for their Jewish life. 

Two, Confront Science and Culture – "Despite the fact that our youth become doctors and accountants and go to movies, he continues, our schools have not yet confronted head-on the ideological challenges that astronomy, physics, art, philosophy and modern sexual permissiveness pose to traditional dogma. Orthodox youth have to be formally schooled in understanding the ideological choices they confront."

In the current crisis, I call upon Reform Judaism, which prides itself as the liberal progressive branch of contemporary Judaism to make the synagogue (1) a home both for God-Jews and the out-sourced Jews  who may or may not be God-Jews, and (2) make a place within the synagogue where Jews - Am Yisrael - can deal meaningfully in a personal and practical way with the building blocks of their respective faith assumptions.

Let me share a bit of history:

The historic faith foundations of Western science can be traced back to the philosophers Plato (427-347 BCE) and Aristotle (384-322 BCE). 
Plato, who became the guiding spirit of Western idealism and religious thought, believed (1) that material things were imperfect, inferior reflections of unchanging eternal ideas and (2) that knowledge of truth was not to be found by observation, by looking at the world. 

Aristotle disagreed with his teacher. We come to know truth through the external world which is perceived through our senses with reason and common sense. For him ideas or forms were interpretations  in the mind of an observer. 

For the next 2000 years the Greek method of idealism and the method of observation became the faith foundations upon which the super structures of Western religion and science were erected. In the meantime, in the Middle East Fertile Crescent, a God/Man faith foundation was being established, exemplified by the phrase “These are the words that the Lord your God spoke unto you.” Upon this faith foundation were erected building blocks of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God Who is One and Eternal, of a "revealed" Torah of things to do and not to do, and of a people who could "choose life" if they were to follow the Torah commandments. 

Both the Greek views and historic Judaism's view of truth began with faith assumptions; however, each started with a very different assumption. 

Because of geographical proximity, inevitably the two faith assumptions clashed. The victory of the Maccabees is but one example. However, Greek life continued to hold a strong appeal for many Jews, especially those in the Diaspora, who sought to express their Jewish identity in terms of the Greek faith foundations and building blocks. 

In the 12th century, Moses Maimonides, believing that knowledge of Greek natural science was a prerequisite to true faith, sought to reconcile Judaism with Aristotelian premises, but he found what he thought were serious limitations in the Greek position. 

For example, Aristotle's view that the world was eternal, that it had no beginning and no end, limited God's power to create, leaving God with nothing to do. In the case of Maimonides, however, the Greek how of creation became secondary to the Jewish why of creation, namely the Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence of God.
This was the faith assumption that the 19th century Diaspora Jewish community brought with it as it entered into the modern Enlightenment. 
But while Jews waited for emancipation, important changes were taking place in the assumptions of Western Science. 
Beginning with the 15th century Renaissance, (1) Platonic and Aristotelian building blocks of knowledge were weakening, and (2) a second foundation and 
superstructure model, the beginnings of today's scientific method, were being forged. Only this time the foundation and building blocks were not linked to the logic of Greek reasoning. 

Instead, and here I use contemporary language, scientists today resort to a universal logic of research, beginning with an hypothesis, followed by a testing procedure from which they deduce conclusions. 

In the 19th and 20th century, according to Newtonian and post-Newtonian physics, there no longer was a reason to explain why something came into being. It was necessary only to explain how it worked, how it changed. As a result, Maimonides' proofs for God-which had been adopted almost word for word by Thomas Aquinus and had become part of Christian thought - were seriouslly challenged as working premises.

Being now encompassed actual being or no being at all. The things that actually existed were material, and science's concern was how they acted and not why they reacted with each other 

Again, contemporary scientists tell us: the logic of research is such that the testing can only disprove the hypotheses of the experiments and that what the scientists achieve is not the certainty of truth but the uncertainty of a practical and useful truth-likeness to be tested again and again, that their faith assumptions are bets worth taking and not wagers with guaranteed outcomes. 

Since the time of Newton, the scientific world has undergone at least two other major changes: (1) Quantum Mechanics, and (2) Order Out of Chaos approach of Ilya Prigogine. The world of determinism was over.

This brings me to where A Little Bit of Agnosticism Can Help. 

Agnosticism is not the dirty word that political or social correctness hold it to be. 

In 1869 when Thomas Huxley coined the word, he, too, was caught up in the battles between theism and atheism. Both terms signified for him that a certain "gnosis," a certain knowledge, existed that more or less could solve the problem of existence. 

While he himself did not hold that the problem of existence was solvable, he believe that it would be just as presumptuous of him to hold fast to his own conviction as it was for the theists and atheists to hold fast to theirs. 

Hence, Huxley's agnostic foundation of faith: "Positively: try all things, hold fast by that which is good... ln matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: in matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable."

Huxley, however, did not leave Agnostics in limbo. They had a choice, but in order to choose they first had to seize the initiative. They could tend to theism, following "reason as far as it will take you," and they could tend toward atheism by not pretending that "[Intellectual] conclusions which are not demonstrated or 
demonstrable are certain." 

I accep Huxley’s challenge to seize the intiative.

Today Reform Judaism, like all religions, is caught up in the sweep of the scientific faith foundation and superstructure in which the how of complexity, uncertainty and diversity, instead of the why of simplicity, certainty and uniformity hold sway. 
Today's science presents a Person/Earth phenomenological how process – how people may deal with the paradoxes of existence. 

Nonetheless, Reform Judaism today continues to emphasize, though with adjustments, the God/Man metaphysical why hierarchy - why God revealed a way of life to the Jewish people which they are “to turn it  and turn it because everything [or at least most everything] is in it." 

I ask Reform Judaism to make a bet worth taking: that within the synagogue Reform Judaism engage the classic and the scientific faith assumptions and their superstructures in a both/and relationship. It is a relationship in which Reform Judaism is still struggling to a Mitzvah system of “how” and in which modern science is still struggling to develop an ethical “why.”

For me, the urgent question for our time is: "What can Reform Judaism do for Jews? Not "What can Jews do for Reform Judaism? Or, more pointedly, "What can Reform Judaism do for outsourced Jews?" and not “What can outsourced Jews do for Reform Judaism.?"

Historically the synagogue has had three functions in keeping with the God/Man faith assumption: (1) Beit Tefilah-the House of Prayer for the worship of God-(2) Beit Midrash-the House of Study to learn the Torah tradition-and (3) the Beit Knesset-the House of Assembly to serve the community of Israel. However, today the growth of the scientific Person/Earth faith assumption calls for the reinterpretation of the same three synagogue functions. 

Today, the Beit Tefilah, a home where theist-Jews worship the transcendent God, also become a home for non-theist-Jews who strive for personal transcendence while coping with the complexities and uncertainties of existence 

Today, the Beit Midrash, a home where theist-Jews learn the Pardes traditions of Torah, also become a home where non-theist-Jews, through the prisms of critical reasoning and the logic of scientific research study their Jewish history and culture and celebrate a Jewish response to the world through a scientifically oriented  Midrash, Talmud and Commentaries to be tested again and again. 

As an immediate project, the Beit Midrash also can provide teenagers and young adults - who already are skilled in the use of technology--with a crash program in the dynamics of faith, both religious and scientific, and offer it to them before they go to college or enter the marketplace. 
        3.Today, the Beit Knesset, a home where theist-Jews achieve a sense of community by assembling for all types of meetings and celebrations, can also enlarge significantly its social justice and caring community functions-where both the theist-Jew and the nontheist-Jew share a mutual concern--and where together they can most easily form a working relationship. 

But no matter how much Reform Judaism extends the synagogue umbrella, theists, atheists and agnostics alike must first engage in a special act of faith, which like all acts of faith must come from within the person. This self-powered act of faith proclaims "I am a Jew," - I am a Jewish theist, a Jewish atheist, a Jewish agnostic. 

It is the faith assertion of a Joseph and not of a Jonah. Jonah said "I am a Jew" while running away from his Jewish responsibility. Joseph, who was second only to Pharaoh and who had reason enough to avenge himself of his brothers said to them, III am Joseph, your brother. Is my father still well?" I am a Jew. I want my own Jewish non-theist existence and my father's Jewish theist existence to be well." 

In closing I recall the words of our teacher, Dr. Ellis Rivkin z"l:

"The History of the Jews is a history of involvement. It cannot be separated from the larger context of which it is part ... an involvement so interwoven with the texture of the total pattern that to abstract the so-called Jewish element is to do violence not only to Jewish history but to the history of the larger complex as well." 

What science is asking of us today is not a departure from a time honored Jewish tradition. The life blood and vitality of Jewish existence have been the bets worth taking-the reactions and the responses of Jews to what is going on in the streets and the academies of culture in the world. 

By reframing the story of the Jewish past I believe that I am actually strengthening the Jewish experience as a fascinating chapter in the larger story of,Western civilization.

What wen need today are additional metaphors, legends, symbols, allegories, additional midrashim if you please,  enfolded both in the scientific faith assumptions and in the classical Reform Jewish faith assumptions.

What I am suggesting, however, is not a guaranteed outcome that the Diaspora Reform synagogu will survive. What I am offering is a bet worth taking - identity with integrity.

As Ben Franklin said: Our Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency, but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, and, if you will permit, faith.

Erev Shabbat Sermon - NAORRR 2014
Rabbi Frank Waldorf (C '64)

On this auspicious weekend, I am of 2 contradictory minds.  On one hand, I can echo the famous words of  Lou Gehrig, two weeks after his ALS diagnosis: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

I identify with Jacob in Sedra Va-yeesh-lach.  When Esau says, “Yesh lee rav. I have much.”   Jacob replies in 33:11, “Yesh lee kol, I have everything!” 

I have been the beneficiary of a uniquely remarkable period in the history of the world. Born at the peak of Nazi power, I was part of a cohort that survived the Holocaust aimed at my destruction. I witnessed Israel’s birth as a Jewish state, offering Jews around the world unparalleled dignity. When I was a student, Civil Rights legislation and Great Society programs were enacted. With some of you, I demonstrated in front of Woolworth’s in Cincinnati; and racial barriers fell. Medical advances saved my life.

