Speaking with Rabbis Without Borders Student Fellowship

rabbis-without-bordersLast night, I had the honor to speak with Clal’s West Coast Rabbis Without Borders Student Fellowship on the topic of social media, beginning with a text study. While there have been several cohorts of Rabbis Without Borders, as well as a student fellowship on the east coast for the program, this year is the first for the west coast student fellowship and I was glad I could participate in leading a session with them.

For the text study, I had the fellows look at selections from the Book of Esther which concerned the messages that were sent out in the book of Esther. I asked the student fellows to consider three primary questions and two secondary questions in considering these messages: one secondary question was “What was the message that was being communicated?”, the three primary questions were “How was the message composed?”, “How was the message sent out?”, and “What was the intent of the message?”, with the final secondary question being “What was the outcome/aftermath of the message?” For my breakdown of the five messages that were sent out, you can visit this spreadsheet. As can be surmised, the fellows had some great questions, answers, and insights and I was glad that they were excited to engage with the text in such a way.

The text study led into a discussion of social media and using it in one’s rabbinate. While I won’t consider myself an expert in the topic, nor do I even think that I have it totally figured out, I have definitely spent a fair amount of time considering the matter, as can be seen from such posts of mine as “Picturing Rabbis: Rabbis on Instagram“, “Rabbinic Schools Tweeting“, and “Starting a Facebook Page for My Rabbinic Personality“.   In my own rabbinate, I am on Twitter, Facebook [page], Facebook [profile], Instagram, and, of course, this website (and, yes, this is in addition to Twitter, Facebook page, and website for SoCalJSS, Twitter, Facebook page, and website for SoCalJYAE (and, yes, I also supervise the social media intern for Beach Hillel (who operates such social media as Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook [page], Facebook [profile], and Instagram))), so I have a lot of familiarity and experience with various social media (not to mention my own personal social media activities).

I was surprised to find that most of them had not had much to do with social media, in general, and certainly had not considered how to make that happen in their future rabbinates. I realized it would be interesting to hear and consider their anxieties around getting into social media, especially qua rabbis, so I got to hear about that, which threw me for a loop, since they were a younger cohort on the whole than the Rabbis Without Borders fellowship usually is.

I did, of course, discuss the more prominent social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs) with regards to different means of getting one’s message out. However, part of the issue is how much does one want to engage in it and what would want to share? For those wanting to go into formal education, perhaps social media might not be such a great arena to enter; on the other hand, those who want to share their activities, thoughts, etc., social media is a great way to do so.

Some people find that social media is a great arena for them to share and to discover other content out there, while some do not want to be involved in it.  And rabbis are no different.

Speaking on Panel at Temple Beth David about Denominations

Poster for the event
Poster for the event

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking on a panel about Jewish denominations at Temple Beth David in Westminster, sponsored by the Jack Broscow Brotherhood.  I was one of three rabbi panelists, alongside Rabbi Joel Berman of Temple Beth Emet of Anaheim, representing Conservative Judaism, and Rabbi Nancy Myers of Temple Beth David, representing Reform Judaism.

I realized it was my first time speaking on a panel concerning Jewish denominations, which was interesting.  The structure of the panel discussion was each rabbi was alotted ten minutes to speak about their movement, followed by two separate questions (to be answered in three minutes): where our movement stands on interfaith couples, and where we stand on Israel.  Following these questions, the floor was opened up for further ones.

At the outset, I made sure I stated that there are multiple Orthodoxies, as Yehudah Mirsky has written, and that it may be considered as a sort of spectrum, with Haredi, Hassidic, Modern, etc. varieties.  As someone representing Modern Orthodoxy, I did focus on that, as well as Open Orthodoxy.

It was a nice event and it was interesting to speak with people after the event who seldom interacted with Modern Orthodox (or even non-Chabad Orthodox).

Highlights from Rabbis Without Borders Third Annual Alumni Retreat as Seen on Twitter

A couple of weeks ago, the third annual Rabbis Without Borders Retreat took place at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center, which was great, except that I did not attend this year.  While I did attend last year (and I realized I have not yet written about it online – perhaps I shall revisit my notes and post about my experience at that conference), having been a part of the third Rabbis Without Borders (RWB) cohort, with the recent addition of our third child, I was not able to leave my wife for several days to attend this year’s conference.  However, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was still able to catch some sense of the conversation going on.

