Religious Life

“The A Team” – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – April 27, 2018

Shalom Chaverim

I spent the past week at a convention of the Rabbinical Assembly in Chicago. The RA is the union representing over 1700 Conservative rabbis worldwide.

I’m sure that to some of you, a rabbi’s convention is not your idea of a good time. But I enjoyed the opportunity to see friends, meet new colleagues, learn with great teachers, buy too many books, and hear about developments in the movement.

You may hear about our conversation surrounding intermarriage. The content is confidential. But I can say that I was very impressed with the thoughtful, respectful, honest discussion we had. It sets the stage for ongoing dialogue around the topic.

I always come away from convention feeling proud of the incredible work of my colleagues. Sometimes the Conservative movement gets a bad rap. But it’s inspiring to be with hundreds of other rabbis who are doing amazing work as hospice and military chaplains, educators, rabbis who work in social justice organizations, who establish start-ups working with millennials, and of course, pulpit rabbis. These are rabbis working in North America, Israel, Europe, South America and Australia. They are talented individuals who spend their lives devoted to God, Torah, and Israel (the People Israel and the State of Israel).

One of the special moments of the convention was the installation of Rabbi Deborah Newman Kamin as the new RA president. Rabbi Newman Kamin noted that she is the second woman to be president and she spoke about the blessing of being second. She reminded us that already in 1946 the all-male rabbinical assembly voted to remove the prayer from the, then new, Silverman siddur blessing God for “not making me a woman.” There’s a direct line, Rabbi Newman Kamin said, from that decision to her becoming president. Significantly, she takes pride in being the second woman president because it’s a sign that progress had been and is continuing to be made. And indeed, Rabbi Naomi Levy installed her saying, “she’s not being installed as a great woman rabbi but as a rabbis’ rabbi.”

One of the many books I bought was a new commentary on Pirkei Avot. In Mishna 1:6 we read, “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachiah used to say, “find for yourself a rabbi.” In her commentary, Masorti Rabbi Tamar Eldad-Applebaum, a leading voice in Israel writes, “The Hebrew verb literally means “make for yourself a rabbi” and thus suggests that one must actively and consciously select a teacher, rather than passively following along whoever happens to be present.”

In that vein, I want to say how honored I was when I graduated 20 years ago (!) to have been selected by the board to come to Beth El, and how happy I am now with a renewed contract to continue serving as rabbi of our community. I was ordained a rabbi by The Jewish Theological Seminary where I studied Torah, Talmud, halakha, history and more. But it is Beth El that has “made me” a rabbi by teaching me what it means to be a rabbi and how to be a rabbi. I also want to say how pleased I am to share the sacred task of leading the congregation with two wonderful colleagues in Rabbi Olitzky and Cantor Abrams. Call us “The A Team!”

Rabbi Alexander Davis