I remember going to a Cincinnati school with Beth and sucking on a sugar cube containing polio vaccine.  
I traveled in the tropics with anti-malaria pills.  I am still alive because of antibiotics.  I have benefitted from orthoscopic surgery. How many artificial hips and knees are in this room?

The very fact that a majority of the Class of ‘64 is here is part of the miracle of our times.  Long ago, the CCAR offered such rabbis dues-free membership.  Our very longevity threatens the viability of that policy.

    Economic opportunity for Jews - The fact that we can afford to be here.  The RPB and social security allow us a luxurious retirement. Technology  - the first time I saw a word processor; cut and paste. “It’ll make the shul impersonal.”

While I am enormously grateful for all that I have enjoyed, I am troubled by threatening thunder clouds I see on the horizon.
Climate change is a Damocletian sword over civilization. Brutal ethnic wars tear apart Syria and Africa. Fresh tensions spring up between Japan and China. The hope of the Arab Spring has faded as the area descends into chaos. Iran’s potential for making and using nuclear armaments casts a long shadow.  In regime are apocalytic thinkers who imagine that a nuclear holocaust is part of the divine plan leading to redemption Israel, despite of or, ironically, because of its strength and prosperity, is under a cloud of suspicion and distrust.

I fear for the future of my beloved US.  This country has failed to invest in its own future. We have fallen behind the developed world in EDUCATION, INFRASTRUCTURE, and the delivery of HEALTH CARE. Gridlock undermines democratic traditions. Many citizens are willing to weaken the safety net and shred the social fabric.
Even some who will benefit from Affordable Care Act oppose its implementation. Growing inequality brings new possibilities of civic disruption.

With all my heart, I believe that the prophetic vision that inspired me to pursue a career in the Reform rabbinate is more relevant today than it was in 1959 when I started intensive Hebrew at Towanda, PA.

In that ancient day, the gospel of Amos was in ASCENDANCY.

Today, when many in the West are wearied of generosity, the message of the pre-exilic prophets is vitally important.  Tarfon.  Slog on.  Our images of a just, generous society are the keys to human survival.  Even in old age, we cannot abandon the quest.

On July 4, 1939, the New York Yankees held "Lou Gehrig Day" at Yankee Stadium. Gehrig had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) just two weeks earlier. With more than 62,000 fans in attendance, the Iron Horse took the microphone for what would become one of the most memorable moments in baseball history: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got.  Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

Gam zoo l'to-va.

The Subtle Softening of the Heart
D'var Torah - NAORRR Convention - 2014
A. David Packman

This might be an apocryphal story ~ if it isn’t true, it could be true.   But since it appeared in Reader’s Digest, we know it must be true!

A few years ago there was a flight from Kansas City to San Antonio.  Like so many flights these days, there was a delay.  To make matters worse, there was a thunderstorm over San Antonio, and after the plane circled over San Antonio’s airport for half an hour, the fuel was getting low and the plane made an unplanned stop in Austin, TX so it could refuel.  The flight attendant told the passengers to stay close to the departure gate so as soon as they fueled up, they would head again for San Antonio,   Everyone left the plane except one man who was blind.  He patiently sat in his seat with his seeing-eye dog quietly underneath.  He was obviously a regular on this flight because the pilot approached him by name and asked him if you would like to get off and stretch his legs.  The man said no, but then observed that his dog would enjoy stretching his legs.  So picture this:  all the passengers milling about the gate area come to a completely quiet standstill as they saw the pilot walk off the plane with a seeing-eye dog.    To make matters worse, the pilot was even wearing sunglasses.  Passengers quickly scattered to try to change planes.  Many swore off ever flying Southwest Airlines ever again.  

The obvious point of the story: sometimes we are misled by appearances.

Such a deceiving appearance is found in our Torah portion for this Shabbat, specifically the Book of Exodus, Chapter 10.

Moses and Aaron offer the Pharaoh an opportunity to avoid the next plague by letting the people of Israel go, and then we read, “And God hardened the heart of Pharaoh” so that he refuses to let the people go.  Does this imply that Pharaoh had no free will?  Did God really make Pharaoh do the dirty deed?  Rather, what we have here is one of the laws of human nature.   If we do a certain evil act often enough, and if we get away with it time and again, then that evil act becomes a part of our life pattern.  So we lock ourselves into that evil pattern and that’s the way that God’s world and the human world work.  If our pattern is to constantly lie, and we seem to get away with it, in time we become an inveterate liar.  God has enabled the liar’s hear to harden.  Or if a person shoplifts several times and always seems to get away with it, it comes almost automatic for the shoplifter to do it.  God has enabled this person’s hard to harden.   And so it was with the Pharaoh and his life pattern of cruelty.

But there is also an opposite way for us to act – not to harden our hearts, but to soften our hearts.  Psychologists did a study of 6500 non-Jewish Europeans who at great risk to themselves saved Jews from the Holocaust.  Invariably it started with saving a good friend, hiding him or her from the Nazis. Then they saved a friend of that friend and finally they were saving Jews were utter strangers. It was a process, a process of subtly softening their human hearts.  

So, too, children can be taught to soften their hearts by loving parents and caring teaching.  They can be taught to feed the hungry at food banks and homeless shelters.  They can be taught to share their toys with poor children.  They can experience visiting the elderly in nursing homes.  And like playing the piano, practices makes it, each time easier and better.  What is even more beautiful and amazing is that when we soften our hearts, we can even soften the hearts of others. 

Long ago I read a biography of baseball great Babe Ruth, which told this piece of baseball history.  It was at the end of Babe Ruth’s long career and he was playing one of his last games for the Boston Braves.  Babe Ruth was in his 40’s and was physically worn down by decades of playing baseball and by unhealthy living habits.  In the third inning, Babe Ruth made two fielding errors in a row and enabled the Cincinnati Reds to get three unearned runs.  At the end of the inning, Babe Ruth, head bent in embarrassment, walked off the field to the dugout as the fans uttered a crescendo of boos. A little boy in the stands couldn’t tolerate it – he loved Babe Ruth no matter what.  With tears streaming down his face, the boy climbed over the railing and threw his arms around the knees of his hero.  Babe Ruth picked up the boy, gently hugged him, set him on the ground and patted his head.  The rude booing had long since ceased.   A hush fell over the ball park.  The crowd was touched by the child’s love and his concern for another human being.  As this story reminds us, caring is a gift of God, that melts and soften the hardest of human hearts. 

A few years ago, a male Temple member who was an RN, was part of an ambulance crew who worked for an emergency medical service.  About 3 or 4 times a year, he would deliver a baby in the ambulance.
 Over the six years he worked for the emergency service, had delivered about twenty babies.   Well, it happened to him once again, but this time he had to tell me about it.   He held the newborn by the back of her head with his left hand, and took a suction bulb in his right hand and began to clear her mouth and nose of mucus.  Suddenly the baby opened her eyes and looked directly at him.   In that moment he stopped being a nurse and realized a very simple thing: that he was the first human being this baby girl had ever seen.  He felt his heart go out to her in welcome.  He represented all the people of our planet and tears came to his eyes.

As rabbis who have taught many children, sometimes we hit a miraculous teachable moment when we opened a child’s eyes, so that he or she sees something significant for the first time.  And sometimes we have opened a child’s heart in a way that leads to its subtle softening.  And are not these eye-opening and heart-softening moments, God’s gifts to us as Rabbis?  For these most previous gifts we give thanks to God.        Amen. 

Shabbat Morning Sermon---NAORRR 2014
Rabbi Martin S. Weiner
Transitions and Immortality—A Personal Journey

Dear Colleagues, Classmates, and members of the NAORRR family. I am honored to share some thoughts with you on this meaningful milestone year: the fiftieth anniversary of the Class of 1964.  

My message is entitled Transitions and Immortality---a Personal Journey.

I usually do not prepare a Shabbat message based on a text from the Parashah.  However, this morning something rather unusual called out to me from the Torah.  Of course, during these weeks we are reading about the great prophet, liberator, and lawgiver, Moses.  As I read through the biblical story from the opening verses of Exodus, I was struck by something, not in this week’s Sedrah, but in Chapter 3---the mysterious incident of the Burning Bush.   Moses is a shepherd guarding the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro.  One evening he is startled to see a bush burning without being consumed.  He approaches the site and has an incredible life changing experience. Moses is called upon by God to deliver the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. This passage marks a significant transition in the life of Moses and Jewish history.

I must confess to you that I have always found this story a bit mystical, even fanciful from my more rational view of our tradition.  Yet, as I read the passage in preparation for this morning, I realized, believe it or not, that a burning bush had been somewhat meaningful in my own life. That personal memory inspired my comments to you. It is really a brief personal memoir spanning nearly sixty years.  

Allow me to share the story with you.  When I was eighteen years old, I had a summer job.  I was a firefighter for the US Forest Service in the majestic mountains of Northern California.  I was part of a group of twenty young men called a hotshot crew. For the first few weeks we simply cleared trails and campgrounds.  We learned to use our tools and toughen our hands and our bodies.  Then came the night of our first real chance to fight a fire.   Led by an experienced ranger four of us loaded with our tools and supplies hiked over rugged country for several hours. I remember that I carried the radio, a rather heavy piece of equipment.  As we neared the fire we could see that it was crowning.  What does that mean? The blaze was burning in the tops of trees and rapidly spreading.  In our training we had learned that we could stop a fire by building a ring around it---a path free of branches and flammable ground cover.  I will never forget that moment. I looked at those burning trees lighting up the night sky.  I felt the heat of the flames. The blaze was so hot that I could actually smell the fiberglass of my yellow hardhat starting to melt.  There was nothing for us to do but to go to work clearing the fire trial and hoping for the best.   Our small crew worked with a full measure of energy and determination and maybe a bit of fear.  After four or five hours we heard shouting up ahead.   As dawn was breaking we saw a crew of Zuni Indian firefighters coming up the hill toward us to close the circle.   We looked back and saw that the fire had been stopped by our work. 