Following the conference on Twitter (#RWBClal), I was able to read about the highlights close to realtime.  While there have been posts by some attendees about their reflections (“On the Rabbis Without Borders Retreat and Success”, “RWB Alumni Retreat: First 24 hours, in Gerunds”, and “On My Two Rabbinic Communities: Rabbis Without Borders and ALEPH”), I wanted to share my highlights from Twitter.  As you can see in this post, I am doing much like I did with the first gathering of this year’s RWB cohort and sharing pictures of my re-tweets (and modified re-tweets) from the conference.

I think my top three favorite lines from the tweets are the following:
– “I wasn’t trained to be a prophet; I was trained to teach Torah.” -Rabbi Michael Balinsky
– “There’s more peril than promise in politicking as rabbis.” -Rabbi Jack Moline
– If you have all of the truth, you cannot grow! Better to not have all of the truth, so you can look for it.” -Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger

One featured discussion was “Interfaith Families as Bridges”, featuring Susan Katz Miller, author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family and Rabbi Harold White:

Being Both
Being Both

Another featured discussion, was on politics, “Jewish Political Advocacy”, with Rabbi Jack Moline of The Democratic Jewish Council and Noah Silverman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which seemed to be a nice little panel and they offered their views:

Some Tweets about Politics
Some Tweets about Politics
Some Politics Tweets
Some Politics Tweets

It was put out there that we might not have our prophetic voice, etc., but what do we have?  I enjoyed what Rabbi Michael Balinsky had to say about not being trained in that.  Upon further reflection, I realized that rabbis are trained to be textual interpreters, staying within the tradition, and not so much about prophetic stuff:

Prophetic Voice
Prophetic Voice

The conversation that seemed to me to be the most exciting was that on rabbinic success and I’m not just saying that because I really enjoy Rabbi Kula’s ideas (whether I agree or disagree, they’re almost always guaranteed to be insightful and push one to think in a great direction).  For those who know me, I have been thinking (and writing) about qualitative data in the Jewish community (see here, for instance).  For some reason, I hadn’t moved on yet to thinking about it in the rabbinate.  From some of the highlights on Twitter, I saw that there was quite a discussion about it and yet it seemed to be somewhat elusive to measuring/defining success in the rabbinate.  I found some of the twists and turns of the conversation to be interesting:

Success tweets
Success tweets

However, one way of measuring one’s success is to do a survey, perhaps even a 360 Assessment.  That’s not a bad idea for a congregation (or rabbi) that takes their rabbi’s work seriously.  Taking annual measurements of the rabbi’s performance.  Another way is to shoot for excellence in their classes – maybe they have a goal or telos and measure up against that, perhaps by doing a poll?  Of course, the most easily measurable sorts of success are quantitative, whethere that’s number of classes led, number of attendees at those classes, number of attendees at services, or number/percentage of times at certain visiting events (shiva, funerals, hospital visits, etc.).  However, what’s more fascinating to see is the qualitative assessment of the rabbi’s work: how good are they at shiva visits, how good are they at hospital visits, how good are they at conducting weddings, funerals, bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, etc.?  Of course, an organizational psychologist could come in and administer surveys, 360s, etc. to make it happen.  But, for a more cash-strapped synagogue or one looking for a less formal way of assessing the quality of their rabbi’s work, I wonder if there could be a way – perhaps by surveys, committees, or other ways – of assessing it….

Anyways, there here are some miscellaneous tweets, as well:

Some Tweets from Feb4
Some Tweets from Feb4
Last Tweets
Last Tweets

Hope you enjoyed!

