Category Archives: Rabbis Without Borders

Rabbis Without Borders Evaluates

rabbis-without-bordersAs one of the rabbis who have participated in the Rabbis Without Borders fellowship, I was initially saddened when I read Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu’s “A Time for Bold Action: Redefining the Metrics of Jewish Life” which appeared the other day on eJewishPhilanthropy, in which she wrote that there will not be a new cohort of Rabbis Without Borders (RWB) fellows next year.  When I was in RWB two years ago, I greatly enjoyed it and am glad that there is a visionary program devoted to developing the rabbinate and think it has a great potential for helping make rabbis become more nimble in sharing Judaism and Jewish tradition.  I also want others to be able to experience the program and to also be shaped and to develop their rabbinate thereby and, by closing it off next year, this move, unfortunately, prevents colleagues in partaking in the fellowship.  This is especially evident in Rabbi Sirbu’s reporting of 100+ applicants for only 21 spots – there is a very high demand for this great program.

Indeed, I am part of the “over ninety percent of the rabbis” who have gone through the fellowship and, as a result of my experience, “report that they have the tools to make Judaism more meaningful and accessible to a larger population, have increased their audiences, and have enhanced people’s connection to Jewish life.”  Furthermore, I agree with Rabbi Sirbu’s assessment that “the results have been powerful”, which only makes this move a it wondrous.

However, since the aim of RWB is to “help rabbis stay ahead of the curve of American Jewish life and lead us in to the future”, it is interesting that Rabbi Sirbu writes that RWB needs “to gain more information about how and why people use Jewish traditions”, therefore

During the 2014-2015 academic year, instead of soliciting a new fellowship cohort of rabbis, we will devote considerable resources toward meeting with our alumni and their communities and exploring ways they experience Jewish rituals, teaching, and wisdom in their lives. We want to collect data that will give us a better understanding of the motivations and challenges of practicing Judaism today. What is working for people and why is it working? What does it mean for something to “work?” We intend to gather and study critical information Jewish leaders need now in order to prepare for the future.

In a way, despite being saddened that an entire cohort will miss out on this opportunity, nevertheless, I think it is a great idea to draw upon the “strong network of rabbinic alumni from which to draw such information” about developing the program.  Since RWB has “trained 103 rabbis and 68 rabbinical students”, that means there are many opinions (consider the famous adage that in a conversation, two Jews will have three opinions) that will emerge, but it should be fascinating to see how RWB develops and morphs.  I will certainly provide my input!

There was something that was a bit unclear in Rabbi Sirbu’s piece that I would to read about in fuller detail.  The subtitle is “Redefining the Metrics of Jewish Life”, yet Rabbi Sirbu neither describes what those metrics are, nor does she describe how they will be measured. As someone who enjoys metrics as a potentially great tool for use in the Jewish community, I am very curious to read/hear about them.  However, in a follow-up communication with her, she indicated that they will be greatly driven by qualitative data (of which I’m an advocate/fan), which should be awesome.  I’m very much looking forward to this development, as well 🙂

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.

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!

Some Highlights from This Week’s “Rabbis Without Borders” Sessions

Need the Torah of rabbisThe past couple of days, Clal held the first session of its fifth cohort of its Rabbis Without Borders fellowship.  Having been a past participant of the fellowship, I am always interested to see what is being shared out into the public from the sessions.  Not only simply because I was a past participant, but because the ideas shared are really fascinating (okay, I really enjoy(ed) Rabbi Irwin Kula’s thoughts).  make Jews count

As is typical for the fellowship, there is a fair degree of its participants tweeting highlights of the ideas.  Having found some interesting, I am posting here those tweets that I re-tweeted (or modified re-tweeted).

convo taamei hamizvot
I hope you enjoy!