As you can imagine, it was quite a meaningful moment of transition in my life. I was city boy. I had faced a night of challenge and danger. I had fulfilled my responsibilities.  Throughout the years, I have never forgotten my first view of that blazing forest fire. 

Fast forward through the years to another transition.  I am forty-two years old.  My son, Daniel, is sixteen years old.  He has just received his driver’s license.  I began a tradition that summer that I followed with all three of our children.   I wanted to build their confidence in highway driving.  We would take a car trip.  The new driver would take the wheel in our driveway and drive the whole trip until we returned three days later.  I would never touch the wheel. On that first trip Daniel and I drove up north through the magnificent Redwood forests. We had lunch in Eureka by the Pacific Ocean. Then we drove through the mountain forests, to the area where I had fought forest fires as a teen-ager not much older than my son.  Daniel and I visited the now deserted Forest Service camp. 

There was a flood of memories that day.  I thought about my youthful summer in that setting.  I thought about my college years at UC Berkeley, about meeting my wife, Karen, about my rabbinical studies at HUC, about my years of rabbinical service first in Baltimore and then in San Francisco. Maybe those relaxing days of driving with my son through beautiful mountains and valleys inspired my thoughts. I recall thinking that day how much my life had changed since my eighteenth summer.  I recounted my feelings in a High Holyday sermon to my congregation. I recall saying to myself, ‘I am 42 years old. I will never be a kid again.  It would be difficult for me to put on a fifty-pound pack, hike for four hours through the mountains, and then fight a forest fire through the night until morning.  That summer day with my son, Dan, at a deserted Forest Service Camp near Reading California, was a transition for me.  It was a transition mingled with the memories of a burning bush---a forest of flaming trees. It was an affirmation that time was passing for me. 

Let us fast forward now to this year.  My HUC-JIR class of 1964 is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our ordination.  Here again there are so many memories. Maybe some of you recall seeing the picture of our graduating class in the recent NAORRR newsletter.  Our classmate Frank Waldorf also emailed us a class picture we had taken at a CCAR Conference in Colorado in 1979.  It was startling to see how young we looked in both those pictures.  

 We think of our years at the College-Institute.  We remember the classes and professors who inspired us.  We remember our years in the rabbinate.  We recall our dreams and our aspirations, our successes and our disappointments.  We are reminded that some of our classmates are no longer with us

Most of us were in our mid-twenties when we were ordained.  Many of us have been retired from the active rabbinate for more than a decade. Some stalwarts in our class are still involved in full time rabbinic responsibilities, teaching courses, counseling as Chaplains, and serving congregations.  We salute them.  For all of us this is a time of transition and memory.  For me this fifty-year milestone has special meaning.  

A few months ago I experienced the death of my best friend. Often over the years I would be asked, “Who is your rabbi?”  The question really asks, who is your cherished friend and advisor? To whom do your turn for counsel and comfort in times of personal difficulty? Every time I was asked, “Who is your rabbi?” I would respond, “My rabbi is an attorney. My rabbi is Allan Joseph?  My friend Allan died on May 7th after a very brave seventeen-month battle with pancreatic cancer.  Allan and I were exactly the same age.  May 7th happens to be my birthday.  

My friends and colleagues, like many of you, I have officiated at hundreds of funerals, including many members of my own family.  Over the past fifty years I have counseled countless grieving families who have lost their loved ones.  But it was a very special moment for me---when Allan asked me to talk with him about that most profound transition that he was facing.  What does Judaism say about Immortality?

I shared with Allan some thoughts about life and death and immortality that I have worked through over the years.  He also shared those comments with his family.   Of course, I readily admitted to Allan and certainly to you my NAORRR colleagues, that my comments are not the definitive Jewish view on these issues.  It is simply my personal response. We could ask a dozen other rabbis and discover many different answers.

My belief regarding immortality is very much based on my approach to faith in God.  I am one of those individuals who is overwhelmed with the wonders of creation I see around me:  I marvel at the incredible vastness and orderliness of the stars and planets that move with such speed and precision.  Here on earth I am overwhelmed with the wonders of nature: the growth of towering Redwoods and beautiful roses all from tiny seeds containing the code of life. I am amazed at the migration of birds and sea creatures over vast distances. I stand in awe at the way our human bodies and our brains function to carry us through life. I have always marveled at the miracle of human birth.  Is it possible that all of this exists purely by chance? I don’t believe so.  

Of course, I admit that the world is not perfect.  What about floods and hurricanes and earthquakes?  What about cancer and countless human disabilities?  As humans, we have free will.  We can choose to do terrible evil things to one another.  Truly I am aware of these dark possibilities and have struggled with them over the years.  But, If I step back and view the big picture of this earth and this universe, it is hard for me not to believe that there is a Creative Power that is responsible for the wonders I see all about me.

I have always been moved by the comments of the greatest scientist of modern times.  It was Albert Einstein who wrote, “I believe in God, the God of Spinoza, who is revealed in the orderly harmony of the Universe…I believe that intelligence is manifested throughout all nature. The basis of all scientific work is the conviction that the world is an ordered and comprehensible entity, not a thing of chance.” 

Here is the essence of my personal approach to Immorality.  Here is my life. I was born here.  My life may end in five, ten, or twenty years.  Who knows? If the world I see about me now is filled with such creativity, orderliness, and meaning, it is hard for me to believe that when I die there is only chaos and nothingness.  It simply does not make sense to me.  Do I believe in a specific heaven or hell? No. Not really. But with all my heart I believe that there is some spiritual continuity for all of us after we die.

My friends, with that very personal confession, I would offer you a very important second and final response to the question of immortality.  I have long believed in something I would call Practical Immorality.  What is Practical Immorality?  Each of us lives on for generations in those people whose lives we have touched. 

At this moment I would venture to say that each of you could think of a parent or grandparent, a teacher or colleague, or friend who has influenced your life in a very precious way.  That person has helped to make you who you are this day.

Once again allow me to be rather personal.  I believe that my ability to work warmly and patiently with people was inspired by my parents---Yetta and Ben.  I am a rabbi because of the love for Jewish tradition that was inspired within me by my Paternal Grandparents, Joe and Rose. The family Passover Seders at their home was a precious experience.

 I have a love for Shakespeare’s plays and became an English major in college, because of a gifted high school teacher. Professor Ellis Rivkin at the College inspired my love for Jewish History.  My son, Dan, also a rabbi, studied with Ellis. 

   My son and I both wrote our Rabbinic theses with him. Over the years, I developed a mini-course entitled, Midrash and Movies.  Professor Aryeh Kahana at HUC inspired my love for Midrash.  I mention his name every time I begin the course.  If I have had an ability to deal with the challenges of synagogue life, that wisdom came from Rabbi Murray Blackman, who was my mentor as a student rabbi in Cincinnati.  My friends, sadly all of these individuals, whom I have mentioned, are no longer alive. Yet in a very real sense they have not died.  They live on through me and my family and countless students and rabbinic colleagues whose lives they have inspired.   

As you can see, this year marks a very special transition in my life not only my fiftieth year in the rabbinate, but also a realization that our years are limited.  My experience in these last few months has reminded me how quickly time passes, how precious are the years allotted to us, and how we truly must cherish the opportunity that we have to share our lives with family and friends. I am reminded how important it is to use my time and energy in a worthy manner:  to make a difference in my family, my community, and possibly in the wider society.

There is a most appealing prayer in our Siddur that captures this spirit and has always spoken to my soul. The prayer even mentions the incident of the burning bush.

“Days pass and the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.
God, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing
Let there be moments when Your Presence, like lightning,
Illumines the darkness in which we walk
Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns unconsumed.
And we, clay, touched by God, will reach out for holiness, and exclaim in wonder:  How filled with awe is this place, and we did not know it. “

NAORRR  2015

January 2, 2015
Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman

It was a steamy summer day in Cincinnati, Ohio, the end of July, 1960. Arlene and I had been married for a month. Together we navigated the Appalachians and the Ohio Valley in our un-air conditioned 1954 Ford Fairlaine. Our arrival was a great day for Cincinnati. Everyone was happy. For on that day, the American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs announced that Crest toothpaste was effective in inhibiting tooth decay. P&G stock skyrocketed. And the Stiffmans had arrived. We dropped off a carload of possessions at a friend’s home, and then excitedly drove to our real destinations, University of Cincinnati for Arlene; 3101 Clifton Avenue for me. We had seen the pictures of the beautiful HUC campus in the catalog. As we drove up Clifton Avenue, we became more excited. Exaltation – visiting the mother font of Reform rabbinical training .And then we turned into the driveway.

It was a construction site. The Sisterhood dorm was being renovated, as was the classroom building. The Klau library was under construction, as was the new dorm. I parked on the dirt area in front of the classroom building, and we ventured inside. The first person we met, a junior faculty member named Norman Golb, directed us to the Provost’s office. There we met Mickey November, Dr. Sandmel’s administrative aide, who really ran the school. She showed us around, put us in touch with those we had to meet, and we were on our way back to our car. Exaltation!
We looked forward to getting to our motel next to Frisch’s Big Boy and resting. As we reached our car, we realized that our first visit to HUC-JIR had resulted in a flat tire. Deflation! 
Exaltation and deflation! Welcome to the next five years of my life.

 One of the joys of coming to NAORRR is sharing such memories with classmates and colleagues. Ain’t it great to be retired! Each of us remembers those days.

Memories can be deceiving. Usually I’ll remember something and Arlene will tell me what really happened. Whenever I speak lovingly of those HUC days, she reminds me how our study group used to get together to study, but spent half of the time complaining.” Rivkin and Reines spend too much time on their personal theories and not enough time on their subjects”. Language lab was a downer after we learned, ’Sim na yadecha tachat yerachee.’ Too many papers! Too little time to study”! There were so many complaints.

