SIVAN / TAMMUZ 5783
~ RABBI'S CORNER ~
Forty-six years ago, two weeks after beginning my duties here at Temple Sholom as a newly ordained rabbi, I received my very first complaint from a congregant.
Mrs. K called to tell me that she absolutely needed to speak to me. She had concerns which she could no longer keep to herself. From the tone of her voice, I could tell she was upset and agreed to see her immediately. What was her concern? Thankfully, it wasn't anything I personally had done. Instead, it had more to do with her perception of what I represented: a shift in Reform Judaism that was embracing Jewish traditions and practices which it had long-ago jettisoned - a shift which she deemed to be an egregious betrayal of the principles of ''classical Reform,'' principles in which she and others like her had been raised and in which she still deeply believed. The changes that concerned her included, but were not limited to:
-Reform rabbis (like my predecessor and me) now wearing a kipah on the pulpit
-Reform rabbis (like my predecessor and me) ''keeping kosher''
-Changing from the smaller, ''mostly in English'' Union Prayerbook to the newer Gates of Prayer, which had a lot more Hebrew, was twice the size and 3x heavier than the UPB
Mrs. K concluded our 90-minute meeting with this declaration: ''We're becoming more Orthodox! I wasn't raised that way, and I don't like it!!!''.
I listened intently and patiently. Responding to her concerns, I acknowledged that the Reform Movement was indeed embracing some old traditions and practices. I explained that this was in large part due to a concern among Reform leaders that Reform practice had become too stiff and formal. In addition, Israel's miraculous victories in 1967 and 1973 had sparked among both rabbis and laity for a deeper connection to traditions and practices that were organically Jewish, including the use of more Hebrew. This desire was energized and encouraged by rabbinical students who were now spending their first year in Israel.
I tried to assure her that 1) Reform Judaism was still committed to personal autonomy, and 2) these newly reclaimed practices should be understood as options to help make for a richer religious engagement - which was the very reason that the new prayerbook offered ten different Shabbat evening services. I gently reminded her that Reform thinkers were teaching that nothing in Jewish tradition should a priori be foreign to a Reform Jew because ''a faithful Reform Jew should strive to be a faithful informed Jew.''
It was indeed a lively discussion. But, after 90 minutes, did I succeed in convincing her? Not even a little bit.
As Mrs. K left, I expressed sincere empathy for her position and said that I fully understood how difficult it must be to see lifelong, deeply-held beliefs being challenged and discarded. She graciously thanked me for listening but declared that she still wasn't prepared to change her mind (and I'm not sure she ever did!). Thankfully, despite our theological differences, we remained friends.
Fast forward 46 years. When I recall that conversation, I must admit that, despite my best intentions in that moment, I did NOT fully empathize or understand.
But I certainly do now.
I do now because, just as Mrs. K did not recognize what the Reform Movement had become as of 1977, I and others like me - educated and ordained from the Reform Movement's rabbinical seminary - do not recognize what the Movement has become in 2023.
Yes, practices and traditions that were controversial in 1977 are now commonplace. Kashrut is more respected in Reform synagogues, even if not observed completely. Both men and women can be seen wearing kippot and tallesim in synagogue. The newest prayerbook, Mishkan Tefilah (the GOP's successor), has retained a traditional flavor and even includes the option of reciting the blessing that praises G-d for resurrecting the dead - intentionally excluded from earlier Reform prayerbooks.
But when it comes to beliefs/theology, the Movement has become unrecognizably ''Jewish'' and arguably dangerously so. The Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, classical Reform's founding document, affirmed an approach to Jewish belief and observance that called for adapting to the ''views and habits of modern civilization.'' Once upon a time, that decidedly liberal/progressive approach encouraged a ''big tent'' in which debate and discussion would help modern Jews better understand and commit to their religious responsibilities in modern times.
But today's Reform leaders increasingly embrace the values and worldview of contemporary (read: radical) progressivism. A major consequence is that the liberal ''big tent,'' which once accommodated diverse beliefs and approaches, has morphed into a rigid and confining cement bunker of theological and progressive orthodoxy. Whereas Reform Judaism used to be a synonym for ''progressive Judaism,'' it is now a religion of ''Jewish Progressivism'' - ''Jewish'' in name only, but decidedly ''orthodox'' in its demand for correct believing. Forty-six years later, though our specific concerns would certainly differ, I am as concerned as Mrs. K was:
*I'm concerned that the age-old practice of rabbis respectfully and dispassionately debating issues of religious significance is no longer encouraged or valued among Reform rabbis. On the contrary, in today's Reform rabbinate, only those who affirm progressive/''woke'' attitudes and notions are allowed platforms. Those who dissent from this orthodoxy are often personally attacked and even suspended or expelled/excommunicated from online conversations among colleagues.
*I'm concerned that a Reform rabbi would tell an adult Bat Mitzvah student that, despite her preference to refer to G-d with masculine third-person pronouns, in her Bat Mitzvah speech (per the traditional Hebrew) she was required to remove them because the synagogue only permitted ''gender-neutral'' language when referring to the Deity.
*I'm concerned that in that same adult Bat Mitzvah class, rather than remind students that ''nothing in Jewish tradition should a prior ''we Reform Jews don't do that.''
*I'm concerned that there are Reform rabbis who discourage brit milah/ritual circumcision, echoing the contemporary cultural attitude that it is ''barbaric.''