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School Holds Dinner in Los Angeles in Honor of Alumnus of Year

Jason Weiner YCT Alumnus of the Year InvitationThree months ago, I attended the West Coast Dinner held by my alma mater, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), in honor of its alumnus of the year, Rabbi [name redacted by request] (YCT ’06).  Although I was super happy to attend, merely by din of YCT having an event on the west coast, let alone within easy driving distance, I was also glad to attend to honor Rabbi [name redacted by request], who is an incredible תלמיד חכם that has emerged from YCT, perhaps one of the top few תלמידי חכמים to emerge from YCT.  The evening on November 19, 2013 began with hors d’oeuvres consisting primarily of really excellent sushi, while one could also order beer and wine.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner serving as MC at YCT LA Dinner - November 2013
Rabbi Aaron Lerner serving as an excellent MC at YCT Dinner in LA

Then the evening’s order of events began, with Rabbi Aaron Lerner (YCT ’13) serving as the very capable MC.   In framing the evening with some context, Rabbi Lerner said:*

Tonight, we’re honoring Rabbi [name redacted by request], Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s Alumnus of the Year. This is also a moment of intense joy for the Yeshiva. More than a decade since its founding, we can only truly celebrate the achievements of many, many alumni who are moving into senior, decision-maker positions in shuls, Hillels, schools, camps and hospitals literally around the world.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin speaking
Rabbi Asher Lopatin speaking

Doctor Shlomo Melmed spoke, discussing Rabbi [name redacted by request]’s fine work at Cedars-Sinai as well as sharing a couple of דברי תורה.**

After Dr. Melmed, the new president of YCT, Rabbi Asher Lopatin spoke about the work of YCT.

Dr. Mayim Bialik speaking at award ceremony for Rabbi [name redacted by request]
Dr. Mayim Bialik speaking at award ceremony for Rabbi [name redacted by request]
After he spoke, Dr. Mayim Bialik then spoke of her encounter with Rabbi [name redacted by request], who is the head chaplain at Cedars-Sinai.  She detailed how happy she was about having a rabbi in her time of need.  Since I did not record her comments at the event, here is an excerpt from her Kveller blog about his being of service to her:

The rabbi was young, looked straight out of a Maccabeats video, and was ordained at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. We knew people in common, and I was relieved he was Orthodox and therefore knew about the things that would matter to me even in a dire medical situation: not shaking hands with men, not wanting to be seen in any state of undress by men, maintaining modesty even with my husband, not wanting unkosher food served to me.

But what was most comforting and what guided me faithfully was the common language we spoke and the universality of his presence and his words. I recounted the accident for the rabbi and I wasn’t embarrassed to say “Thank God” as many times as I did. I knew he understood me. As I spoke to him, I cried. It was the first time I cried that entire day. I needed to cry.

I asked the rabbi for a book of T’hillim (psalms) which he happily brought me and he left a card at my bedside printed by the hospital wishing me a refuah shleyma, a complete healing, in Hebrew and English. He blessed me and I cried as I heard my Hebrew name pronounced. Out of the mess I was in, this Rabbi led me through dark and showed me light as he declared, God, please heal Mayim Chaya bas Brayna Basha, please.

Rabbi Avi Weiss speaking
Rabbi Avi Weiss speaking

It was very nice to hear not only from someone who had been directly positively affected by Rabbi [name redacted by request]’s work, but also someone who is famous.

Next up was Rabbi Avi Weiss, who spoke about what YCT has accomplished and where it is going, which was really exciting to hear.***

Rabbi Lerner then introduced Rabbi [name redacted by request] before his being awarded with the YCT Alumnus of the Year Award:*

He is both a person of the highest integrity and halachic observance, while also serving, well, just about every denomination, faith, ethnicity, and many more categories of diversity as the leader of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai. His commitment to humanity and all Jews strikes a perfect balance.

Then came up Rabbi Lopatin, who, along with Rabbi Weiss, presented Rabbi [name redacted by request] with the award. The text of the award read:

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School
proudly honors our alumnus
Rabbi [name redacted by request]
with the Keter Shem Tov Award
or his broad-based community leadership and dedication
to the entire Jewish people, done with sensitivity,
wisdom and a deep commitment to all human needs.