But the major one was, “They’re not preparing us for congregational life. They are educating us with texts, history, philosophy, human relations, a little theology, a dash of music…but not practical rabbinics.” By and large, this was true. Yet, buried in all of that other important stuff, we sometimes got a glimpse of the future. In Mihaly- McCoy tradition, let me cite three instances.

The first was in a class that was not a class. The school did not offer a class in practical rabbinic. A group of us went to Dr. Glueck to ask for such a class and we’re told, “You’ll learn all of that afterwards!” Out of the goodness of his heart, Sylvan Schwartzman offered a unit on the practical rabbinate in his home. It was the first time I stood in front of a couple with a Rabbi’s Manual in my hand and struggled through leading a wedding service. 

He was the only faculty member who had served a congregation. Among the many things he taught us, one stood out. He said to us, “Remember, you’re not one of them!” He related his experiences in Nashville, where many of his congregants spent every Saturday night at the Country Club, often drinking quite heavily. He was given a Country Club membership, but this was not his style. So he stopped going regularly. One of his lay leaders told him that he was missed at the Club. “After all,” the man said, “We like to have “The Rabbi” there!” He wasn’t Sylvan Schwartzman; he was “The Rabbi.”

That story stuck with me. I’ve served the same congregation for forty-eight of my fifty years as a Rabbi. We had made some good friends. But…. We used to go to a wedding and see tables of our friends and contemporaries sitting there having a good time. However we viewed them from the end of the head table, sitting next to the grandma who couldn’t hear. Once we were lucky enough to be seated with friends at a reception. One of our longtime friends remarked, “We must be considered very important because we’re seated with ‘The Rabbi.’ Remember… “You’re not one of them”. Ain’t it great to be retired and to remember?

The second teaching moment took place in the classroom of that fearsome scholar, Dr. Jakob J. Petuchowski, of blessed memory. It was our first class following the High Holy Days. In walks this distinguished theologian in fancy cowboy boots with a ten-gallon hat covering his thick shock of dark black hair. He had spent another Yamim Noraim at his ten-day-a-year congregation in Texas. His people presented him with the hat and boots. He looked up at us, and in his Germanic-British accented English said, “Remember this gentlemen, there is nothing like the Jewish layman.” We were taken aback. This guy who made us strain our necks trying to avoid his gaze so he wouldn’t call on us to answer a question, was praising these unlearned Texans with whom he shared ten days a year?

He went on, “At HUC we tell you all of the time how important the rabbi is, that you are the repository of wisdom and ethical tradition. You are the one who must lead”. He went on, “Gentlemen, the lay people live in the real world. They can help us keep our heads on straight. They don’t have to support a synagogue or form a Federation or educate themselves and their children. They live in a small town and don’t have to pay to bring a rabbi in every year for the holidays. But they do it. There’s nothing like the Jewish layman.”

What a lesson! How many of us locked horns with lay leaders, ordinary people in our congregations? When we wanted to win the argument, we were tempted to tell them, “I’m right because Judaism says you should do it this way.” At times like that, when I felt strongly about an issue and wanted to pull my rank, I would think back to “Petuchowski in boots,” to stabilize my thoughts and tamp down my ego.

Most of us, retired old souls, can now look back upon our years of active duty. Most of us agree that there is nothing like the Jewish layman or laywoman. They volunteer their time. They give of their means. Some annoyed us to distraction and some inspired us to perfection. In light of the Pew report and demographic surveys, we should especially cherish our partners. As we remember the many leaders with whom we shared, we think, “Ain’t it great to be retired!”

Number three. To prove my innate sense of non-discrimination, I refer to a faculty member of our New York campus, to our revered late President and to our beloved Jacob Rader Marcus. Each reminded us that we can overcome our failures.

Twice I heard Borowitz talk about tough times in his life. He had been fired as a teacher at Rockdale Temple when he was a student – then came back to speak there as Director of the Joint Commission on Jewish Education. A decade later he spoke at my congregation, where as a young Assistant he had been pushed out by the Senior Rabbi Julius Gordon. He said to my flock, “And now I’m teaching those who will be your rabbis!” What a brilliant career he still is experiencing.

 Marcus wrote “The Rise and the Destiny of the German Jew,” in the early 1930s predicting the fall of Hitler and a great future for German Jewry. Facts proved otherwise. He then decided to concentrate on the past and founded the academic discipline of American Jewish History, a major scholarly discipline today. Neither Borowitz nor Marcus gave up because of a failure. They used them as stepping stones to a better future.

Each of us has experienced times of failure, seasons of disappointment in our rabbinate. How many times did I fail to reach out to a member, screw up a Torah reading, skip a name on a Kaddish list, or miss seeing someone in the hospital? How many times did I fail a colleague or myself? We each have memories of failures – but they do not define us. Like our teachers Borowitz and Marcus, we move on from dwelling on our failures to remembering our successes. Now we are free to look back upon our careers, to remember all, the deflations but mostly the exaltations. Ain’t it great to be retired?

“You are not one of them.” “There is nothing like the Jewish layman.” “I overcame failure.” I guess I learned more about being a rabbi than I realized.

The flat tire was repaired and we moved on to the motel next to Frisch’s Big Boy and to our life ahead. I celebrate my memories. 

We celebrate our memories. We give thanks for the support of our families who still uphold us. We cherish the memories of the friends and the study partners, the colleagues and teachers who taught and teach us at the College-Institute and beyond. We are grateful for our Conference and our Union. And we are grateful for NAORRR, which allows us to revive or memories in the midst of old and new friends. 

We of the class of 1965 hope that it might be said of us, “Vayecchi,” that we lived and made a difference in the world, cherishing our sacred calling while partnering with amcha, learning from our deflations and basking in our exaltations.

Some may it be said of each of the NAORRRniks who share this Shabbat. May we continue to sense exaltation in our togetherness and oneness in our joy.

Rabbi Stanley Davids

My friend and teacher, Mark Winer, wrote the following when he addressed the 40th reunion of his Harvard class: “We once were the future, we became the present and soon enough we will be the past.”

Such wisdom is not always satisfying for those who cannot imagine a world within which they will not be exercising control. King David, that sweet singer of Israel and a first rate adulterer, was quoted this morning as saying to his successor-son Solomon: “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong and show yourself a man.” And then, in a scene straight out of “The Godfather,” the red-headed, harp-strumming monarch explains that his understanding of what it would mean for Solomon to be a man involves assassinating a select list of David’s enemies. David had no intention of letting a little thing like revenge killings get in the way of seeing his vision for the future secured.

And Jacob, aging patriarch of a world-class dysfunctional family, also revealed this morning an agenda that was intended to reach hundreds of years beyond his own imminent demise. According to the Sfat Emet, based upon a text from רבא בראשית, Jacob was aware that slavery was in his family’s future – and he wanted to make that slavery easier to bear by revealing what he alone knew: that following the period of slavery there would be freedom, שבח would follow גנות. But God denied Jacob the right to share this secret. It is the Divine intention, the Sfat Emet taught, that each generation must struggle to shape its own future. Needless to say, Jacob wasn’t very happy about his loss of control. After all, isn’t that the point of being a Patriarch? To be in charge?

One week before my 75th birthday this past October, I read an article that Ezekiel Emanuel had written for The Atlantic, an article lovingly entitled, “Why I hope to die at 75.” Now, a moderately sane person who was 74 years, 11 months, and three weeks old might be expected to have the SAYCHEL not to expose himself or herself to what Dr. Emanuel had to say about 75th birthdays. Right. You would think.

This brilliant brother of Ari and of Rahm held nothing back. You see, my colleagues and friends, it’s all over by 75. We will have no more contributions to make to our world. We will have lost clarity of mind and agility of body (though quite frankly I have never been blessed with agility of body). We will have at best a few high quality years left. Disability lurks in our near future. Extended years for most of us are really no more than an extended dying process, with the minefields of dementia and Alzheimer’s awaiting us. 75 is in no way the new 50!

Of course there are the outliers, those exceptions to whom we can all point, but such outliers do not contradict the accumulating data. And even in the best of circumstances we will still end up on the receiving end of the tender concern of others. That tender concern will forever change how we will be remembered. Not as the vibrant, creative and active individuals we once were…but rather as dependent and diminished old-timers. Thus concludes the Emanuel analysis of what being 75 really means.

As with most if not all of you, my jubilee classmates, my friends, my colleagues - life has brought me much undeserved joy: Resa, my life partner who shares with me a nurturing, forgiving, healing, joyous love; children for whom I am still a desired part of their world; grandchildren who regularly turn to me with challenging questions and unsolicited hugs; and a career of meaningful, often satisfying sacred service, rich with human interactions.

As with most if not all of you, life has also brought me much undeserved pain: sitting by my young mother’s bedside, helpless before the malignancy that was consuming her brain; confronting a professional failure that challenged my too fragile self-worth; bearing the agonizing burden of deciding whether my sister should be administered sufficient morphine to quiet her pain, morphine that would also stop her heart; trying to internalize what it meant, what it really meant, when for over ten years – every six months -- my physicians would tell me that I had only three more months to live. 

In the pursuit of meaning in the presence of such a mixed bag of life experiences, I have dedicated my rabbinate to what our conference theme this year calls “The Evolving Jewish People.” It wasn’t a conscious choice. It just happened. You see, I came alive to our world in the ’60’s; I embraced the anti-war movement while still in uniform; I entered into the black struggle for human and civil rights; feminism; choice – yet through all of that I found myself inexorably drawn to my people’s right and obligation to secure its own future. The Six Day War. The Soviet Jewry Movement. The birth and flowering of Reform Zionism. High school kids at Kutz. College kids. Israel. Aliyah.

For four decades as a congregational rabbi and now for one decade as a retiree – the meaningful survival and evolution of the Jewish people have been at the center of my day-to-day concerns. Over the years that struggle somehow became a unifying theme around which I could organize my thoughts and actions. Even today, even now, it ignites within me hope and purpose. To put it simply, that struggle keeps me alive. Perhaps it is not the most worthy of causes, but it infuses my being with a shot of metaphorical adrenaline.