*I'm concerned that in the name of ''social justice'' and universalism:
-the Movement is focusing more attention on the needs of others and less on the needs of our own people; that in some Reform synagogues, all references to ''chosen-ness'' have been removed from the liturgy, lest non-Jewish guests be offended.
-the issue of ''abortion rights'' is ubiquitous; discussion about the need to have more Jewish children is absent.
-Reform clergy increasingly echo anti-Israel positions and helping Israel's implacable enemies.
-Reform rabbis are preaching the doctrine of Critical Race Theory from their pulpits, some of them repeating the nefarious lie that Jews, by virtue of being able to ''pass as white,'' are automatically racist.
-The Religious Action Center, Reform's political lobbying organization, invited the well-known and unapologetic anti-Semite, Al Sharpton, to be a keynote speaker at one of their recent events.
-a Reform rabbi, virtue-signaling ''welcoming the stranger,'' threw caution to the wind and invited a terrorist into his synagogue, thereby almost getting himself and congregants killed.
These are but a few examples of how the Reform Movement is moving steadily toward making political Progressivism its de facto religion and away from traditional Jewish values and teachings found in Jewish texts.
But what most concerns me is not just how the Reform Movement has distanced itself from Jewish teachings, but how far away it will move before it is no longer a recognizably Jewish movement.
It's happened before.
Two thousand years ago, when Jews lived in the Greco-Roman diaspora, there were different ''Judaisms'' that were practiced, much as is the case today. Many of them were significantly influenced by the cultural Hellenism of the time. Ultimately, most disappeared on their own. Some became so inundated by influences and individuals from the outside culture as to break with the Jewish community and its traditions, evolving into faith systems (e.g. Christianity) that sought to eclipse the mother faith.
Fast forward two thousand years. Who's to say that couldn't happen again?
-Rabbi Cary Kozberg
Paul Cornez on the April 20th passing of his brother Gerry and on the February 15th passing of his children's mother Sandi. Sandi taught Sunday School at Temple Sholom for many years in the 80's and 90's.
May their memory be for a blessing
~ CONTRIBUTIONS ~
-In honor of my mother's (Blanche Stillpass) yahrzeit and in memory of my sister (Beverly Dollin) from Stan and Phyllis Nedelman
-In memory of my husband Jeff from Inas Sisler
-In memory of my husband, Lloyd Goldman, from Bernice Goldman
-In memory of Gerry Cornez, brother of Paul Cornez, from Bernice Goldman
~ SOCIAL COMMITTEE NEWS ~
Well, we are in the summer months. April and May, with their holidays, certainly kept us busy, but there is still much to do in the coming months.
Itzca Zohar has obtained a new Sukkah and to complement it, we are going to make new Sukkah decorations. Join the Social Committee at the Temple on Sunday, June 25 at 1:00 p.m. to make them, led by Amy and Alyse Leventhal. There will be opportunities for all skill levels and ages, so bring your family along for the fun. Pizza and noshes will be provided.
For our Congregational Dinners, we are going to add in Discussion and Entertainment to continue the Kavanah from our service. Our June dinner is Friday, June 23, following services. We will be sending out an invitation to bring a dish to share.
Our Movie Nights will continue with our next showing on Sunday, June 18 at 5:00 p.m. The movie will be announced in the weekly emails.
Mark your calendars for Sundays in August for Rabbi Kozberg's Self Defense Class ''With a Strong Hand and An Outstretched Arm.'' This is a 4-series class; details to come.
The Social Committee is setting up a small fundraiser and we need your help. On Sunday October 22, we will be sponsoring a Blessing of the Animals, in honor of the reading of Noah's Ark. We would like to have the Humane Society involved, raising funds for both the Temple and the Humane Society. There will be many areas for congregants to assist and participate in this family fun event.
And finally, the Social Committee is working on a trip in the fall to visit various Ohio wineries and breweries. Details are just beginning, and we welcome all comments and suggestions for this grand adventure.
Stay tuned each month for updates, events, and new programming. If you are interested in joining or have programming ideas, contact Kelley Beloff at Kelley.email@example.com
~ YAHRZEIT LIST ~
JUNE 2: Justin A. Altschul, Jennie G. Arnovitz, Ben Kaufman, Harry Kossoff, Dorothy Krane, Louis Krauss, Joseph Thurman, Rose Foreman Richardson (mother of Laurel Richardson), Barbara Leventhal Stern, Arthur Fred Willens, Edward Wolf (father of Fran Rickenbach)
JUNE 9: Esther Berman, Esther Myers Gross, Leon Kempler, Lydia Kempler, Mildred Emily Sachs, Bertha Schoenthal, Jeffrey L. Sisler, Bertha Beloff (mother of Larry Beloff), Robert Kern, Minnie Russack
JUNE 16: Zelma P. Gardner, Dr. Charles Krane, Fred Leventhal, Stella Rosen Sachs, Sidney Fish (father of Larry Fish), Pia Friedman, Benjamin Lurie
JUNE 23: Arline Esther Dagan, Abraham Freed, Samuel K. Gerson, Rose Gross, Ben Lieberman, Milton Rich, David Rittoff, Pauline Sanders, Sarah Kohn, Chava Kurtzhant (mother of Itzca Zohar), Minnie Mirman (mother of Renae Shifman), Maria Dixon Watts (mother of Bill Dixon)
JUNE 30: Aaron A. Freed, Betty Friedberger, David D. Klein, Ben Rubinoff, Eva Schechter, Morris Travis, Samuel Broidy (father of Steve Broidy), Elizabeth Wood Rickenbach, Jean Roeth (mother of Jo Marenberg)