Rabbi Avi Weiss addressing Rabbi Jason Weiner
Rabbi Avi Weiss addressing Rabbi [name redacted by request]

Rabbi [name redacted by request] then spoke about his time at YCT, etc.  I really enjoyed his remarks, especially one particular point about it not all being necessarily about the curriculum, but also what went on at the yeshivah.****

Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Asher Lopatin awarding Rabbi Jason Weiner with YCT Alumnus of the Year Award
Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Asher Lopatin awarding Rabbi [name redacted by request] with YCT Alumnus of the Year Award

Then dancing ensued for a while and Rabbi Lerner concluded the formal ceremonies in a very timely fashion.  Following the ceremonies, dessert was made available for more schmoozing and, fortunately, there was still a lot of tremendously tasty sushi left out, which was great!  I was able to catch up with some of my fellow alumni as well as rabbis from YCT who were there: Rabbi Dov Linzer and Rabbi Weiss.

Rabbi [name redacted by request] speaking after receiving his award
Rabbi [name redacted by request] speaking after receiving his award

In a private sit-down with Rabbi Weiss, it was great to have that attention and to be in dialogue with such a compassionate presence!  The highlight, though, of speaking with him was that he pointed out that, of the YCT graduates, I am the longest currently-serving doing campus work.  That surprised me not only because it was true and had not previously considered that, but also that he knew that!  I was very impressed!

I came away from the evening glad to have seen my fellow YCT alumni out here in the west coast, it was nice to connect with the rabbis who had come out here, it was great to have that encounter with Rabbi Weiss (and to find out about my being the longest currently-serving campus rabbi amongst YCT alumni), and it was great to see YCT representing in LA.  Although I cannot say for sure how the various attendees came away with a sense of YCT and its alumni from the event, I certainly enjoyed the energy and presence of YCT that having an event in LA accomplished.  I hope that YCT returns to do another such dinner in LA, whether on an annual basis or, at least, bi-annual basis.

* My thanks go out to Rabbi Aaron Lerner who provided me with a copy of his remarks.
** Looking back on the evening, I recorded none of it, which I regretted as soon as it had concluded (Rabbi Avi Weiss asked me at the end if I had gotten any of it on video, to which I sadly replied, “No.”), although I wonder why no one had thought of doing so previously, since it was such a nice evening and lovely speeches….
*** Again, I wished I had recorded his remarks….
**** I wished I was able to secure a written copy of his remarks – they were really wonderful.

Speaking at Moishe House of Orange County Last Night

DSCN6914 - Copy
Speaking last night at the “Rabbi Battle” at the Moishe House of Orange County

Last night, I took part in a “Rabbi Battle” at Moishe House of Orange County.  In truth, it was less of a “battle” than a panel, of sorts (perhaps, a mini-panel, you might say), with the residents hurling a variety of questions at us that they had previously gathered from others, as well as their own.  Questions hit upon topics such as the afterlife, tattoos, intermarriage, and abortion.DSCN6910 - Copy

Having previously engaged in such a “Rabbi Battle”,  this was a familiar format.  While the nomenclature might suggest a fight, in reality, the rabbis involved are really simply representing their denominational outlooks on the matters and there really isn’t much of a competition these days (thus, the term, post-denominational nowadays).

I hope those attended got something out of it and, as this was my first event at Moishe House, OC, this year (I spoke there several times last year), I look forward to returning 🙂

“Gin & Genocide”

DSCN6884 Last night, a fundraising event for SoCalJSS/SoCalJYAE was held in Long Beach. Entitled “Gin & Genocide” was the third of this year’s series of texts and tippling. Featuring a discussion on genocide in the Jewish tradition, considering Amalek, Midian, and the seven Canaanite nations, Rabbi Drew steered the conversation eventually to the current day post-Holocaust reality where Jews and Jewish organizations were at the forefront in America striving to do what they could in raising their voices against what the Janjaweed were doing in Darfur.


Eden Banarie, the youth engagement coordinator for Jewish World Watch (JWW), came and spoke about some of the present-day issues going on in Congo and Darfur and what JWW was doing about it, as well as promoting the upcoming Walk to End Genocide, taking place in, among other places, Orange County. Walkers can go with my team.  “It’s a bit of a trip to see how many times we’re mandated to commit genocide, as I’m working for a Jewish nonprofit that’s working to stop genocide!” Banarie said.  “It was very thought-provoking.”
gins from Instagram
At the tasting, four gins were served, finishing off with Hendrick’s, which was generously sponsored by Kenneth Schlesinger.  Tonics were also provided. The event was nicely hosted by Betty Ann & Larry Fell.