Maybe that is why I find myself today still trying, like a kippah wearing Energizer Bunny, to shape our tomorrows. Maybe that is why so many of you sitting here this morning have made similar choices in your own ways, in your own lives: refusing to give up on trying to have an impact on the future. And that is why I suggest that we regard Ezekiel Emanuel’s scenario as naïve, elitist and hopelessly narcissistic. I can even understand where King David and Jacob were coming from, even though I probably would not choose to embrace the king’s tactics.

It’s not that I see better or know more than anybody else. I know that I don’t. But I believe based upon what I have seen and learned and experienced that the survival of Israel as a Jewish democratic state is a sine qua non for the survival of North American Jewry, even as the reverse is equally true. And that belief for me is a mandate for meaningful action.

So when I received a call from Gilad Kariv several weeks ago, asking me to help him raise some funds quickly so that he could effectively compete for a position on the Labor slate in the forthcoming Knesset elections, I could not refuse. That election has a real possibility of overturning what I consider to be an intransigent government incapable of launching positive initiatives which might, just might, move us closer to a two state solution. If a new government is formed this Spring linking parties of the political right with the ultra-orthodox parties, many of the recent ground-breaking achievements in easing the stranglehold of the Rabbanut over matters of personal status and life cycle events will be reversed. To shape the future, outspoken advocates for religious pluralism like Gilad are needed by the Knesset. My being over 75 is simply irrelevant to such a worthy challenge. There is a job demanding to be done. I can still help. We can still help. We are very much alive. We are relevant and needed.

And so elections for the World Zionist Congress begin in two weeks. A victory for ARZA in these elections will pour more than $20 million into the activities of the IMPJ and the Hebrew Union College over the next five years. Israeli Reform Judaism now tracks support from more than 7% of the population. We are growing, evolving, changing. We offer new definitions as to what a synagogue could be; we demonstrate how the manner in which we treat the stranger in our midst helps determine our relationships with an increasingly hostile world. With a western understanding of democracy and with a liberal and embracing vision of Jewish identity both embedded in our Reform DNA – Israel needs us to win and to win big in the Congress elections. Another job yet to be done. By us. We can still help. We are very much alive. We are relevant. We are needed.

I don’t know how many quality months or years that I have left. The door to that mystery is firmly shut. And I am painfully aware of my own personal limitations and weaknesses. But like David and Jacob, and like many of you, I am not yet willing to turn my back on how the future will emerge. Being in a struggle the outcome of which will not be known for many years after I am gone doesn’t diminish the vitality that I feel today because I am still engaged. Isn’t it the same with you?

So whatever the worthy issues that command each of us: Israel or environmentalism or racism or economic justice or the strengthening of our families or writing that book that really needs to be written -- we who are growing old can continue to find what Frank Bruni recently called in The New York Times, “slices of opportunity” awaiting us. So long as our hands can reach, so long as our souls can yearn and our minds can comprehend – so long can we yet have a vital role in shaping what tomorrow will bring. We who were once the future and then were the present are not ready to lay down our burdens. Not yet. Not now. We have too much to do. We are needed.

By the way, at the end of his essay Ezekiel Emanuel added the following: That he is currently only 57 and thus reserves the right to change his mind. Good move, Dr. Emanuel. You see, there is life to be lived. And we are choosing to live it.

רצון יהי – May God grant us the courage of David to challenge those who would threaten our people.
רצון יהי – May God grant us the vision of Jacob to see into our future and there find comfort.
ונתחזק חזק חזק

Rabbi Robert Samuels

Shabbat Shalom,

Thank you, Mark (Shapiro).

Our Parasha contains a blessing bestowed by Jacob on Ephraim and Menasheh. I greet you with a paraphrase of it as a NAORRR blessing for all of us:

May the God who has led our forefathers and foremothers always go before us;
  May the One who has shepherded us from our birth to this day;
And may the Angels who have averted evil from our path;
  Bless us, our families and our People;
And continue to call us Israel, as we increase our mission in this world. (adapted from Gen 48:15-16

 Annette and I are delighted to be with you today.  

I want to thank Don (Berlin) for inviting me to share with you a few of the thoughts, experiences, and events of a half-century of a Reform Rabbi in Israel.

And thanks to Frank and Beth (Waldorf) and their committee for the grant from the Walloch Fund to make it possible to be here.

I want to welcome our guest, Debbe D'Ull, who has joined us from San Francesco, and who gave such love and comfort to my brother, Tom, alav hashalom.

And Annette and I are saddened by the recent death of my classmate and partner, Joe Goldman. Joe and I founded and ran a day camp while students in Cincinnati. Together with Annette and several of you colleagues, we brought the joy of being Jewish to hundreds of Cincinnati's children. My condolences to Sally and their children. We will miss him.

In 1955 Eli Pilchik gave the Isaac Mayer Wise Lecture in Cincinnati. He spoke to us students in the bumming room. With a dramatic hand gesture, he said, "Boys, it's dark out there. Get yourself a friend in the rabbinate". Well, I did - Chuck and Terry (Kroloff) have been our lifelong friends in and out of the rabbinate. Our lives have been so blessed by that deep friendship. Eli was right.

In 1920 Robert Frost wrote "The Road Not Taken". When I was a senior at Brandeis in 1954, Frost came to speak. He told us that when he penned that he had taken "the road less traveled by" it was only a description of that wintry day in New England. We argued with him that it makes a profound difference if one takes the road less traveled by. Well, it certainly has for Annette and me.

For I, like you, was trained to lead an ever more expanding, wealthy and influential Jewish world in America - and most of you did. I would have, and by all rights should have. I was born 7th generation American and 6th generation Texan. One of my ancestors was the first Jewish resident of Houston in 1839 and one of the founders of Temple Beth Israel in 1854.
But the founding of Israel when I was 15; my pioneering spirit and desire to make a difference for the Jewish People after the Holocaust drew me to the old-new Homeland. And Annette's Zionism, imbibed as a child from her father, Rabbi Nathan Colish, profoundly influenced us to live in Israel for 1 1/2 years on leave from my HUC rabbinic studies.  
We lived and breathed Israel in the mid '50's. My Hebrew and my Jewishness came alive as I carried Nechama Leibowitz everywhere she taught in Jerusalem on my Lambretta motorscutter , soaking up her wisdom of the commentaries to our Torah; reached down deep into Israel's soil with Yigal Yadin; thrilled to the proud bass voice of Zeev Vilnai, the great guide, who took us all over Israel in dust filled trucks; explored our mystic traditions with Gershom Sholom; learned the fundaments of Jewish education from Ernst Simon. Annette and I shared a simple and beautiful life in Jerusalem then; and we were hooked.

We returned to Cincinnati; studied seriously with Sheldon Blank, Jacob Marcus and Ellis Rivkin; took a 2 year assistantship at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois - and dreamed and planned to return to Israel. I didn't know if it would work, but was determined to see if I could contribute to the twin foundations of Israel - to be a modern Jewish society and a democratic State. I knew that my background, training and world view had prepared me for this service to our broken, but proud, people.  

So, through the dedication of Sam Cook to the Baeck School (you all remember our NFTY mantras - Bricks for Baeck; From Gehenom to Gan Eden; the Cronbach Chapel),

I got Hugo Gryn, the then director of the World Union in New York, Maurice Eisendrath and Jay Kaufman, to send me to Haifa to work with Dr Elk and to explore how Israelis would accept Reform Judaism. They offered me $5,000. So, in August of 1962 I went to rent an apartment and free our belongings from the Haifa port; one month later, Annette arrived with our three kids (the oldest was 3). She descended from the plane with a son on each arm and our 3 month old daughter on her back. We had $400 a month for our family - and Annette never, not once, complained. I was able to apply myself to my dreams for Israel without concern for our finances, and that is one of the reasons that our Aliyah worked. You want to know what true Zionism is? It's the Annettes who love our Land, our People and our Language, integrate and dedicate themselves and their children to them.

And another reason was that tiny and poor Haifa School. Leo Baeck was a 4 year high school in a dilapidated apartment house on Haifa's Hadar. The facilities were poor; 8 different sized classrooms, a tiny teachers room; no panes on the windows, no heating in the winter or AC in the summer; no facilities for sport; the aroma of cooking from the apartments above us; inadequate bathrooms. But no one complained. The standard of learning was high. Dr Elk had gathered an old-world Germanic faculty of PhDs -Geveret Dr Zavadi, Math; Geveret Dr Zilverstein, English; Geveret Dr Yaakobi, Biology; Rav Dr Elk, Judaics; Rav Dr Daniel, Humanities; Rav Dr Rafael, Talmud. The atmosphere was social and friendly, and the "times" were different. Most students lived in small apartments; material objects were simple, and people's expectations were for content and character rather than material objects and wealth. Leo Baeck's simple building fit right in with the spirit of the day.

You colleagues will find fascinating the 3 rabbis at Leo Baeck in the early years, Dr Meir Elk, Dr Pedatzur Daniel and Dr Avigdor Porat - all graduates of the Breslau Seminary, but very different in their Jewish veltanshang. Rabbi Daniel was orthodox; Rabbi Elk conservative and Rabbi Porat liberal. For instance, Rabbi Daniel would not attend our Shabbat services at the School as he would not ride; Rabbi Elk would take a taxi from his home, but would exit the cab 2 blocks from the school and walk the rest of the way. When Rabbi Porat attended, no one asked or cared how he got there.

Rabbi Daniel considered Reform Judaism to be a caricature of religion. He was tolerant of my presence, but not of my religious liberalism. Rabbi Elk was more traditional than me, but accepting of change and respectful. Rabbi Porat was like me, often seeking me out for a discussion of the Parasha or a suggestion of how to teach issues of the spirit in a developing secular Israeli society. I was free to teach Tanach, Rabbinics, Jewish Thought with the most modern theological and pedagogic conceptions.

Dr Elk created a Jewish atmosphere in the School. The morning began with the recitation of a Psalm; male students took a kepa out of their back pack while studying Jewish texts; students could major in Bible; Rabbinics and/or Jewish Thought; all Jewish holidays were taught and appropriate ceremonies prepared.

Arriving in Haifa on a hot summer day, Dr Elk greeted me and over a cup of tea, I asked him: "Dr Elk, I know what you want from me as a teacher, but tell me what you expect of me as a rabbi". He responded, "Two things: help our students and their families to love Judaism' and get me some Sephardic and Druze students". I immediately knew that I was in the right place.  

Regarding the first: One month later, on Erev Rosh Hashana we had our first youth services for over 100 students in a rented Bnei Brith hall, and over the years we inaugurated both the chu'gay HaNoar, the Youth Movement of the IMPJ and the first Progressive troop of the Tzofim, the Israeli Scouts. Our graduates were also the main group in the first garinim to Yahel and Lotan. 10 graduates of Leo Baeck have become rabbis in Israel.

As to the second request of Dr Elk: I immediately went to the ma'a'ba'ra in Haifa's suburb, Kiryat Haim, where I met many families, among them, the Faragi family of 8 children living in a 2 room tin shack. They had come from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco 3 years before. Mrs Faragi told me that Haim, their oldest son, was smart. I told them on the spot that he would start the 10th grade at Leo Baeck the next semester; that he would have a tutor and no cost to the family for all his expenses. Haim graduated with honors and went on to earn 2 academic degrees. 5 more of the Faragi kids graduated from Leo Baeck, though by the time the fourth attended, the family name had been changed to Pereg. Atzmon Pereg, the youngest, played soccer with our son, Ami, and became a regular visitor in our home. 

Colleagues, the Faragi- Pereg family is a microcosm of what could have been for all of the children of the million North African and Middle Eastern Jews who came to Israel in the early years of the State. A scientific-humanistic education, coupled with love and respect for their Jewish and Sephardic culture, could have been the base for these proud but poor Jewish communities to understand the values of social democracy and ethical Judaism.

When we built our large campus in the late '60's, we placed it in an area of Haifa that included a large community of North African Jews, and I spent 25 years developing programs to integrate and uplift those Sephardic kids to equality with their Ashkenazic peers and to leadership positions throughout Israel's developing social fabric.

And we sought out Druze students. High on Mt Carmel are Ussifiah and Dalia with some 20,000 arabic-speaking but non-muslim citizens of Israel. I went in search for Druze students. One of Ussifiah's leaders, Zaki Zahir, had a son in the 8th grade. He honored me in his bench-lined living room, and while served by his wife and beautiful young daughter, he told me how important it was for Yoel, his son, to get a good education. I promised to get Yoel a Hebrew tutor, and asked Mr Zahir if he would consider also sending his daughter. He thought for a few seconds, and replied "Not yet". Once when Yoel was a senior, Ezra Spicehandler, who was HUC's Jerusalem Dean, visited Leo Baeck and sat with me in the back of a Talmud class. When the bell rang, Ezra pointed toward the back of one of the students and said to me " That boy could become a Talmudist." It was Yoel Zahir!! Today there are some 90 students throughout the 6-year Leo Baeck High School, and 1/2 of them are females.

At the beginning, I needed to meet with the legendary mayor of Haifa, Abba Khushi. The city was known as "Red Haifa", a main stronghold of Labor. It was important, therefore, to introduce myself and to determine the Mayor's knowledge and opinion of Reform Judaism. As I was ushered into his office during that first semester of 1962, he rose to greet me: "Samuels, I want to know all about you." I gave him a little of my background, he interrupted to ask "I was taught that the Reform Movement was anti-Zionist, so what are you doing teaching in a Haifa school?" I explained that some of the greatest Zionist leaders had been Reform Rabbis - Judah Magnes, Abba Hillel Silver, Stephen Wise, Arthur Lelyveld, Saadia Gelb - and that Reform was changing its ideology as a result of the Holocaust and the birth of Israel, that my purpose was to contribute to "social justice" in Haifa. The Mayor smiled and asked me how I planned to do that. I responded "Teach humanism, pluralism and democracy; bring American Jewish teenagers to live and study at Leo Baeck, educate the children of the shee'ku'nim and teenage new immigrants who haven't yet learned Hebrew, encourage teenagers to volunteer wherever help is needed; and give non-orthodox families an opportunity to study and to practice Judaism in a modern, non-coercive mode". Abba Khushi, the Socialist, jumped out of his chair, strode to the other side of the room, pointed out of the window toward Haifa Port, and said "You see that port down there? That is where our new Israelis arrive. When they come off those immigrant ships, we don't look at the shape of their nose, and we won't look at the shape of their conscience either. Fulfill those tasks, and I will help you." And so he did.

And my teaching worked! I had prepared to become the homeroom teacher for a 9th Grade class. We studied together, I teaching them Tanach and their teaching me literary Hebrew! We traveled the country together, with our Bibles as our guide books; I brought them music based on Biblical personalities, places and events. We debated big Israeli issues in homeroom; we volunteered on kibbutzim for a week each at Sukkot, Chanuka and Pesach. It was a cha'gi'gah!

And I taught Tush'ba (Torah She'b'al' Peh) in the 10th grade; choosing ethical dilemmas in Midrashim. We analyzed the question in a midrash; the answer to the question and the universal lesson for our own lives. I learned a great deal about how the Sabra thinks; about their values and their passions. And I loved them.

Annette and I invited 16 students, 2 from each class, to our Mt Carmel apartment on Friday afternoons; we played crochet on the lawn; had Kabbalat Shabbat at the head of the wadi, watching the sun set over the Mediterranean as we sang the Shema; sat on the floor of my study to discuss the meaning of Shabbat for secular Israeli youth and then into our living room where Annette had prepared a Shabbat meal with all the blessings, chicken soup, and zemirot.

I started the EIE program while still in Chicago. Marc Rosenstein was a gifted 14 year old; I taught him weekly and sent him to Haifa - he was the first EIEer; today Rabbi Dr Marc is the highly respected founder of Makom B'Galil at Shorashim and the director of the Israeli Rabbinic Program at HUC Jerusalem. When I arrived in Haifa, we began to send a few of our best kids to NFTY. The first 3 Israelis to be ordained in Jerusalem - Motti Rottem, Zeev Harari and Gil Nativ were my students who were inspired by NFTY and an American Reform Jewish family and congregation.

(How many of you hosted my EIE students over the years?)

 And it continues today; the newest addition to our team of 4 rabbis at Leo Baeck is Rabba Naama Dafne, my student (and perhaps yours) 20 years ago.

But, colleagues, I was trained to be a congregational rabbi - and I love it. So, here is that story:

I started Bat Mitzvah in Israel. Our 12 year old girls at that time didn't even have a party to mark their transition into early adolescence. So, we initiated an Erev Shabbat service on Shabbat Mevoracheen for all 6th grade girls whose birthday fell in that Hebrew month. They all read from Torah, led the service, and at the reception gave a short speech based on their reading. It was moving and memorable and revolutionary for Israel in the early 1960's. Those 6th grade young female adolescents and their families loved the experience, but were unaware that they were breaking new ground in the empowerment of Jewish women in Israel. Today at the Bat Mitzvah of a young girl, a grandmother will approach me to remind me that she was one of the first, way back then!

A larger story is the 4 congregations that I founded, Maram and the first conference of the Movement.

One week after I arrived in Haifa, I was contacted by Shlomo Maagani, an immigrant from Hungary who had been the organist in the large Neolog (European Reform) Synagogue in Budapest. Maagani had fled during the failed Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956. In the 6 years intervening he had become totally blind; had just received a job as the telephone operator for the Elite Chocolate Factory in Natzrat Elite, a new immigrant development town above Arab Nazareth. Maagani's dream was to once again play the organ in a liberal synagogue in his new town. I went to meet him; was impressed with his knowledge of the liturgy and his passion for prayer. Together, we formed what was to become the 2nd Reform congregation in Israel, after Har El in Jerusalem which had been founded in 1958. We named it Kehillat Herzl. The mayor gave us the use of a basement apt; I found a manual organ for Maagani; our first service was Shacharit Rosh Hashana, 1962. I brought food from Haifa for a Seudat Chag. The service was attended by 30 new immigrants from Transylvania, Hungary-Rumania. These people could barely speak Hebrew, but they knew the prayers and sang joyously to Maagani's much-too-loud playing of Lewindofski and Sultzer's nusach. The congregation which formed with them and with the Bnei Yisrael liberal Jews from Bombay gave these new immigrants spiritual satisfaction and was a refuge from the strong winds of hardship on that bare mountain in the Galil.

During that 1st year Kehillat Herzl became the focus for my religious work. I went there every Shabbat morning and took with me food for the Seudat Shabbat. NFTS bought Maagani an electric organ and Braille texts for the liturgy ; I sent 2 kids from there on EIE. It was a holy task to bring together these refugees from Eastern Europe and from the Indian subcontinent, these people of difference, in a Judaism based on equality of ethnicity and pluralism.

But Nazrat Elite was to become the first of many missed opportunities for developing Reform Judaism in Israel. We got NFTY to send a Mitzvah Corps there. Together with local teenagers, we built a public park that summer. The mayor was delighted and asked me to come to live there - to become the head of the education system. I couldn't; but I tried, I pleaded, with the WUPJ, UAHC, HUC, CCAR to send a young rabbi - no one was ready to take up the challenge. It was a window of opportunity which would close, as Israel's political system produced more and more religious coercion and orthodox opposition to Reform. Today Nazrat Elite is an urban city with 35,000 Jews and 8,000 Arabs. But it now has a right-wing mayor who is vocally against Arabs living there. It is sobering to think what the city would have become if the roots of liberalism and social justice had been laid back then 50 years ago. This was the first of many missed opportunities of the World and American Reform Movements to become big-time players in the socialization of Israel.

The following year, 1963 I founded Emet V'Anava, the Progressive congregation in Nahariya. It consisted mostly of Yekes, German speaking Jews, many of whom had been members of Reform congregations in Germany in the '30's. That 1st year, I alternated Shabbatot between Nazareth and Nahariah. A portrait of 2 early Reform congregations:  

1)The service in Upper Nazareth began when people arrived, in Nahariya exactly on the appointed minute; 
2)worship in Natzrat was loud, boisterous and often cacophonous; in Nahariya controlled and orderly; 
3)the sermon in Kehillat Herzl was warm and emotional; in Emet V'anava intellectual and test-based; 
4)the Oneg in Nazareth was joyful and much appreciated - in Nahariya controlled and formal 

A portrait of nascent Israeli Reform, showing the cultures of different communities in the warp and woof of an integrating Israel, only 15 years old.

The following year, 1964, I founded Or Hadash in Haifa and led the congregation for 6 years, until Leo Baeck moved into our new campus. Or Hadash is a story in itself, a tale too large to tell here. It quickly became a powerful congregation in Haifa of several hundred member families, with over 1,000 worshippers on the Ya'mim Nora'im. Rabbis Gunther Plaut, Roland Gittlesohn and David Polish came to give lecture series; Motti Rotem became the long term rabbi of Or Hadash and launched the building of a beautiful sanctuary and center high on the Carmel.

And the 4th congregation I founded is at the Leo Baeck Center itself. Ohel Avraham is - yes, the Cronbach Chapel, Sam Cook's dream for Leo Baeck. Through the years, we have had 8 outstanding rabbis leading that congregation; Leo Baeck graduates, a Brit and 2 Americans. Jeff Klepper was our cantor for a year; Debbie Friedman joined us for months; Benjie Schiller and Les Bronstein sang for us on the High Holydays.

My Aliyah was in 1962; my classmate, Mel Zager, came the following year, changed his name to Moshe Zemer, and settled in northern Tel Aviv. We invited Jack Cohen, the Reconstructionist rabbi of the Hebrew University Hillel, to join us in Moshe's home - and there we founded our rabbinic organization. We searched for an appropriate name. Jack suggested Irgun HaRabbanim l'ma'an kee'dum Ha'Ya'ha'dut (The Rabbinic Organization for the Reconstruction (sic!) of Judaism). Moshe suggested the simpler Moetzet Rabbanim Mitkadmim - Maram, and so it became. We were 3 members then; today we are over 100! 

By 1965 there were 6 congregations in Israel - the flagship Har El in Jerusalem; 2 in the Tel Aviv area; and my 3 in the north. It was time to establish an Israeli Reform Movement. I called for a conference in February of that year, to be held in Kfar Galim, a youth village near Haifa. Dr Elk was our conference speaker; he urged us to found a network of Progressive schools throughout Israel. The IMPJ, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, was off and running. We have just celebrated our Yovel with a huge conference in Sh'fah'eem.

The future of the Baeck school was in jeopardy in '65. When Israel changed its educational system from 8 year free, compulsory, elementary and 4 year tuition based secondary schools - to 6 year elementary and 6 year high schools, it became clear that all the tiny 4 year private schools would not survive. Leo Baeck had to have a Junior High which would feed into a 3 year Senior High. We had to build and develop a new campus. There was only one possibility: The Government planned to partner with the UJA and the Jewish Agency to build 64 6 year high schools, in order to give Sephardic kids the opportunity for a secondary education. Yisrael Ha'sh'nee'ah, "the second Israel" (as the less educated Sephardic population was called) was becoming social dynamite. Leo Baeck had to get into that program. I met with Zalman Aranne, the then Education Minister, and he turned us down. So, I had to go where our potential power was - Reform Rabbi Herb Friedman, the charismatic Director General of the UJA. I couldn't get an appointment with him; so I entrapped him as he arrived at the Israel airport, standing in the doorway as he descended from his private plane with his retinue following behind. As he approached the door, I said, "Rabbi Friedman, I am a Reform Rabbi in Haifa. I need 5 minutes with you". He responded, "I don't have time. Make an appointment." "I tried and couldn't", I responded, "Give me 2 minutes, or you'll have to knock me down to get through this door.

He saw that I was serious; thought for a second; liked the chutzpah; and walked with me to the side. "I teach at the Leo Baeck School. It is the only beachhead we have for a Reform Movement in Israel. Aranne will not put us in the Israel Education Fund. Tell him that you will raise the money for the 64 high schools if he will put Leo Baeck on the list. It is our one shot" He immediately understood, agreed - and all the rest is history. It was one of those moments which change events and lives.

Herb wanted the UAHC to take a lead in bringing wealthy Reform Jews to contribute the minimum of $100,000 to the special UJA campaign. Eisendrath would not agree for the UAHC to participate, so Freedman thought that he could get to that wealth through me. He asked me to raise the necessary $1,100,000 for Leo Baeck, and so I did. It is a marvelous story of 6 American Reform families, about which you can read in the book I am finishing soon. But one story, just to give you an insight.


Caroline was 85 in 1966 when I mined her name from lists of wealthy Reform Jews. A spinster who lived in Manhattan, Caroline had inherited from her Macon, Georgia parents enough money to live on for all of her life. She was known to the UJA professionals, though she was not a regular contributor to their campaigns. I called her and made an appointment to meet her in the offices of NFTY. She had told me in our telephone conversation that with no children of her own, she was interested in investing in the future of Israel's children. I had told her that the minimum gift to the IEF was $100,000. Appropriately, I had sitting around the table with me, Rabbi Sam Cook, Shimon Chasdi, the American Director of EIE with Leo Baeck, and Ira Levine, the representative of the UJA's Israel Education Fund. Caroline was a classy woman who listened intently to our presentation. I gave her a few vignettes of Leo Baeck's students from the 4 corners of the earth; Sam told her of his thrill to be a partner with Dr Elk who was pioneering progressive education in Israel; Shimon spoke of a new Zionism where American and Israeli Jewish youth were to repair a broken world together; Ira cared for Caroline's comfort. She asked a few questions about what we planned to build. I pulled out my own sketches of an educational center in which teenagers would learn and the community would be enriched. When she told us that this was to be the gift of her lifetime, I asked if she would like to memorialize her parents by naming the school building. She began to cry - and when she did, so did we. This became a defining moment in her long life. She asked the cost of that building. Without a professional estimate in hand, I figured to ask her for 1/3 the project's total cost; so, I responded with "$350,000, Caroline." That was a sizable sum in 1966. She cried once again, said that she could do that and that she would. We thanked her and Ira, who had been giving her tender loving care, leaned close to her, thanked her in the name of the Jewish People and promised to arrange all the details.

  This highly emotional and substantial gift set us on a successful path. Sam felt that for the first time he could rest assured that Dr Elk's and his dream would survive; Herb Friedman was very pleased as it was at the time the largest donation to the IEF; Maurice Eisendrath was amazed (and a bit jealous); The World Union, my employer, couldn't have cared less, except for its volunteer legal counsel, Judge Emil Baar, who faithfully represented Leo Baeck in the contract with Caroline and the IEF, and he did it with all his heart.

  In fact, Caroline wanted us to have all of her estate. After pledging the $350,000, she had some $250,000 left, and the interest on that was sufficient for her needs. She promised to leave the residue of her estate for an endowment for student scholarships.

  We invited Caroline to attend the groundbreaking ceremony in June, 1968. It was her first and only visit to Israel. Rabbis Friedman and Eisendrath embraced Caroline at this historic event, and Caroline said it was the highlight of her life. All of us fell in love with this cultured and sensitive woman. For several years following, I invited her to lunch each time I came for fundraising in New York in order to give her nachat from the beauty of life at Leo Baeck and the progress of construction. She always met me at her favorite deli on the corner of 6th Avenue and 57th Street. One year I called her, but she said that she could not meet me as she was ill. "Caroline", I said, "I can't be in New York and not see you. I will come up to your apartment." She argued with me, but I insisted. It was to be a fortuitous decision, as upon entering her apartment hotel, the Great Northern on 57th, I found a criminally neglected abode with many questionable characters loitering in the lobby. Caroline Greenfield, the largest benefactor to the building of Reform Judaism's Israeli flagship, was living in a dump. I pleaded with her to come to live with us in the Brei Brith Parents' Home in Haifa where she would have hundreds of loving children and an appreciative community. "No, all of my money will go for our children in Israel", she insisted.

  I asked Judge Baar to help once again. We met with Caroline's nephew, Rabbi Abram Vossen Goodman, and the 3 of us formed a conservatorship, as agents for Caroline who was now 90. We invested her money by entering her into a beautiful parents home on Long Island where she lived comfortably until her death at the age of 104!. In 1984 Leo Baeck received the residue of Caroline's estate - $250,000!  

  The Julia and David Vossen Greenfield School Building in Haifa is her Georgia parents' lasting legacy, and the many teenagers who have received Caroline Greenfield scholarships are her immortality. It is one of the inspirational spiritual tales of 20th Century Jewish life.


  In the summer of 1970, as vice principal and the successful entrepreneur of the new Leo Baeck Campus on Haifa's French Carmel, it was a great satisfaction to welcome to Haifa the delegates of the first Israel Convention of the CCAR. We gathered in the internal courtyard of the new stepped pyramid building, the roof of which was still not completed. Roland Gittelsohn, the then CCAR president, a strong Zionist and long time supporter of both Leo Baeck and Or Hadash, said the following: "We American Reform rabbis have watched with great pride the pioneering work of Rabbis Elk and Samuels. I personally have lectured in the school and in the congregation. We are sending our best young people on the Exchange Program and welcoming Baeck's students in our communities. Under great pressure from Israel's political and religious leadership, but with unswerving dedication to their principles, these Reform rabbis are blazing a trail toward a Movement based on our highest spiritual conceptions. We salute you and will continue to support you." 

  After working with Dr Elk for 12 years, in the Spring of 1974 I received my appointment as Headmaster and General Manager of the newly named Leo Baeck Educational Center from the Education Ministry, the Haifa Municipality and the 2 powerful teachers' unions. At a combined meeting of the Board of Directors and the staff, I said: " On September 1st we will inaugurate the 36th year of our precious institution. We have been led through the years by Dr Elk, Dr Daniel, Elisheva Egozi and by many learned men and women of the spirit. We who are to lead, to teach and to educate the next generation stand ready for these tasks because of all that the generation before us has done. Dor-dor-v'dorshav. The mantle of opportunity and responsibility is now being passed to us. I hereby declare that we will continue to develop the School, and we will inaugurate a Community Center based on those values which have characterized Leo Baeck through the years, a humanistic Judaism based on social justice and equality for all. We will prepare our students, intellectually, socially and morally for a life of value in Israel. We will teach our traditions in a spirit of the search for truth; we will gladly receive all immigrant teens who come to us and give them their first spiritual home in Israel; we will teach the language and culture of the Arabic-speaking People among whom we live and help build an Israel society based on pluralism and egalitarianism; we will open our doors to young Jews from the Diaspora and send our students to their communities; and all of this in the spirit of Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck." 


  I had studied educational philosophy, curriculum planning and educational models at Haifa University. But there was no course there in how to integrate the principles of democracy with the traditions of Judaism, nor was there an educational institution based on that wedding. Dr Elk had begun. It was now our task to develop the educational curriculum and atmosphere to internalize in our staff, students and community this vision for Israel.

  These are the goals and tasks that we set before us in 1974 as we began a new period in the history of the Leo Baeck Educational Center:

  To strive for excellence of the mind, body and moral compass in all aspects of our Center's life;
  To maintain the highest standards of employment and build a culture of sharing of tasks;
  To have absolute equality between males and females in student recruitment, in hiring, salaries, benefits and professional advancement;
  To encourage our staff and students to continue their general and professional education with lifelong learning;
  To prepare all students to read critically and write intelligently as tools for a satisfying and enriched life;
  To educate students to research and to analyze with the goal of opening new vistas in their discipline;
  To see each student as unique and to guide their development toward a healthy and positive attitude toward life;
  To bind the generations together in a learning and sharing community of joy, hope and optimism;
  To teach the philosophy, traditions and world view of all streams of 20th Century Judaism with an emphasis on Liberal, Progressive and Reform Jewish principles;
  To interpret Judaism in the light of humanistic, democratic and universalistic principles;
  To develop Israeli Jewish traditions based on historic Judaism and on the modes and mores of modern Israeli life;
  To teach Bible, Rabbinics and Jewish Thought through the ages with the goal of helping each teacher and student to build their own Jewish identity;
  To teach the value of equality of all Israeli citizens and residents in spite of differences, including our Arabic-speaking neighbors and all Jewish ethnic groups;
  To challenge teachers and students to constantly increase their knowledge of the exact and social sciences, the humanities and the arts;
  To strive for love of Israel, including a critical evaluation of its social, political, cultural and economic progress;
  To build a synagogue in the Center which will help to develop a life of the spirit and based on voluntary membership and participation with no religious coercion;
  To accept with love all new immigrants who come to live and study with us and to make their first home in Israel welcoming and productive;
  To teach Arabic language and culture and strive for acceptance of Arabs and especially those living in our community;
  To welcome people of other lands and cultures to our Center, especially Progressive Jewish Youth, and to offer them educational programs;
  To send our students and staff on programs of exchange in order to expose them to other peoples, their cultures and ways of life;
  To encourage students, teachers and parents to take an active role in determining the rules of behavior in the Center in order to develop a multi-generational covenant of felicitous human relationships with a culture of Tikkun, repair, rather than punishment for non-acceptance;
  To build a community of all residents in the vicinity of our Center, linking people of difference together, young and old, men and women, wealthy and poor, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Jews and non-Jews, children of all levels of intelligence and spirituality;
  To strive for social justice within the community and to create the conditions for it in the neighborhoods around the Center;
  To challenge all in the Leo Baeck family to volunteer their talents, interests and material means for the constant betterment of the community and its residents;
  To develop in the Center a financial and management culture which is open, transparent and honest in order to encourage trust among all segments of the public;
  To work closely with the Board of Directors on pedogogic, administrative and economic issues in order to insure that the Center will always maintain the highest academic and community standards, and to establish partnerships of local and national government, corporations, foundations and individuals to sponsor and to support the programs and people of the Center.

So, colleagues this is what I have been doing for the last 52 years. Come visit.

Imagine what Israel would be like today if we had been able to fulfill Dr Elk's charge to that first Movement Conference 50 years ago by having 20 Leo Baeck Education Centers throughout the country. But Eem Nir'tzeh Ein Zo Agadah, if the leaders of our Movement have the will, it still need not be a fantasy.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Arnold Task

As the years go by, it becomes harder, more humbling, and increasingly important for all of us to remember our colleagues and friends whose days have come to an end. The people we will remember today have truly left their mark on our lives. Some were our classmates or professors at HUC-JIR. Some we knew though shared experiences in Israel and travels, some we got to know in NFTY with its camps and conclaves; We knew them through the CCAR with its conventions and committees, or through their writings and seminars. Some were in communities where we also served. We have shared laughs and tears and confidences, and advice. 
Each one found fulfillment in his or her rabbinic career—with congregations, classrooms or organizations. Countless lives have been touched by each of these rabbis. How many are the people whose lives were changed by counseling and praying with them. How many are the weddings, brises, namings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and sadly funerals. Religious School, Confirmation classes and adult study brought inspiration and warmth and nurtured a love of Judaism to people who were seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. Private counseling by these Rabbis brought comfort to troubled souls, or marriages. We can say that with their lives, they gave life to others. 
Many of these rabbis were involved in community action and civil rights. They contributed to change and a better life for the citizens of the communities where they served and for the nation as a whole. 
They instilled a love for Israel when, at times, theirs was like a voice in the wilderness. They brought an awareness and concern for the well-being of fellow Jews around the world.
 We remember in our hearts eight rabbinic spouses whom we lost this year. They were very much a part of their husband’s careers and in their own fields of endeavor, made significant contributions to bettering the world in which we live
We are especially mindful of Ken Weiss, who was our dedicated shepherd in NAORRR for the past 7 years

D’var Torah
Rabbi Norman Patz

We’ve all visited Notre Dame in Paris and seen the statues on its facade, particularly the two on either side of the center doorway. These examples of Christian iconography have fascinated and horrified me for a long time. To the left is Ecclesia, a woman of proud bearing, crowned, with staff in one hand and chalice in the other, and a halo behind her head. To the right is Synagoga, a slumping form with disheveled hair. At her feet lie her crown; in her left hand, a broken staff. She holds in her right hand the five books of Moses, shaped like the tablets of the commandments, upside down as a sign of surrender. A serpent winds its trunk over her eyes and hisses with open jaw above her forehead.

Of all the hostile depictions of Jews and Judaism in Christian iconography, I regard this blinded Synagoga as the most theologically confrontational: Judaism has been defeated and superseded by Christianity because Jews were unable to see the truth of Jesus as messiah. In the 4th century, Augustine accused the Jews of being unable to transcend mundane reality and see the new truth with “eyes of the heart.” Many other Christian writers made the same point: Baldwin of Canterbury (12th century) chastised Jews: “The law and prophets bear witness [in shadows] to future promise, [but] the Pharisees, who did not believe, were made more blind.” Peter the Venerable urged Christians not to “look with Jewish eyes.” Rather, see the humility of Jesus. “What do you expect to see, Jews: gold, silver, gems? Your own prophets said he would come in humility.” And Geoffrey, Abbot of Auxerre (12th century France) warned his fellow Christians not to “be distracted by exterior light, for Christ himself would have neither beauty nor grace were he to be viewed with Jewish eyes.” For all of them, Jews are blind. We cannot see with eyes of the heart.

So I was quite startled, then, when I came upon the Rashi to the first verse of Vay’hi, dealing with Jacob’s death. Rashi says (Gen. 47:28). As a result of Jacob’s death, the eyes and hearts of Israel were closed by Egyptian slavery! The elaboration on this Rashi by the Sefat Emet (the Gerer Rabbi, Yehudah Aryeh Lev Alter, 1847-1905), makes it even more pointed: Jacob’s death introduces a change to Jewish history. “Jews entered into spiritual slavery. They were unable to see and their hearts unable to feel anything but superficiality and this is the core experience of exile.” Exile not only from the land, but from the life of the spirit.
Two accusations of blindness: From the church, the contention that all Jews can see is material superficiality -- objects. This Christian assertion, that Jews are blind to the invisible truths of Christianity, is particularly ironic since churches are filled with altarpieces and statues depicting physical images of their deity, his mother and the saints, yet they condemn us, who gave the world the concept of an invisible God, with accusations of blindness to spiritual truth. This is an old accusation, of course, and we know how to cope with it and reject it.

But an accusation of blindness from our own sages?! The assertion that our spiritual exile has blinded us!!? We need to look at this seriously and consider the possibility that spiritual exile has made Jews blind. And blind to what?

I offer this as a contemporary application: Too many Jews are blind to the existential realities of contemporary Jewish life, specifically, that American exceptionalism from the immediate post-Holocaust years until the present, has blinded many Jews to the return of murderous anti-Semitism, to the powerful forces allied in working to delegitimize Israel, to the increasing and non-negotiable hostility of so many elements of Western society, especially among European and American academics, not only toward Israel but also toward Jews and Judaism itself.

 Are we being blind to the unfolding of a new reality: the end of the brief golden age of Jews in Western society? Is that what Rashi and the Sefat Emet are warning us about? What will we do about it? What can we do about it?

Kerry Olitzky and Larry Kushner. Sparks Beneath the Surface, 1993, #34: Va-yechi: Echo of the Spirit.
Sara Lipton, Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography, 2014, passim.   
Presentations from the 2015 and 2014 NAORRR conventions